I could have been the poster girl for intrusive thoughts. I had one that entered my mind thirty seconds after waking and only left after drifting off to sleep. It tortured me. I thought I had gone mad, my mind so broken that the pieces would never go back together. The thought created terrible anxiety, terror, and panic.
Why does our mind torture us with intrusive thoughts in benzo withdrawal? There is no scientific research that I’m aware of that explains the phenomenon in detail. Still, we can assume that our hyper-excited nervous system is responsible to a large degree.
The autonomic nervous system is automatic. It reacts without our willing it to jump into action. When the calming mechanism (GABA receptors) is damaged, our autonomic nervous system will misfire, perceiving innocuous things as a threat. These erroneous perceptions of danger put our nervous system in a state called “protect,” fight, flight, or freeze.
Here is where it gets interesting. The state of our nervous system drives our internal narrative. Put a more straightforward way; state drives story. When our nervous system is in the protect state, our thoughts will be doom and gloom or catastrophic. We may ruminate over symptoms or things in the past that we regret. We may worry about the future, “what if…?” These negative thoughts are common and normal in benzo withdrawal.
We can’t stop our thoughts any more than we can stop our body from producing gas during digestion. Thoughts are a body function, their feel and flavor fueled by the nervous system. Farts are a body function fueled by the digestive system. Our thoughts are no more significant than our farts; they are both harmless body functions. It is important to remember that.
Without a properly working calming system, our nervous system will often be in the protect state, which means our thoughts will often be negative. They may even be violent, sexually perverted or inappropriate, or opposite your character, beliefs, or morality. These types of intrusive thoughts in benzo withdrawal are common. They are reflective of a damaged nervous system, nothing more. They do not mean that you are a terrible person, that you are going crazy, or that you will always have such thoughts.
When you experience intrusive thoughts, you are experiencing your nervous system, just as when you smell a stinky fart, you are experiencing your digestive system. Your intrusive thoughts are “stinking thinking.” When we put intrusive thoughts into the proper perspective, we reduce their ability to torture us.
One of the best coping skills for intrusive thoughts is to observe them neutrally. We can say, “that’s my benzo brain,” or “that’s stinking thinking.” Our thoughts are not the enemy. They are just thoughts. We mustn’t fight them, for fighting intensifies the protect state, perpetuating more negative thoughts.
Distraction is another good coping skill for intrusive thoughts. Your mind will usually follow what your hands are doing, gardening, drawing, knitting, cooking, etc. Learning something new is an excellent way to cope with intrusive thoughts. It is also a way to give your brain a significant dopamine boost.
Intrusive thoughts are normal in benzo withdrawal. Not everyone experiences them, but know that you are in good company if you do. Intrusive thoughts will fade away as your GABA receptors heal and your nervous system isn’t in a protect state so often. Your nervous system will be more able to shift into the “connect” state, which is the default state. There, your thoughts will be positive. You’ll be curious, compassionate, hopeful, confident, capable, forgiving, etc.
Remember, state drives story. In benzo withdrawal, you are in a protect state, so your thoughts will be negative. Thoughts are harmless body functions and do not reflect your character. Intrusive thoughts do not mean you are losing your mind. You experience intrusive thoughts because your nervous system is hyper-excited and nothing more. You are safe. You are healing. You will recover.
If you want daily support, consider joining my live group coaching/support group, Mornings With Jenn, on Discord. I am live three times a week, Monday, Wednesday, Friday, at 9 AM pacific. The group has channels for discussing withdrawal symptoms, the four cornerstones of well-being, relaxation tools, fun and creativity sharing, as well as live streaming events such as movies, music, books on tape, yoga, and meditation classes. Mornings With Jenn is a unique, positive, solution-focused benzo withdrawal support group. If you worry that discussion of symptoms will trigger you, we can hide the benzo withdrawal channels so you are not tempted to go in. To join: https://upgrade.chat/morningswithjenn/p/mornings-with-jenn