First, it’s important to understand that we feel fear in benzo withdrawal because the medication we took downregulated our GABA receptors. We don’t have the necessary “equipment” to produce calm in our bodies or our minds. We aren’t fearful because we lack backbone or courage. We aren’t psychological weaklings. We simply don’t have the working components that we need to cope with fear. In fact, because we lack the GABA receptors that we need, our brain and body produce fear, anxiety, paranoia, etc. It’s not our fault, nor are we in control of it.
Why then write about not fearing fear if we don’t have much control over fear? We may not be able to stop the organic fear our brain produces, however, we can stop adding gas to the fire by fearing the fear. That’s part of the cycle we can do our best to control.
No one likes to feel fear. It signals danger. In benzo withdrawal, however, it’s a faulty signal—much like a smoke detector beeping when the battery is low—there is no fire we’ve got to put out, just a battery that needs replacing. The fear we feel in benzo withdrawal isn’t “real.” There is no immediate danger. But our fear circuitry is beeping away, getting our attention. If we can wrap our heads around the fact that there is nothing dangerous we need to protect ourselves from and that the fear we feel is just a faulty wiring so to speak, we can cope better.
I learned to do two things to combat the fear of fear.
- Massive amounts of self-talk. It was exhausting, to be sure. I had to talk to myself about everything, all day and well into the wee hours of the night. I missed being able to get through my day without thinking about my thinking. The preoccupation with self and with benzo withdrawal in general took up an enormous amount of energy. However, the self-talk was needed. It was my “rudder” to steer me through the turbulent and treacherous waters. I continually reminded myself that I was in benzo withdrawal and that was why my world was fubar.
- Lean into the fear. Every time I tried to outrun my fear, it only chased me faster. It always caught up to me and tackled me to the ground, usually knocking the wind out of me. It was demoralizing. On one particularly fearful afternoon, I was too exhausted to run. I remember thinking, I’ve got to face this. I sat on my bed and rocked from side to side and let the fear wash over me. What I discovered was that it didn’t destroy me. Yes, it was uncomfortable to feel fear’s icy fingers prying at every mooring in my being, but that was all that is was, uncomfortable. Nothing terrible happened. The world was still the same when I re-emerged from my room. However, I wasn’t. I was a little bit stronger. A little bit bolder. A little more confident. That’s not to say that I nailed it perfectly every time my fear started to build. Some days, I mentally laced up my shoes and ran for all I was worth. But more and more, I was learning how to stay with the fear and let it pass. Every time I didn’t run, I rewired my brain for the better. One day I felt a nasty panic attack coming on and I was able to deflect it within a matter of seconds. No kidding!
When I stopped fearing the fear, I knew there was hope for my recovery. I knew too, that I would not drag my old “pre-existing” anxiety into my future. I was hard at work re-wiring my brain for the better. There was no way my brain could return to the old fearful state it was pre-benzos. That premonition became reality as I left benzo withdrawal further and further behind me, and I strode out into my new days, full of hope and promise, without any anxiety. If I can accomplish becoming a calm, rational person, you can too. There is nothing special about me or my abilities. You have the same capacity and capability to re-wire your brain. One of the ways in which you can do that is to do your best to stop fearing the fear. Turn towards the fear. Lean into it. Invite it in for a cup of tea and a biscuit. Pat it on the head afterwards and let it scamper on off. Each time you do, it will get easier and easier, until one day, there is no fear to face. That is the day you’ll email me and tell me how amazing your life is. I can’t wait to read that email!