June 22, 2011, I swallowed my last benzodiazepine…
a medication that I took only as prescribed by my doctor. It’s been a long and winding road to recovery. Although I still have some lingering symptoms, I lead a full and happy life. In fact, I’ve never been happier than I am right now. Whatever problems I had in my youth that prompted a doctor to prescribe a benzodiazepine are long gone. I’m not even remotely the person I used to be before my benzo or on my benzo, and I am incredibly grateful for the transformation.
You too will be happy when the dust settles and you feel you are finding your way to back to normal. It doesn’t happen overnight. The shifts that signal normalcy is returning are subtle. Our recovery from the damage a benzodiazepine causes is incredibly and painfully slow at times, with one step forward, five steps backwards.
Here’s what I know now, that I wish I knew in the thick of the fight.
- My symptoms were not going to ruin my life forever. Sure, people who were farther along in the recovery process told me that I would heal, but I doubted it. I wish now that I had embraced the hope of recovery earlier in my journey. It would have saved me a great deal of suffering.
- I wish I hadn’t talked about benzo withdrawal so much. Withdrawal took over every square inch of my thinking, feeling and behaving. I told anyone who would listen about my brain damage and the illness that it caused. All of that focusing on withdrawal only pushed people away from me and made me less able to see the reality that a.) I would heal and b.) I was healing. A good friend politely told me to shut up one day, and I took her words to heart. My relationships got better after that. I know now that focusing on the negative only feeds it and makes it grow, bigger and strongerr–not something you want to have happen.
- I wish I had been kinder to myself. I pushed myself very hard, even creating a class on the neuroscience of creativity and teaching it at Stanford University way before I was healed. If I could have relaxed and trusted the healing process more, I may have turned a corner sooner than I did.
- Looking back, I wish I had not tried to get people who didn’t understand benzo withdrawal to understand the reality I was forced to live in. It was wasted breath, time, and energy, and often resulted in me feeling very discouraged. So. Not. Worth. It.
- If had to do benzo withdrawal over…wait…did I just write those words? God FORBID I ever see round two. (Actually, it would be round three. In my early 20’s I was given Valium as a muscle relaxant after spinal fusion that kept me in a body cast for 7 months. I went through withdrawal but had no idea what it was. Now, of course, I understand my poor health on all fronts was caused by the cold turkey off of the Valium.) If I had to do it over again, I’d spend less time online googling my symptoms or posting in groups or forums and I’d spend more time in my flower garden. I’d sit in the sun more, listen to the birds more, and I’d give thanks for my life more. Even in my broken, FUBAR life, I’d say humbly to God, “Thank you!” more and complain less.
- I wish I had not spent as much time feeling sorry for myself as I did in the thick of the fight. It only brought me further down and didn’t solve one blessed thing. I can see that self-pity was a stumbling block to my healing.
We heal in tiny increments, over many days, months, even years.
it takes time to cobble yourself back together after the brain injury from a benzo. You have to be kind and compassionate with yourself as you slowly go forward. You may have forgotten who you were before withdrawal. I did. I felt eviscerated. Whoever I was before my brain fell apart in benzo withdrawal, I had no recollection of her. When I finally started to think, act, and feel, more like my prior self, I cried. I remember laying on the couch reading an email. I read it over and over because I liked the emotion it evoked. And then I remembered! I used to read emails repeatedly. sometimes. The memory was so poignant and powerful that I broke into deep guttural sobs. I had not known who I was for over two years and to suddenly catch a glimpse of “me” was overwhelming. Oh, that’s another thing I know now but wish that I knew in withdrawal: how to self-regulate even with a banged-up central nervous system.
It’s important to learn how to calm down our reactions to good and bad stress alike (eustress & distress). Of course, calming down when your GABA receptors have been damaged is a challenge. But we can find things that help. I gardened, almost every day. I also walked on the days I didn’t feel as if I was having a stroke or terribly weak and dizzy or in excruciating pain. I still garden and walk to help regulate when I am getting too stimulated from thoughts, feelings, actions, my environment, etc. I pray and meditate. I also find people to listen to and to serve. Getting out of my head and helping others is a sure-fire cure for many ailments.
As you come back to yourself, it may be unsettling. It was for me. I had to relearn who I had been and I had to create who I wanted myself to become. It wasn’t easy work and it wasn’t fun work. But it was work that was worth the effort.
There is life after benzo withdrawal.
Good life. Sweet life. Juicy life! It is waiting, just up ahead, for you. Don’t ever doubt it. Keep going. I know it’s a long and lonely road, but each step brings you closer to being whole and healed. You will get back to normal (whatever that is) and this detour down the rabbit-hole will be a distant memory. You’ll scamper off and you’ll slowly forget this challenging chapter. You’ll be so busy writing a new story, that you won’t have time to look back.