Withdrawing from our benzodiazepine can be the most challenging experience we will ever have to live through. Not only do we have to manage the symptoms from the changes the drug has caused in our brain and central nervous system (the downregulation of GABA receptors), but we also have to deal with the lack of knowledge/education of the medical community and the lack of understanding by family and friends.
There are few illnesses that are so grossly overlooked and misunderstood as benzodiazepine withdrawal. And yes, benzo withdrawal is an illness, an iatrogenic illness, meaning doctor caused. We trusted our medical practitioner, took our medication as directed, and ended up with chemical brain damage that requires time, patience, and fortitude to recover from.
In all the darkness that is benzo withdrawal, the shining light is that we do recover. The brain and central nervous system are designed to heal on their own. All we need to do is to get out of the way.
Eleven Coping Tools For Benzo Withdrawal:
- Eat clean. Organic is best. Eat a varied diet of one ingredient foods. Buy meat from sources that raise their animals cleanly and ethically. Avoid pre-packaged foods, sugar, alcohol, caffeine, food colorings, dyes, additives or preservatives. If a food item needs a label, that’s a red flag that means you need to investigate what ingredients have gone into the making of that food product. Nourishing our bodies with healthy foods give our body what it needs to heal. (Some of us have gone gluten-free in withdrawal and feel that it does help, but there is only anecdotal evidence.
- Avoid stress. It’s hard to avoid stress in benzo withdrawal because the GABA receptors are damaged making little things feel overwhelming. But try to limit the things that trigger you. Don’t spend a lot of time on social media or in benzo withdrawal online groups or forums that are negative. Don’t engage with people who upset you. Don’t stress your body with too much exercise, or time in the heat or in the sun.
- Rest. Fatigue, pain, and dizziness are common benzo withdrawal symptoms. Resting helps us avoid overstimulating an already hyperactive nervous system. Learning to take time to lie down to or curl up in our favorite chair and take time out, is helpful. If you are suffering from the common withdrawal symptom of insomnia, resting throughout the day can help you to feel less shaky and “hungover” from lack of sleep.
- Respect your receptors. Avoid taking anything that works on GABA receptors. They’ve been damaged from the benzodiazepine, so give them a chance to heal. Avoid alcohol, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, neuroleptics, CBC oil, kava kava, phenibut, kavinace, valerian root, chamomile tea, etc. If you aren’t sure if something works on GABA, do a google search. Many other drugs and supplements have been known to flare up benzo withdrawal symptoms, (vitamin B, D, fish oil, and magnesium) so be careful; we have a fragile nervous system for quite some time.
- Have faith. Believing in something greater than yourself helps. For some that is God, for others, it is a Higher Power, etc. Call it whatever you wish, but rely on it to help you get through withdrawal. Faith in something greater than ourselves takes us away from the focus of our suffering. It helps us rise above our pain, even if only momentarily. Having faith allows for the process of benzo withdrawal to mold us into being better, instead of being bitter. Benzodiazepine withdrawal is an opportunity to mature and grow spiritually.
- Create community. We were not designed to live in isolation, we are pack animals. Create a community of people that you trust and love can be yourself. Of course, you can share your struggles with benzo withdrawal, but also learn to listen and to be there for others. Being of service is an excellent way to take our minds off of our problems. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it; when you allow others to give to you, you’ve given them the opportunity to feel good about themselves.
- Live in today. The past holds our regrets and the future holds our fears, worries, and anxieties. Don’t time travel. Live your life in the present moment. If you find yourself dwelling on the past, or worrying about the future, come back the present moment by grounding yourself. Take off your shoes, feel what’s under your feet. Look around, notice your environment. Use positive self-talk to remind yourself that everything is okay in this present moment.
- Neutrally observe. It’s human nature to believe what your mind tells you. But that’s not always a good idea. It’s often a very bad idea during benzo withdrawal. WIthout enough working GABA receptors, our thoughts turn dark and ugly. They may even be intrusive or looping. We aren’t in control of them. It can be a very frightening experience to feel so out of control and at the mercy of a mind spewing filth and horror twenty-four seven. But we must realize that those torturous thoughts are just another benzo withdrawal symptom. They are no more significant than, say, our toenails, or a freckle. They are part of us, but they are not us. We take some of the anguish out of the thoughts by simply neutrally observing them. We watch ourselves having the thoughts. We allow them to bubble and a flow past us, even if they create in us a physical sensation. That’s quite alright. Let them pass. The less energy we give them, the less they haunt us.
- Hold on to your core self. When we recognize that our symptoms are not who we are, we can dig deep into our authentic core and know that who we are has not been altered by the medication. We may have intense physical, emotional, mental, or cognitive withdrawal symptoms, but they are not who we are. We are still “in there.” We do better when we hold onto to that knowledge and nurture ourselves with positive affirmations and powerful, positive self-talk.
- Distract. Distract. Distract. Getting through benzo withdrawal is a bit easier if we put our attention away from what is going on in our bodies and minds. Distraction is a powerful tool to remove us from our suffering for a while. All distractions are good if they take you away from your suffering, but ones that involve the use of your hands are exceptionally powerful. Our minds generally follow our hands, which helps when we are bombarded by intrusive thoughts, etc. Stay as busy as you can but don’t overdo it. Respect your limitations in benzo withdrawal.
- Accept. Acceptance is the answer to most of our problems. Instead of fighting with life, we accept it and live on life’s terms. There is no way out of benzo withdrawal except through. If we accept our lives as they are right this very moment, we will suffer less. It is in the longing for things to be different that we suffer more. The Serenity Prayer is a helpful tool in benzo withdrawal: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Peace and serenity come from accepting life on life’s terms.
Although healing from benzodiazepine withdrawal can take many months or even many years for some, we do eventually recover. Life becomes sweet, full of love and joy again. We move forward far more appreciative of all that we have. We are so much more aware of how precious life is, and how much we are grateful for every new day. Gone are the days of our suffering, Here are the days of our happiness!
If you are interested in learning more about the four-week online workshop for practicing acceptance that starts October 1, please contact me or visit the workshop page