When I sought out a doctor to help me get a grip on my anxiety, I was certain nothing in the world could compare to the fear I felt when I had a panic attack. Well, I was wrong.
Nothing compares to the fear of dying while in the throes of benzo withdrawal. Or at least that’s my truth. My panic attacks were scary, no doubt, but this is a different animal all together.
For me, the hardest challenge in withdrawal are the still, dark hours after midnight. When the rest of the world is tucked into bed, dreaming sweet dreams, I lie wide awake, counting my symptoms instead of sheep. My withdrawal bedtime hovers around 5 AM these days.I can’t complain too much as I sleep for 5 to 7 hours once I drift off.
But getting my eyes to close takes some doing some nights. As my symptoms ramp up, burning skin, formication, head pressure, pounding heart, ringing ears, twitches, feeling of movement, and tummy troubles, my thoughts can wander down a very dark road. I am convinced I am dying. Maybe not right this second, but there is no way on earth I am going to survive withdrawals. When I am thinking of the type of font I want engraved on my tombstone, I know it is time to take a deep breath and have a talk with AMY.
AMY is my pet name for my amygdala, part of the limbic system of the brain. We have a right and a left amygdala and they are responsible for our fear response.
When I am over whelmed with withdrawal symptoms, I do my best to have a rational talk with myself. I tell myself my fear of dying is just my amygdala doing its best to protect me! It reads my symptoms as “dangerous” and it wants me to get help, and quick!
It is not always easy to have a rational talk when I am so stressed with scary emotions. That’s because the logical region of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, goes offline and let’s the limbic system hijack my brain.
If you have intense fears during withdrawals, take a moment to write down these words on a piece of paper or a 3 by 5 card: My limbic system is over active and making me feel there is a threat to my survival. There is no threat. I am safe. Tuck that card or slip of paper in your pocket and keep it with you. Any time you feel frightened, pull it our and remind yourself you are SAFE.
Your brain is in an exaggerated state of hyper-excitement because the GABA receptors have been down regulated. Without the calming response of GABA, your thoughts can run away with you and convince you things are pretty bleak on the survival front.
I now keep a supply of books about the brain and anxiety near my bed, so when those scary thoughts start-up in the wee hours, I can read and arm myself with as much logic as possible. I keep 3 by 5 cards with all types of reminders to myself close at hand, so when my limbic system hijacks my rational thinking, I can fight back. I am sure my cat wonders what I am doing reading out loud to myself at 3 AM! I don’t mind. I am determined to get through my withdrawal with less suffering and more peace. I am working on getting over my fear of dying. I hope you get over yours as well.
thank you for sharing Jen. I have a hard time with this. seems to be the hardest for me when having symptoms, it really does feel at times i am being hijacked, and i catch myself trying to battle it with thought, even for hours on end at times, but never win. i notice only when i finally force myself to get distracted is when it starts to subside. but for me its been a huge challenge just to get to the point of forcing myself to do something. because i don’t know why, but when i am stuck in fear and panic mode it feels like if i don’t win the battle mentally then the fear and panic has won, and i will be defeated. and i simply hate to lose.
even knowing i wont win, and its completely counter intuitive why is it so hard to for me to stop the mental battle ?
Fear’s job it to keep you alive. Without it, you would burn yourself, walk into traffic, ingest poison, etc. The problem with fear in withdrawal is that it comes from an organic place in the brain because we lack the proper neurotransmitters due to our benzo use. Fear just comes along for the ride in WD. If you can remind yourself that fear is just like any other symptom and NOT a reflection of a true catastrophe waiting to happen, you may be able to face down fear and get on with your day.
Distraction is a good tool. If you are unable to distract yourself, then TURN TOWARDS THE FEAR! I know this is counter-intuitive. We mostly want to run away. But don’t. Use COAL to warm your relationship with fear. Corny, I know, but try this. Curiosity, Openness, Acceptance and Love. What might happen if you applies these to your fear. Get curious about it. What does it want you to know? Be open with it. Listen carefully to it. Accept that it is there, even though it is misdirected. Love the fear! Embrace it as another WD symptom and know that it means you are getting closer to healing!!
When we turn towards those things that disturb us, and we listen carefully, we learn a great deal. We also diffuse the negative emotional charge we feel.
Makes sense? If not, please let me know. I’ll do my best to go into more detail. I will be holding a free conference call soon about the psychological symptoms in WD.
I’m going through this now. Facing benzo withdrawal, I was prepared for anxiety…but this constant obsession with my mortality is hell. I only hope this will pass. At least I know I’m not the only one.
Please help. Two weeks off now. Constant terror I’m going to die. That I’ll probably kill my self. Intrusive thoughts and images. It seems inevitable.
Suicide ideation and death obsession are fairly common in benzo withdrawal. Please tell your friends and family about your concerns. Do whatever it takes in order to be safe. These drugs are not worth losing your life over. Withdrawal is a temporary condition. It WILL go away and you’ll feel good again. PLease seek the help you need in order to stay safe.