Coping skills for protracted benzo withdrawal symptoms.

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If you’ve been in the benzo withdrawal community for any length of time, you’ve heard the mantra about coping: distraction, distraction, distraction. It’s one of the best tools that we have for coping with our symptoms. The other major coping skills are acceptance, patience, and a little bit of hope/faith. Since there isn’t any known “cure” for benzo withdrawal except time, we have to wait out our healing as best as we can.

But what do we do when that healing time decides to take its own sweet time and one day we wake up in that dreaded zone called “protracted withdrawal?” Are there new coping skills that might help us? I think that there are. Let’s take a look at them. But before we do, let’s talk a little about protracted withdrawal and what it means.

Why I wish the term “protracted withdrawal” would go away.

I remember the months that led up to me being eighteen months free of my benzodiazepine. I began to get worried. Very worried. “What if I become protracted?” I was convinced that if I became protracted that it meant that my chances of healing were drastically reduced. (That’s only a fear. It’s not a fact.) I worried that becoming protracted meant that somehow, in some way, I was defective. (it didn’t.) Certainly, I must have something wrong if my brain and nervous system couldn’t get their acts together by a year and a half benzo free! (Nope. Didn’t mean that at all!)  What I didn’t know at the time was that eighteen months off isn’t some magic line in the sand that if you cross you’re doomed. In fact, some doctors who are benzo-wise feel that true healing from the damage that a benzo can cause takes more than a year and a half in most cases. This doesn’t mean that people suffer for that long, it just means that the underlying healing takes quite some time.

That’s why I wish that the term protracted withdrawal would go away. We don’t really need it for anything, and it only seems to increase fear and worry in people. The fact is benzo withdrawal is benzo withdrawal whether you are one week free, eighteen months free, or more. We are all healing, and that is all that counts. So don’t worry about the time it will take you to heal because you will heal.

Of course, no one wants to look ahead and think that they will suffer for a long time, and that’s the worry about protracted. I remember thinking that there was no way I could last more than a year if my suffering didn’t subside. And of course, it did. Slowly. Was I well at eighteen months off? No. I wasn’t. I had a long way to go. But was I suffering like I was in the very beginning? No. As time passes, things gradually get better. Even if you do by chance pass the eighteen-month mark, that doesn’t mean that you will be suffering then as you are now, or as you did in the very beginning.

What other coping skills can we use in protracted withdrawal?

We still need to rely on distraction, acceptance, patience, and hope/faith. But as our healing goes on, we may want to consider relying on a few other coping skills to help us to not only pass the time but ready ourselves for when we are able to delve back into life full force. Here are the things that helped me the most: being of service, really learning to love myself, and reducing my talking about or focusing on my symptoms.

Being of service is an excellent way to take our mind off of our problems. When I was well enough (but not healed) I started looking for ways that I could be of help to others. Not only the benzo community but others in my neighborhood and my social circle. I also looked at my flower gardening as being of service to the plants and to the people who enjoyed my garden. I didn’t always feel great, but I managed to do what I needed to do to be of service to someone. If you still aren’t feeling great, but you can do a few things, explore ways in which you can be of service. Not healed enough to get out? Get creative! Find ways to be helpful from home. (Email me if you need some ideas.) Service is a surefire way to stop thinking about your suffering as it puts your focus outside of yourself.

Learning to love yourself is a very important part of our healing and our journey in life. Many of us pay lip service to the idea of loving ourselves, but we don’t, not really. Not in the ways that promote deep healing and peace. As we learn to love ourselves, we take better care of our body, mind, and spirit. We extend compassion to ourselves. We don’t push ourselves too hard. And of course, we practice acceptance of our current (temporary) limitations.

If we approach protracted withdrawal with fear and worry, we miss out on a big chunk of healing that is generated by love. Remember, positive builds, negativity destroys. When we learn to *really* loves ourselves, we find that we heal in ways we may not have even imagined. I healed from my childhood trauma as a result of learning to love myself once I was in protracted withdrawal. Before I hit that watermark, I was focused on healing my benzo withdrawal symptoms. But then I came to the realization that I needed to heal a lot more than downregulated GABA receptors! And love was my medicine.

I’ll never forget the afternoon my BFF and next door neighbor told me that I had to stop talking about benzo withdrawal! My first reaction was hurt. How dare she tell me to stop talking about the worst suffering I had ever experienced in my life! Yes, I’m sad to say I felt that. But not for long. I thought about what she said and soon it made sense to me. By not talking about benzo withdrawal so much, I cultivated better relationships and I didn’t focus on my symptoms as much. Being in benzo withdrawal can take over our entire lives! (How can it not? It impacts every aspect of being a human being!) However, if we are in protracted withdrawal, we can limit our talk-time about our symptoms and do our best to listen to others. That can go a long way to developing better relationships and bring us back to inclusion in our circles of friends, which is helpful for our healing. A community is important.

Why protracted withdrawal isn’t the end of the world.

I dreaded the thought of becoming protracted. When I hit the eighteen-month mark, I was devastated. I was also pretty pissed off with God. I felt terribly sorry for myself. But looking back, I’m happy that my recovery took as long as it did. It gave me plenty of runway to grow and transform into the person I always wanted to be. Perhaps you can frame your healing time as a positive; it is time that you need to grow and transform.

If we only think of healing as the elimination of our symptoms, some of us may be missing the opportunity to dig deep and do the real healing work of letting go of our past traumas. etc.

How to cope with family and friends in protracted benzo withdrawal.

Even if we become comfortable with our healing time, our friends and family may not. They may be impatient for us to rejoin them and be as we used to be. Some may be worried that we aren’t in benzo withdrawal, but instead, we have developed some mental or physical illness and we need to see a doctor. And some may drop us from their roster and never return as our friend. What we must do is to accept that we can’t control what others think or feel. We can only control ourselves. Do your best to avoid trying to educate your friends or family. Let them think what they want. Put your energy into being of service, loving yourself, and doing our best to button our lips about our remaining symptoms.

One tool you may want to use when someone says something about your recovery that pushes your buttons is the “when you/I feel” statement. It’s quite simple, but there is one catch to it. It’s simple in that you say, “When you XXXX I feel XXXX. The catch is that you must tell the person exactly what they’ve said or done in black and white terms. You can’t use a statement that reflects a judgment. For example, if someone says to you, “There’s no way this can still be benzo withdrawal. It’s got to be an underlying problem or a new illness.” You don’t say, “When you don’t understand my illness, I feel sad.” You’ve made a judgment that they don’t understand, even though it’s true. But that statement could possibly make them feel defensive because that is what judgments often do. Then they could say, “But I do understand!” And then you’re off to the races in a heated debate, which doesn’t do your nervous system any good. The better thing to say is exactly what the person has said (or done). “When you say that there is no way this can still be benzo withdrawal or that it’s got to be an underlying problem or a new illness, I feel sad (or whatever it is that you feel.)  State what they’ve said or done in black and white terms and then state how you feel.

For me, learning to let go of my need to try to control other’s feelings about my benzo withdrawal was one of the ways I practiced learning to love myself. Once I got a toe-hold into it, I was able to then go on to not trying to control what other’s thought about my looks, my financial situation, my home, etc. It helped catapult me into having so much more peace about who I am and letting go of worrying about how others saw me. That started a delicious journey into feeling incredibly powerful; an emotion I wasn’t very acquainted prior to benzo withdrawal.

You are going to recover.

Yes, even if you do pass the eighteen-month mark, you are doing to recover. Your nervous system will heal when the time is right for your unique brain and body. Don’t lose hope. The journey to recovery can be a time of incredible growth and ultimately empowerment and peace and serenity. Keep your heart open and keep going.

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