I’ve written a handful of books about listening skills, but I’m still not a perfect listener. I fall prey to a few bad listening habits, even though I try hard not to. So I understand how those people who aren’t conscious of their listening skills can make mistakes. Here is what I wish I could have shared with people who had the listening habit of giving unasked for advice when I was in benzo withdrawal:

Dear friends and family,
When I share my tender and vulnerable truth with you about my iatrogenic illness caused by taking a benzodiazepine as prescribed by a doctor I trusted, and you immediately respond with unasked for advice on what I “should” be doing to get well, I feel unheard and unsupported. I shared my feelings — my fears, doubts, concerns, and frustrations with you in hopes that you could simply sit with me and be fully present with me. It doesn’t help me to hear that you think I’ll get well quicker if I eat purple foods because they have a special vibration to them, or that I need to think happy thoughts, or that I need to take another medication, or a vitamin, or a hot bath or a cold bath, or go for long walks, or short walks, or pray, or meditate, or do yoga, or go vegan, or eat more protein, or go on a vacation, or stay in bed—whatever it is you think I am not doing that I should be doing in order to get well. See, when you give me unasked for advice, what you’re really saying is “You’re doing it wrong.” You’re telling me that all of the research I’ve done about benzo withdrawal doesn’t matter. You know better than me, even though you aren’t the one living in my body. Your unasked for advice separates us, leaving me to feel even more alone and isolated in my illness.

Being present with me and allowing me to share my deepest truth without you giving me unasked for advice is healing for me. I don’t need advice. I just need you to listen to me. Patiently. With an open heart and an open mind. I really just need you to love me right now, and that is what true listening is — love in action. If I do want advice, I’ll ask for it. That’s when it’s okay for you to share your opinion.

That is what I wish I had shared with my friends and family who gave me unasked for advice or had other listening habits that weren’t helpful, like interrupting or stealing the conversation. I didn’t need to hear how their Aunt Edna got off of her benzo. I didn’t need to hear how they had a medical problem and suffered, too. I didn’t need to be interrupted, or the words I couldn’t think of quickly, given to me, or the topic of conversation changed by them, or their texting while I was talking, or a hundred other ways in which they weren’t fully present and open-hearted.  I wish I had told them that I didn’t need their words, I needed their time, attention, and their heart. Love heals. And love often shows up in the softness of silence between two people just sharing a moment and their hearts with each other. If words were what my friends and family wanted to share with me, I wish that they had shared these: “What do you need? How can I help?” Those two simple sentences could have relieved my fear of being misunderstood and alone. Those two simple sentences could have been a bridge that my friends and family created and walked over, right into my heart, where they would have helped me the most.

Listening is love in action. It heals. Please, listen to people in benzo withdrawal. Listen to everyone. The world will be a better place for it.