I get calls every day from people who are in what is known as “protracted benzo withdrawal.” They are three, four, even five (or more) years off their benzo and still experiencing withdrawal symptoms. They wonder if that’s possible. Yes, it is. But before you freak out, worrying that that means you will suffer for years and years, take heart. Not everyone takes that long to heal, and those that do, rarely suffer all that time. Although healing isn’t linear, those that have a protracted withdrawal usually have windows (times when they feel better, or even normal) and their baseline of symptoms usually gets better every year.)
Benzo withdrawal is really an unfortunate name for what we suffer from. We are long past having “withdrawn” from the drug—we are recovering from the damage the drug caused. We have a syndrome with a vast constellation of symptoms. Some of those symptoms can take a long time to go away. But they do, eventually.
People ask me if there is any way to predict how long they will have symptoms. To my knowledge, there are no symptoms that accurately predict the length of one’s recovery. Tingling doesn’t mean you’ll have a protracted withdrawal any more than having head pressure, or nerve pain, or any other symptom. As with most things benzo, everyone is different. That’s why it is a good idea to not compare your healing to anyone else, even someone on the same drug, same dose, same duration. They don’t have your DNA, or any of the other unique things that make you, you. Your healing will be your healing.
If you are in protracted withdrawal and worried about your symptoms, it is okay to get checked out by a doctor you trust. But if nothing is found, you can rest easy knowing that your symptoms are from the damage the benzos caused and that you are healing. Just because you are years out, doesn’t mean that you won’t heal. You will. Your brain and nervous system will settle down. I know all too well, how hard it can be to hold onto hope that one day, you’ll stop having benzo symptoms. I’ve had to cling to threads of hope so small that they were almost nonexistent. And of course, there were days when I had absolutely no hope. None. Zero. The good news is that we heal, even when we believe that we won’t
I’m now seven years off of the benzo I took, and I’m 14 months past my setback. I’m living my life and looking forward to the future. I’m happier than I’ve been in decades. The symptoms I had that made me wonder if I had developed a histamine problem or some other strange illness have gone away all on their own. I can see now that my setback was purely the results of a fragile nervous system that had become overwhelmed by my intense drive across the country, along with some other stressors.
If you are in protracted withdrawal and you’re weary of the journey, please take some time to rest. Rest your worried mind. Rest your tired body. Take time to stop thinking about your symptoms and focus on something good in your life. Hold onto the hope that you will heal because you will. Remember that what works for early withdrawal, works for protracted withdrawal: eat clean, rest, avoid stress/stressful people, don’t take medications that work on GABA or that will hinder your healing, avoid vitamins and supplements that rev you up, avoid alcohol, sugar, caffeine, and processed foods, use distraction to take your mind off of your symptoms, practice acceptance and gratitude, find ways to be of service, and have a spiritual practice.
Be kind and gentle with yourself—extend compassion to yourself. Make your health your top priority, and know that every day, your body is hard at work healing. You can trust that.