It was hard enough being so incredibly sick and disabled in benzo withdrawal, but to be ignored or abandoned by friends and family broke my heart in ways I can’t find words to explain. The pain was excruciating; worse than my burning skin, bone, muscle, and joint pain. It was worse than the searing head pressure, or the nerve pain that jolted through me. It was even worse than the constant neuralgia. It was one of the hardest pains I had to learn to navigate.
In the beginning, I thought that my family (and friends) understood what I was going through. I got my first wake-up call that perhaps they didn’t understand when I told my parents I might need to go somewhere to stay safe. Living alone and trying to take care of myself was becoming too difficult. I was bedridden from weakness and out of my mind with fear, both classic benzo withdrawal symptoms. My father said to me, “Are you just seeking attention?” My heart shattered. I had assumed my parents understood how sick I was from my failed taper and then my cold turkey off a benzo I had taken as prescribed. But that was just the start of my heart ache with friends and family. I won’t share all of the details; they don’t matter. All that matters is that friends abandoned me, and family pulled back on their contact with me. My family did step up to the plate and help me financially, (which I am eternally grateful for) as I was unable to work for many years as my brain recovered, but for the most part, I was left to fend for myself emotionally.
I know many of you are in the same boat. You’ve been abandoned by friends, and your family’s compassion is wearing thin. What can you do to cope? Here are some suggestions:
- Know that anyone who has not gone through benzo withdrawal will be unable to understand the depths of your suffering. Don’t waste your time trying to explain your withdrawal symptoms to them so that they “get it.” They can’t. Share your concerns with people who do understand the withdrawal process. Find some benzo buddies you can trust and share with.
- Do your best to shore yourself up emotionally. One way is to develop a relationship with God as you understand God, Higher Power, Source, whatever you like to call it. When you have something outside of yourself to lean on, you will be less needy of your friends and family. And yes, I know that it can be hard to tap into our spirituality while we are in benzo withdraw, but do try. An honest conversation with God as you understand God, even if filled with anger, can be cathartic and supportive.
- Do your best to understand that people are not perfect. People that you thought were there for you before may not be able to journey with you to the depths of your despair. This doesn’t mean that you aren’t worthy of their time and attention, it means that they have limits on how much empathy they can feel. It is a statement about them, not you.
- We all have “fair weather friends.” They were never going to be able to go the distance with us. We may have enjoyed their company, but they were not there for us in the ways that matter. To lose these friends is not a great loss. Most likely, you would have lost them at some point anyway.
- Understand that your sorrow over being ignored or abandoned is magnified in benzo withdrawal. Every perceived slight from friends and family felt like an atomic bomb going off in my brain and body. Once I was more healed, the normal rough and tumble ways of relationships washed over me like water off of a duck’s back. Know that your emotional intensity is due to the chemical brain damage from the benzo. You won’t always be this sensitive.
- Do your best to be a friend to others. I know it’s hard in benzo withdrawal to step outside of the “benzo bubble” and to be there for others. But it helps if we can summon some amount of physical or emotional energy to give to others. I know we are exceptionally needy in withdrawal but do try to put aside your cares and concerns and to be there for someone else.
- Shift your focus from what you’ve lost, to what you are grateful for. Do you still have people in your life that are standing by you? Give thanks for them, even if there are only one or two of them! Gratitude helps us to feel better.
- Find things to do to distract yourself from the focus of your symptoms. For me, it was gardening. What can you do that will help you take your mind off of how sick you feel? Taking your mind off of your symptoms will help you cope.
- Learn to practice extreme self-care. Eat as healthy as you can. No gluten, lots of fruits and vegetables, lean quality meats, bone broth, herbal teas (no chamomile) and some healthy non-gluten grains. Reduce your exposure to stress. Avoid people and situations that rev up your central nervous system. Be mindful of your self-talk. Tell yourself that you are healing. Self-care helps us to feel less bothered by our friends and family members who aren’t there for us.
Neglect or abandonment from friends and family hurts. I cried a river over friendships lost and the emotional distance that sprang up between me and family members. I had to learn how to forgive those friends that came back into my life, and I had to reach across the divide between myself and my family and let go of the hurt. The general population has no idea the intense suffering that benzo withdrawal can cause. They don’t know how desperately we need support and reassurance that we are going to recover. We can forgive them for their ignorance.
Turn to the people who understand benzo withdrawal and lean on them. Let them lean on you as well. Know that not all of your friendships may make the journey to recovery with you, but the ones that matter will. Appreciate those people who are still standing by you. Let them know how much you treasure their love and support.