As promised in an earlier post, I’ll explain how a fist correlates to the brain science that will help you understand your behavior in withdrawal a bit better.

Please raise your hand as the picture shows. Fold your thumb across your palm. Next fold your fingers gently down over your thumb. You should have a fist with your thumb tucked inside.

What you have made is a representation of your brain. Your wrist represents your brain stem that is called the reptilian brain. It regulates your heart and breathing, the fundamentals of life we generally don’t think about.

Your thumb represents your limbic system. It is snuggled deep within the brain. That region of the brain is responsible for the fight or flight response to stress and danger. That region of the brain is reactive, as opposed to logical.

Your curled fingers represent your prefrontal cortex which is behind your forehead. It is  the CEO of your brain,  the region that is responsible for rational, life and loving affirming decisions. This region of the brain “thinks” logically, can decipher consequences to your behavior, set goals and achieve them and so forth.

We need all the regions of the brain for survival. But the problem in withdrawal is that our limbic system takes on a more pronounced role in our lives. Without our naturally occurring ability to calm ourselves due to our down-regulated GABA receptors, our brains react to experiences with more flight or fight responses. We are not as logical as we used to be.  We are on heightened alert, waiting for he next onslaught of danger. It is tiring to say the least.

The limbic region can also steer us down the wrong path. How many of us have thought we will never heal, or that we will never be able to feel joy again? That doon and gloom thinking can be the work of an over active limbic system.

The brain is a make meaning organ. It does not do well with ambiguity. It wants to know what things are and will make things up to satisfy its need for meaning. For example, you have a twitch. Your brain doesn’t know why, so it scours through all the possible reasons for the twitch. Remember the brain doesn’t like ambiguity. It has to deduce meaning out of everything, even it it is wrong. Your brain scrolls down the list of everything it knows about twitching. Soon your brain decides your twitch is dangerous and before you know it, you are in a heightened anxiety state.

If you can help your brain make better meaning out of your withdrawal experience, you will feel less stressed. Kindly tell your brain you are in withdrawal and your crazy, horrible symptoms are just part of it. Remind your brain there is no reason for alarm. Use your prefrontal cortex to logically think things through. When you do this, you actually create a new neural network in your brain. Every neural network you can create away from worried thinking the better!

I remind my clients to think with their fingers, not their thumbs. I hold up the “brain fist” I have made so they can remember that can see they are “thinking with their thumbs” when they are overly stressed. Next time you are thinking stressful thoughts, pat your thumb across your palm to remember to stop the thoughts and to activate your prefrontals, as represented by your fingers.

Of course there is far more going on in withdrawals. Scientists don’t fully understand how benzos work, much less how they scramble the brain when we withdraw them.  Yes, GABA is involved, but there is probably more to the story. It may sound a bit simplistic to say to remember to not let your limbic system run wild. But it is a good start.

Simply understanding more about your brain helps you cope with symptoms.

You will heal. In time. When? That’s the hard question. Patience, self-compassion, and a positive belief system goes a long way to helping your recover.

Next time you are stressed out about withdrawal, move your thoughts over into your prefrontals.  See if you can think a bit more rationally.

To better brain workings,

Dr. Jenn