Windows and Waves
Benzodiazepine withdrawal/BIND is often characterized by a “windows and waves” pattern. Windows are times when we are symptom-free or symptoms have lessened. Waves are times when we have an increase in symptoms. In this blog post, we will discuss windows and waves, why they may occur, and how you can cope with them as you navigate your benzo withdrawal journey.
Understanding Windows and Waves
During benzodiazepine withdrawal, your body and brain are working to recalibrate and return to a balanced state, i.e., homeostasis. This process can result in a range of symptoms, which can be both physical, mental, and emotional. The window and wave phenomenon refers to the alternating periods of symptom relief (windows) and increased symptom intensity (waves).
Windows are periods when symptoms seem to have lessened or disappeared altogether. These can last from a few hours to several days and can be a welcome relief from the discomfort of withdrawal. My windows were never times of symptom relief but rather times of fewer symptoms. Everyone defines what a window means to them.
Waves, on the other hand, are periods when symptoms intensify and can feel overwhelming. The duration and severity of waves can vary widely and be triggered by various factors such as stress, medications, supplements, or even no apparent reason.
Why Do Windows and Waves Occur?
The exact reason for the windows and waves pattern during withdrawal is not entirely understood. However, it is believed to be due to the brain’s attempts to regain equilibrium after being altered (neuroadaptation) by benzodiazepines. The process of healing during withdrawal is complex and involves multiple neurological systems. As a result, the recovery process is not always linear, and it can take time for the brain to heal.
Not everyone has windows and waves.
Some people never experience a window. Their symptoms remain the same (or possibly increase), but they never get any perceptible relief. Their healing may feel more linear than someone who experiences the typical window and wave pattern. People who do not experience windows and waves still heal in a normal timeline.
The heaven and hell pattern.
A percentage of people experience a “heaven and hell” pattern. Their windows and waves cycle every twenty-four hours; a wonderful window for a day, then a horrible hellish day. This twenty-four-hour cycle can be frightening, but it is a recognized pattern in the benzo community.
Coping Strategies for Windows and Waves
- Acceptance and Patience
One of the most important things you can do when experiencing windows and waves during withdrawal is to accept the process and be patient. Recognize that the journey is not linear, and you will have good hours and bad hours, good days and bad days. By accepting the unpredictability of your recovery, you can reduce the stress and anxiety that may arise from trying to control the process.
- Practice Self-Care
Taking care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally is crucial during withdrawal. Make sure you eat a healthy diet (WFPB) and exercise gently if possible. Prioritize activities that help you distract, and don’t be afraid to ask for help when needed.
- Track Your Symptoms
Keeping a journal or log of your symptoms can help you identify patterns in your windows and waves. This can be useful for understanding your triggers and finding ways to minimize them. Additionally, tracking your progress can be a helpful reminder of how far you’ve come and give you hope during challenging waves. (Remember that our assumptions on what caused a wave may be incorrect.)
- Connect with Others
A support system of friends, family, or a support group can be invaluable during withdrawal. Sharing your experiences with others who understand what you’re going through can provide a sense of camaraderie and help you feel less alone in your journey. Choose positive, solution-based support groups; otherwise, you may be triggered by the negativity.
- Mindfulness and Meditation
Practicing mindfulness and meditation can help you cope with benzo withdrawal’s emotional ups and downs. By observing your thoughts and feelings without judgment, you can develop greater self-awareness and acceptance. This can be particularly helpful when dealing with the anxiety and depression that often accompany waves.
- Seek Professional Help
If you’re struggling to cope with the windows and waves phenomenon, it can be beneficial to seek help from a doctor to rule out any other causes and set your mind at ease. Counseling from a benzo-wise therapist or a benzodiazepine withdrawal coach can be beneficial.
It’s essential to remember that recovery is a process, and it’s unlikely to be perfect. You may feel frustrated by the slow pace of your healing. However, focusing on the progress you’ve made and the small victories along the way can help you maintain a positive mindset which can reduce your suffering.
- Create a Calming Environment
During waves, it’s crucial to have a calming environment to retreat and find comfort. This can be a specific room in your home, a quiet outdoor space, or even a calming playlist or collection of soothing images. Having a designated space or activity to turn to during waves can help you feel more in control and grounded during these challenging times. I still listen to the Spotify channel, Peaceful Retreat, that I played during my recovery. At one point, I slept in a tent in my front yard, too triggered by my home. Be creative in making a safe space for yourself.
- Develop a Wave Survival Plan
Having a plan in place for when waves hit can help you feel more prepared and less overwhelmed. This plan can include specific coping strategies, relaxation techniques, or even a list of people to contact for support. Having the plan to turn to when you’re in the midst of a wave can provide structure and guidance. I sat in a chair in my garden when my symptoms became intense and listened to the birds, felt the breeze on my face, and watched the clouds scurrying across the sky.
- Celebrate Your Windows
Lastly, it’s important to celebrate and appreciate your windows. These periods of relief can remind you of your progress and provide a glimpse into what life can be like once you’ve fully recovered. Make the most of these windows by engaging in activities you enjoy, connecting with loved ones, or simply taking a moment to acknowledge your strength and resilience. Remember, symptoms do not mean that we are not healing. We are healing, even when we are symptomatic.
The non-linear healing process of benzodiazepine withdrawal, characterized by windows and waves, can be challenging to navigate. However, by understanding the nature of this phenomenon and implementing coping strategies, you can better manage the ups and downs of your recovery journey. Remember, you are not alone, and with time, patience, and support, you can overcome this challenging period. You will go on to live a happier, healthier life after benzo withdrawal.
Join the conversation.
Leave a comment. Let us know your experience with windows and waves and how you best cope. Thank you for participating.