It’s one of the most disturbing mental symptoms in benzodiazepine withdrawal: life review.
We become obsessed with the past—negative things that we did, or hurtful things that were done to us. We obsess, filled with unwanted emotions. No matter how hard we try to distract, our minds are stuck in a never-ending loop of the pain and anguish. Unless we are aware that life review is a common benzo withdrawal symptom, we may conclude that we have lost our mind, or that we have a mental or personality disorder. In our ignorance, we may be tempted to take other medications to make it go away. But there are no medications that stop the process of life review; there is only the restorative power of time.
Life review often begins with the last traumatic event that happened in our lives before we were put on a benzodiazepine.
For example, someone who was placed on a benzo for the grief of losing a loved one might begin to obsess about the loss in detail. It is as if taking the benzo numbed the emotions but left the event, unhealed, in “limb” so to speak, just waiting for us to “thaw out” from our benzo “numbing” so that we could process it. Only now, in benzo withdrawal, it’s virtually impossible to rationally process it because we don’t have enough healthy, working GABA receptors. It seems that we are unable to effectively access our prefrontal cortex, the region of the brain that is responsible for executive functioning, and instead, we are more driven by our limbic system, the area of the brain responsible for the fight, flight, or freeze (fear) response. Which means we aren’t the most logical, rational, life and love-affirming people while in benzodiazepine withdrawal!
Life review is a common benzo withdrawal symptom.
Is there anything that we can do to better cope with it? Yes. Educating yourself about benzo withdrawal is first and foremost Understanding what you are experiencing goes a long way to reducing fear about it. If you understand that your obsessing about your past is quite common in people tapering or off of their benzo, you will cope better. Distraction is another good tool to use if you find yourself stuck in life review mode. The mind will often follow what the hands are doing, so find things to do that keep your hands busy. I gardened (obsessively) in benzo withdrawal. I also learned to draw, paint, knit, and crochet. Keeping busy helped me cope with the intense emotions that life review generated. Acceptance is also a good coping mechanism. Simply allowing the thoughts and feelings to pass through you without emotionally hooking you is helpful. Simply observe yourself having the thoughts or feelings. Don’t fight or struggle with them. Reminding yourself that life review will end one day helps us slog through the times we are burdened with it.
It’s important to note that we may be hit hard with self-condemnation when we experience life review— intense emotions of shame or guilt.
We may be overwhelmed with remorse. The feelings may be so strong and powerful, and our thoughts so convincing that we may be convinced that we are evil, horrible, terrible people. These thoughts and feelings must be ignored, for they are not the truth. We must not let these feelings push us to act out in ways that harm us (or others.)
If you are struggling with life review, it is helpful to confide in someone who understands what you are going through and can remind you that it will end. Having a benzo buddy who is a bit farther along the recovery path is helpful.
To sum up, life review is a common benzodiazepine withdrawal symptom of unwanted, negative, intrusive, looping, obsessional thoughts, memories, and feelings about the past.
Recognizing that life review as just another benzo withdrawal symptom; we can cope by practicing distraction, acceptance, and neutrally observing our thoughts and feelings. Ignoring the self-condemnation that can occur with life review is important. Do not act out on any thought or feeling of self-harm, harm to others, or punishment. Life review does resolve in time, as do all the other benzo withdrawal symptoms. Time is the best healer. Your brain and body know what to do to heal, and they are hard at work right now, restoring you back to health.