I read this letter from a benzo sufferer this morning:

Hi Dr. Leigh,

I am SO delighted that you have devoted your life to helping people recover from benzos, as I need all of the daily inspiration I can get. Maybe tomorrow, however, you could elaborate on all of the things you WERE able to accomplish and do during those four years. For us who are still tapering, it sounds as if we will never have a life until that long out.

What a great question? Thanks for asking.

Some of the hardest months for me were the last four of my taper. I was so deathly ill. I was bedridden. It was brutal. I didn’t get a lot of *normal* things done, but I did start to blog about my benzo journey. I even created a benzo forum (that was later dismantled). I may have been bed bound, but I always tried to find ways to have a purpose in life.

Another dark time was after my cold turkey. If you look at the archived posts, you’ll see a ten-month gap in posts. I wasn’t able to write anything. I was too busy surviving! One morning, I felt that God was speaking to me. Of course, I didn’t hear a booming voice in my room, (I had auditory hallucinations, so He could have chosen that route I suppose, teehee) but rather it was an intense “knowing” that I was supposed to go plant a flower garden. Now mind you, I was kitten weak. Could hardly stand up. Wobbly. But I drove myself to the lumber store and bought wood to build two raised beds. It was hard to navigate the store and hard to talk to the clerk. I lived in a state of terror/panic/fear twenty-four hours a day. I brought the supplies home and build the beds. There are really rustic and basic, but they held dirt. I planted vegetables in them. From them, I moved to the rest of the yard.

I ripped out grass, junipers and banks of ivy. I planted love.

I planted flowers in my front yard. Lots and lots of flowers. Every day, neighbors saw my in my overalls, working away. I installed a short fence to protect the yard and I hung a chalkboard on it. Every morning, I’d push myself out of the door and write an inspiration thought on it. I also put out a plate of dog biscuits and a bowl of water. Soon, people were coming from all over to read the chalkboard and to give treats to their dogs. I got to meet and know a lot of interesting people. The garden became a gathering place. I planted more than flowers, I planted love.

I also built a prayer “tree” and put out tags with strings and a pen so that people could write their intentions, wishes or prayers and tie to the “tree.” (This year the tree is a tall trellis at the front of the yard.) In withdrawal, I was able to foster a loving community of people. I’m proud of that. I believe that helped me heal. I know it helped others in the neighborhood to heal from their traumas.

I continued to blog about my benzo withdrawal, and before too long, I was building a large community online. People from all around the world reached out to me for help and hope, even though I was still at that time, in the clutches of withdrawal.

I explored many ways to build a business in withdrawal, but none of them bore fruit. I was too sick. However, looking back, I’m so proud that I at least made an effort. I’m a real go-getter. I don’t let much hold me back from what I want in life! Of course, now I’m back at work and helping others and I’m even helping other coaches build their businesses. It’s very exciting!

I wrote a book in withdrawal, too! Stop. Open. Turn. Three Simple Listening Skills To Nurture And Grow Love In Recovery. It’s not my best writing, but it was good enough to share others. I’m proud I wrote it.

I was able to walk short distances, drive to the beach, hang out with friends, write, read, research, paint, draw, and garden. I wasn’t able to go to the movies for a long time, or to be around loud noises or a lot of commotion. I had to be gentle and kind to my damaged central nervous system.

I honored my limitations and tested them from time to time.

I pushed myself to see where my boundaries were. I did many things that felt terrifying to do, like driving across the Bay Bridge and to Annies Annuals nursery to buy flowers. A good 45-minute drive in horrendous Bay Area traffic, I was often in a state of terror, but I did it anyway. My motto was always, “Keep moving.” I went from one thing that needed to be done to the next. Often I was like a scared robot, going through the motions, but I got things done! Sure, some days I had to rest on the couch or huddle under the covers in bed. I’m not Superwoman.

I had a life in withdrawal.

Here’s the thing. I had a life in withdrawal. You do too! It just may not look like the life you are used to, or the life you want. But it IS YOUR LIFE. I did my best to always make the best of things. I kept my mind and my hands busy. I cooked for family and friends. I painted big canvases using acrylics. I entered art shows. I wrote. I created websites for friends when I had enough bandwidth to do so. I went to the beach. I shopped a lot at my local Goodwill. (I became penniless in withdrawal so Goodwill was the only place I could afford to shop.)

I was scared I would never heal.

Like most everyone else in benzo withdrawal, I was scared I would never heal. I’m sure I drove some people crazy needing so much reassurance! Then one day I realized I hadn’t had the intrusive thoughts. Or I had woken up and the burning spine and gut wrenching nerve pain was gone. Slowly, little by little, bit by bit, I got my life back. I’m not 100% totally healed of the body symptoms, but the mental and emotional symptoms are long gone. I’m hopeful my body will heal more. If it doesn’t…I’ll be okay. My life is good enough right now as it is.

I drove across the USA with my dog Shakespeare.

I knew my healing had turned a corner when last January I rented a van and drove across the USA to give hope to others in benzo withdrawal. I traveled 8.500 miles. It was awesome! I wasn’t completely healed when I undertook that trip, but I was good enough. I’m so glad I pushed myself to do it.

My suggestions to you in withdrawal.

Create community. Listen to others more and stop talking about your symptoms or benzos. Get involved being of service to others in some (even small) ways. Find ways to be creative. Creativity, like everything else, take a huge hit in benzo withdrawal. It’s good to keep your creative muscles going as much as you can. Be out in nature as many hours of the day as you can be. It is healing. Plant a flower garden! Seriously. This is such good advice. There is a bacteria that grows in the soil that boosts serotonin. Go get dirty! Test your boundaries often. You may be pleasantly surprised when you can do things that were you recently unable to do. Find “anchors” that you know to turn to when you are having a really hard time. My anchors were gardening, writing, word puzzles, the beach, and watching movies on my laptop. (I don’t own a T.V.) Eat healthy. Walk every day that you can. Listen to soothing music.

Learn something new.

I know we can’t think straight in the depths of benzo withdrawal. But do try your best to learn something new. I learned how to create websites. I took online classes. I researched topics of interest. I learned to paint. I even attempted to learn to go from only being able to draw stick figures, to drawing something recognizable. I drew a picture every day for over a month, just as a way to practice being disciplined. Withdrawal may have been the boss in some ways, but I was the ultimate boss because I refused to let it ruin my life.

Withdrawal gives us a chance to see what we are made of.

We get to decide if we can accept life on life’s terms and make the best of a bad situation, or if we become victims and shrivel up. I had to battle victimhood. It wanted to suck me down into its murky depths every day. Sometimes, it did get ahold of me and I’d find myself lowering into the abyss. I’d have to fight my way free with gardening, or a trip to the beach and lots of prayers.  Not everyone believes in God. But I wouldn’t have survived benzo withdrawal without my faith that there is *something* that rules the stars and the planets and cares about me. Withdrawal gave me a chance to turn my old pre-existing anxiety into a thing of the past. I was made stronger in withdrawal.

You’ll see.

You can’t see it now, not while you are still in the clutches of withdrawal. However, one day, you’ll be able to see that you too, were made stronger and better because you went through benzo withdrawal. You’ll realize that you had a life after all, even in the darkest days. And you’ll rejoice when the light starts to shine back in. And it will. It always does.