Six months free. That’s the first of the timeline you hear about for recovery, 6-18 months. I had hoped I would be one of the lucky ones that bounced back quickly. Nah. Not that lucky.

I was at Sierra Tucson, buying time. My withdrawal symptoms had gotten so intense I needed a safe place to stay. (Living alone in withdrawal is a challenge.) Every day was a horrendous ordeal to survive.

We woke at 6 to go to breakfast. Not that I had been sleeping much. Standing in the heat of the shower I could hardly stand being in my skin. The anxiety ripped through my body like knives. It actually hurt. My looping thought was “I have to die one day.” Over and over and over and over and over and over all day, every day. The fear that came with the thought was unbearable. I was trapped in a world of terror and pain.

The full body tingles felt like bees stinging me, head to toe. My muscles twitched and jumped like I was a marionette being jerked around by the strings. My skin burned like I had been dropped into a vat of boiling oil. My bones ached and my muscles throbbed. Every past trauma I had ever lived through came back to haunt me with memories and flashbacks. I was terrified I was broken forever.

I walked around the campus when I wasn’t in class, dragging my looping thoughts around with me. Everything was death. Everything.

Nights were the hardest. I’d fall asleep around 11 pm only to awaken in a total panic forty-five minutes later. My heart would race and I would struggle to catch my breath. The pressure and pain in my chest and arms was severe. Had I not been in withdrawal, I would have thought I was having a heart attack many times throughout the night. (I was rushed via ambulance to the ER one night.) That was my sleeping pattern. I woke every forty-five minutes or so to extreme symptoms. It was exhausting. (And terrifying.)

I bought a big stuffed tiger and carried it around with me. I know I looked ridiculous but it helped center me. (As much as anyone can feel “centered” in withdrawal.) I grieved the loss of who I once was: smart, ambitious, driven, creative…. now I was reduced to a terrified bag of bones.

When it came time to leave, I rented a car and drove from Arizona to California to surprise my daughter who was living in San Diego at the time. I drove through a rainstorm almost the entire way. I look back and I can’t believe I was able to drive that far! I was terrified the entire time, but kept moving. I sang to the radio. I prayed out loud. I cried. I cursed. But I got to San Diego in one piece.

I got back to San Fran via Amtrack. I remember standing in line to board the train with that awful morning anxiety coursing through my veins and feeling cut off from the world. I watched people reading the paper, talking, and laughing. How I ached to be a part of life again. To be able to just exist without thinking and observing myself. Without feeling terror, or obsessing about death. (I was not like that pre-benzo. My death obsession with purely a withdrawal symptom.) I boarded the train and headed back to my house, the house that held all of the memories of my acute illness in withdrawal and my cold turkey.

When I got home, I fell across my bed, overwhelmed. I had spent six weeks in Arizona, hoping to return “cured.” I was not. I was still deep in the belly of the beast, and it had no inclination to let me go. Not just yet.

I woke the next morning to a depression unlike anything I have ever experienced before.