We lose a lot in  benzo withdrawal—jobs, careers, our savings. We lose our sanity (for awhile). We lose our physical health. We lose our belief in anything good. We lose our sense of who we are. And, we lose hope. These are hard things to lose, no doubt. But the biggest loss in benzo withdrawal isn’t our bank accounts, our jobs, or our health. We can regain those things. The biggest loss in benzo withdrawal is our relationships.

It’s hard for friends and family to understand just how sick we are; how lost, lonely and frightened. Our journey back to health can take so many years. People get tired of traveling the long lonesome road with us. One by one, they fall away, leaving us to trudge along, alone. Our feet are set on our path, a narrow, gut-wrenching road that demands all of our attention. There is nothing else in our sight, nothing else that pries our eyes from the next step, and the next, and the next. While we are focused on our harrowing journey, our friends and family are living their lives, going forward, growing, becoming. We don’t have the capacity to witness their lives. We cling to survival, doing our best to make sense of our now unrecognizable lives.

During withdrawal, my four children graduated college, started businesses, bought homes, fell in love, fell out of love, and fell in love yet again. They turned into true adults as I did my best to follow along with their lives. But no matter how much I wanted to bear witness to their unfolding into adulthood, I watched through a hazy veil—a broken brain that wouldn’t allow me to reach beyond the tortured reality I was lost in and touch their hearts as I did before withdrawal. The years slowly ticked by and my children and I grew apart. Not from any ill will or wrongdoing on anyone’s part. It just happened. I couldn’t keep up with them; I was unable to register their realities. Not from lack of caring—from a broken brain—from benzo withdrawal.

Tonight I sat with three of my children (and my first grandchild) and listened to my daughter’s boyfriend’s band play at a local pub. My daughter and I danced together, her hands wrapped around my waist, our hips keeping time to the beat. I thought my heart would explode from so much joy. Yet, at the same time, so much pain. So much incredible pain of knowing I’d never get those years back. I’d never be able to walk alongside my children and usher them into adulthood after all the years of raising them on my own. When the night came to a close, I got in my car and drove home alone, hot tears streaming down my face; the depth of my loss pressing down on my heart. It was the first time I had registered the pain; a wild animal caged, biting and clawing at the bars.

Now I’m able to participate in my children’s lives, however, it still isn’t the same. It’s not the same feel or flavor as it was before this whole nightmare began. It’s only recently that I’ve been able to do the things I used to do. Dance. Exercise. Laugh at jokes. Relax. Be in the moment, fully present. It will take time for my family to begin to include me in events that they long ago had to exclude me from because I as so sick. We’ve all got to relearn how to be a family again. And I have to learn how to be this new person on this side of recovery.

It’s a bit challenging, picking up the pieces and moving on. You have to relearn so much. You have to figure out who you are, this new you. It doesn’t come naturally, the knowing who and what you are, at least it didn’t for me. I’m still sorting it all out and making sense of it. I’ve been pulled in various directions, exploring. But I refuse to feel guilty over not knowing right off the bat the who-and-why-and-how-and-when of me. I’m sure I’ll morph again before the dust has settled.

As I find my way back into the lives of the people who matter the most to me, I am grateful that I am well enough to re-engage. But at the same time, there is an ache in my heart for what was lost; for what could have been. Everyone, including myself, has to learn how to dance with me all over again. The steps we did together before withdrawal don’t quite match the beat of the music any longer. Perhaps we’ve got to not only learn new steps, but we’ve got to hum a different tune as well.

I hold onto the hope that what was lost can be found, even if it has changed shape along the way.