Going crazy is a common fear in benzo withdrawal. Our thoughts can be chaotic, a rush of horrible tangle of things. Our thoughts may arrive in an orderly fashion, but still oozing their wretched words or images. Our thoughts may insist on digging up memories of the past or triggering emotions that feel way too big. We may think thoughts so vile and repulsive we are too ashamed to share them with anyone. No matter how our thoughts bubble up in benzo withdrawal, one thing seems to be the same: we feel out of control and frightened, sure that our minds will “snap” under the pressure of the intrusive or looping thoughts.
Our thoughts may indeed be disturbing in benzo withdrawal, but do we go crazy? It’s not likely, not in the most real sense of the word. What we experience in benzo withdrawal is usually not a real break with reality but rather a hyper-excited nervous system that fuels a lot of thoughts we’d rather not experience. We don’t lose our minds, but we may lose our sense of self— our sense of being in charge of our thoughts and feelings. We may feel victimized by our thoughts, but that doesn’t mean that they will cause us to go crazy.
One of the coping skills for intrusive or looping thoughts is to observe them, calling them out for what they are: a body function caused by our disregulated nervous system. We don’t debate or argue with them; we watch them. You wouldn’t worry about going crazy if you had a stinky fart. Don’t worry about going crazy from some “stinking thinking!”
Another coping skill is to remind yourself that it is OK to think anything your mind conjures up. Even the violent, sexual, horrifying thoughts that appear for many in benzo withdrawal are OK because they are not you. Don’t judge your thoughts. Accept them. Let them pass, like clouds in the sky. (Of course, never act out on any thought that would harm yourself or others.)
Your mind and your hands have an exciting relationship. Your mind will very often get curious about what your hands are doing and follow along, taking the focus off of your benzo withdrawal-induced thoughts. Engaging in activities that require fine motor control is an excellent way to cope with benzo withdrawal. Draw, knit, paint, sculpt, sew, make jewelry, crochet, garden, embroider, etc. Don’t know how? YouTube can teach you! Get your hand busy!
The mantra, “This too, shall pass!” helps to remind us to go with the flow and not be scared of thoughts generated by benzo withdrawal. Our minds won’t develop terrible thoughts forever. Our nervous systems will heal, and our thoughts will return to normal. Practicing acceptance of our symptoms helps us to stay more grounded as we heal.
Should we seek a therapist’s help with our thoughts? If a therapist understands benzo withdrawal, he or she may assist you in accepting your withdrawal-induced thoughts, but they will not be able to stop them from occurring. They may help you come to terms with them so that they are less frightening. It’s important to know that many therapists are not benzo-wise and may diagnose your withdrawal-induced thoughts as OCD, paranoia, or other psychiatric labels and encourage you to see a doctor for medications. In the benzo community, it is anecdotal knowledge that no drugs stop thoughts generated by benzo withdrawal. Their cure is time, as your nervous system heals.
It is common to have unsettling, frightening, unspeakable intrusive or looping thoughts in benzo withdrawal. They are a symptom of the damage the benzodiazepine caused. The less you fear your thoughts and accept them as part of the benzodiazepine damage syndrome, the less you will suffer. Please do your best to observe them, accept them, let them pass, and find things to do with your hands. You’re not crazy. You are in benzo withdrawal. You are safe, you are healing, and you will recover.
For the video version of this blog post, please visit my YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCamevzVEV-oAuvqEkyO7VVA