If social media has shown us anything, it has shown us that everyone has an opinion, even if that opinion isn’t based on truth, on facts. Post about your experience of benzo withdrawal (or tell someone about it) and you’ll probably trigger a landslide of unasked for advice based on opinions, not truth or facts. And very often, those opinions aren’t helpful; they are hurtful.
I’ll never forget the time a stranger told me to eat purple food because it had a better vibrational quality that would eradicate my symptoms. I did my best to kindly explain what causes benzo withdrawal—the down-regulated GABA receptors causing a hyperexcited nervous system, and I doubted that a purple food would magically, Abbra Cadabra, repair said receptors. But she kept on. And on. And on. Implying that I didn’t WANT to be healed and that I was the problem. I was the reason I wasn’t healed from the cold turkey my doctor had pushed upon me after eighteen years of prescribed use.
Then there were the well-meaning friends who told me to “think happy thoughts,” as if my symptoms were generated because of a shortcoming in my thinking patterns. The list goes on and on. Person after person offered advice that was not only not helpful but was often hurtful. I know that they meant well. They wanted me to stop suffering, but their advice was rarely supportive. It usually pushed my already jacked-up nervous system into an even higher state of “protect”—fight, flight or freeze.
If you know someone who is in benzo withdrawal, here are the things not to say to them, and two things to always say.
- Go see a doctor. (We did. They caused this. They are often uneducated and will prescribe other drugs that are harmful to benzo withdrawal.)
- Go to detox or rehab. (Inpatient centers quickly taper or cold turkey people from benzos, often resulting in a severe withdrawal syndrome, and often more drugs are added.)
- Stop thinking about benzo withdrawal. (We wish we could, but its hell 24/and 7. It takes front and center stage, even though we don’t want it to.)
- Take a drink, calm down! (Alcohol works on the same receptors as benzos and therefore we must avoid alcohol.)
- Exercise more. (Sadly, many people in benzo withdrawal become exercise intolerant. Too much exercise can cause an increase in withdrawal symptoms.)
- Think happy thoughts. (Yeah, we wish we could. Unfortunately, the damage to the GABA receptors causes problems with our thoughts, making them negative and scary.)
- Go to work and forget about your troubles. (Work, or other obligations and responsibilities can overtax our fragile nervous system and make us worse,)
- See a therapist. (Most therapies don’t help us in benzo withdrawal, and some, like traditional talk therapy, can cause an increase in withdrawal symptoms.)
- See a psychiatrist. (Most psychiatrists are uneducated about the dangers of benzos and the withdrawal process and syndrome, even though they prescribe them!)
- It’s all in your head! (It’s in our brain and nervous system—real damage that manifests in real symptoms.)
(I’m sure you, dear benzo withdrawal survivor, have suffered through other responses from ignorant people who may mean well, but are hurtful.)
What are the two things one should always say to a person in benzo withdrawal? They are two simple questions” “What do you need?” “How can I help?”
Please don’t give unasked for advice to someone suffering in benzo withdrawal. Your advice is rarely needed and usually not heeded. Instead, give your time and attention, your compassionate listening ear, and ask what you can do to help. That is the most loving and healing response to anyone in benzo withdrawal. It is the most loving response to anyone, at any time, in any situation. Your thoughtfulness will be appreciated more than you know. It will help the healing process, and for that, all of us who have been touched by benzo withdrawal thank you, wholeheartedly.