Since I threw myself into the deep waters yesterday, writing about my time in detox, I might as well keep swimming. Warning! If you are extremely sensitive right now, you may want to skip this (and future) post about my recovery timeline. I want to be helpful, not hurtful.
I honestly can’t remember the exact timeline of when symptoms started. The first 12 months off were, hmmmm…[what’s a professional, articulate way to described fucked up?] horrific. Beyond imagination. No kidding. No exaggeration.
Most of the time, I prayed for death. “Stop my heart, willya Big Guy?” But at the same time I prayed for death, I was terrified of it. TERRIFIED. I thought about it ALL day, every day. I woke up to hellish terror every morning, my first thought being, “I have to die one day.” I had a horrible case of benzo withdrawal intrusive thoughts, and looping thoughts. My benzo buddy Mary and I called my death thoughts, Grim Reaper. She would text me every morning, How Are You? How is GR? I’d text back, I’m fucked up, GR loud and clear. There are no words I can use to paint how completely terrified I was, every second, of every day. I told a friend it was like being on acid while a nasty man in a black hood shoves you in front of a wall, with you staring at a firing squad. It was that kind of fear, only more so. It was so completely irrational. But that is what happens to our thoughts and feelings when we don’t have enough GABA receptors working. Mine had been fried after almost 2 decades on that poison. (Thanks Doc!)
My first year off was marked by my death obsession, panic attacks that were much worse than my original ones ( I don’t have ANY panic anymore, and no anxiety really to speak of) and the physical symptoms. I was bedridden a lot the first few months off.
Around three months off I decided to start gardening. (This saved and changed my life. Strongly recommend it.) I drove to the hardware store, shaking, terrified, weak, dizzy, burning… sick as shit… and bought lumber and hardware to build raised beds. The clerk helping me was polite and friendly, but I couldn’t look him in the face because his face turned into something monstrously scary when I did. I was shaking, freaking out, and felt like I would faint, but I bought the supplies and got home. (Thankfully the store is just a mile or so away!) I hammered together the beds, my heart pounding, shaking, racing looping thoughts about death and dying, knees weak, spine on fire, eyes hurting, every muscle screaming in pain, my bones burning and aching, and the terror, dread, fear….blanketed over me, with no way out from under it. But I got the beds built!
I tore out the side yards and planted. I tore out areas of grass in the front yard and planted. I put up a three-foot black French gothic fence. Hung a tin framed chalk board on it and wrote inspirational messages for people (and for myself.) I put out dog treats and water, peanuts for the squirrels, and three types of bird feeders. I hunkered down for the healing process. I knew in my heart I would be well and back to work in six months. My doctor assured me that none of his benzo withdrawal patients took more than six months to heal. I needed to believe his lie.
The horror show continued everyday. I cried. A LOT. I would lie naked on the floor in my bathroom, sobbing, begging God to help me. Yet terrified of the thought of God. I washed dishes one day and the thought of eternity filled me with terror and panic. It was crazy. Just crazy. I still can’t believe that a drug that can do these things to someone can be legal. At three months I started getting more body symptoms. More pain. More muscle problems. I couldn’t be out in public very much. My life got very small. Before I got sick in withdrawal, I had traveled to Europe and within the US for my work. Now, I could hardly drive on the freeway. I stayed within a very small radius of my house. For years.
At four months off, I decided I was getting better. I rented an office space and focused on getting it ready. I was incredibly sick, but determined to earn a living. I was running out of money. Fast. But another phase of recovery was happening. The terror and anxiety I felt was ramping up. How that could even happen, was beyond me. But it did. My past trauma keep popping into my memory, along with horrible judgemental thoughts about my self. Add that to the death obsession and it was a pretty grueling time. I was so exhausted from it all, I landed in the ER at Stanford. My son took me. My children had no idea what to do with me. ( I don’t blame them. I was really out there in withdrawal world.) The Stanford doctor suggested that I “ask my team if I should reinstate the benzo.” I didn’t know who she meant. She explained, “your kids.” I was speechless. This was the best medical advice from a STANFORD DOCTOR? Ask my children? They knew NOTHING about benzo withdrawal and NEITHER DID THE STANFORD PSYCHIATRIST. I remember feeling totally and utterly alone in my battle to heal. It was a very dark time.
I decided to fly to Arizona and stay at Sierra Tucson so I could be safe. I wouldn’t have to face the days and nights alone. It was a good decision. It bought me time. I stayed for six weeks. Being around people helped. The classes on trauma didnt’ help at all, they only revved up my symptoms. And of course, no doctor there knew much about benzo withdrawal, but they were at least willing to read the Ashton manual and other stories on the internet.
I don’t really know how I survived the first six months off. I was so sick, mentally and physically. I live alone and it was hard to face the days and nights by myself. My kids did their best to help, but of course they burned out and stopped coming by very often. My friends dropped me like a hot potato. The life I used to know was gone. Forever. (The good news is that I have a new life now. And it’s shaping up to be a good life!)