One of the perks of living next door to one of the world’s top strategists is that you get to hear your life explained to you from an entirely cool perspective. My best friend Paula has one of the most brilliant minds and is shaping our world with her work. Like most everyone who knows her, I value her opinion. So, when she told me recently about her observations on my recovery from benzo withdrawal, I was deeply touched. From what Paula shared about what she witnessed me do in withdrawal, I’ve come up with these core tenants to share with you to help you be an alchemist— to turn withdrawal into ultimately something good, something of value.
- A crisis is a terrible thing to waste. Hard times, dark times, can be the impetus for transformation if we keep our hearts open. As the poet Rumi wisely said, “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” I can’t think of a worse wound than acute benzo withdrawal, especially after a cold turkey, which means a lot of light is going to enter! Translate that to “enlightenment!” Many of us who have recovered report that our lives have been changed for the better in massive ways. Use the time of recovery to let the light in; to learn to love more, to take better care of yourself, to really heal from the slings and arrows of life even before benzos.
- Set the intention to turn benzo withdrawal into an extraordinary experience of healing. You know that this time is going to be uncomfortable (understatement!) but keep asking how you can turn it into something good. How can you grow instead of shrink? How can you learn to love yourself more? Take better care of yourself? Stay true to your intentions. Keep a journal or blog about your ideas.
- Relentlessly create. When I could finally get out of bed, I pushed myself out into my front yard and started tearing out sections of grass. I planted flowers. I was weak, dizzy, in severe pain and out of my mind with benzo terror, panic, anxiety, and pitch black depression, but I focused on my garden. Every few months the gardened changed. It was a living, breathing work of art. I wrote my first daily “Soul Reminders” on a chalkboard tied to a low fence in the garden. People came from all over to see the flowers and to read my messages. They took pictures and shared them on social media. I unknowingly created a community around me; one that helped me to hold on and to heal. I also learned to draw during withdrawal by watching videos on Youtube. I even rented an art studio for six months in the winter when gardening was more challenging. I went almost every day and painted. I had a relentless drive to keep creating, no matter how sick I was. I knew that somewhere in the creative process was a healing power, and I was right. Keep creating. It will serve you well, long after you’ve recovered.
- Be committed to massive self-love. You are going to come out of the other end eventually, so why not come out madly in love with yourself? Yes, in the thick of benzo withdrawal, we feel either empty or full of guilt or shame. But we can love ourselves, even if we can’t feel that love just yet. We can take good care of our bodies; eat well, rest, and get gentle exercise. We can sit naked in front of a mirror and tell ourselves how much we love ourselves. We can choose to root for ourselves; to be our own cheerleaders. We can believe in ourselves, even when we can’t believe in our recovery. At one point after my wave from hell three years off I told myself that I was either going to heal or I wasn’t and no matter what, I was going to love and accept myself just as I was. Shortly after that, my wave lifted. My determination and decision to fiercely love myself were the foundation for healing all of the past wounds that I drug with me into benzo withdrawal: my past sexual abuse, my low self-esteem, my fears—all the dark and dirty things I was so ashamed of. They all faded away in the light of love.
- Decide what you will nurture in your life. In benzo withdrawal, we suffer from so many challenging symptoms. But we can choose to make our lives more than the constellation of symptoms. We can choose to put our focus or consciousness on something greater than ourselves. I chose to focus on the living plants in my garden. I also fed the squirrels and birds and gave them all names. I shared daily Soul Reminders on a chalkboard, and then as I got healthier, I shared them online. I focused on helping other people either get sober at AA or to get off of benzos and heal. I chose to make my life during recovery to be more than just about the anxiety and all the other craziness. I chose to nurture things that were about life and love, instead of nurturing only the fear, the illness, the worries, the dark beliefs. I watered the things I wanted to grow: friendships, health, love, my relationship with God, etc.
Benzo withdrawal can be a living hell. I’m not saying otherwise. But, we can survive the experience and allow it to open us, to help us to bloom into the people we’ve always yearned to be. We can find our highest calling in the dark and lonely days of withdrawal. And, we can find love. It’s always there, even if our broken minds (and hearts) can’t feel it (yet).
I’ll write in more detail about these things in future separate posts. But for now, know that benzo withdrawal is not the end of all that is good. It is only a tunnel through which you are passing. When you burst back out into the light, it will be spectacular! You’ll find that you are far more alive, far more whole and happy, and far stronger than when you were plunged into the darkness. Good things await you my fellow alchemists. Good things, indeed!