Looking back over the last eight years, there are things I wish I had known before I started this journey. Here are five of them, listed in no particular order.
- I wish I had known the full extent of the medical communities ignorance about benzodiazepines. Had I understood, I may have avoided some of the suffering I endured at the hands of uneducated doctors. I would have never agreed to take a benzo in the first place. Nor would I have tried to taper as fast as my doctor suggested. I also would have disregarded the advice about taking other psych meds to alleviate withdrawal symptoms (they didn’t and thank God I didn’t stay on any!) and I would have totally shut down the doctors who told me that my benzo withdrawal symptoms that lasted for so long were my “underlying anxiety disorder.” They weren’t. I don’t have an anxiety disorder. If you aren’t yet aware that the medical community isn’t usually “benzo-wise,” please learn that now. It may help you to avoid some suffering. And, while I’m at it, let me say that the medical community is not 100% educated or accurate about a lot of things. We have to do our own homework and not blindly trust. Be your own advocate. Ask questions. And better yet, avoid unnecessary medical interventions if you can.
- I wish I had known that my recovery was going to take quite some time. I remember coming home from the hospital after I was cold turkeyed off of my benzo and thinking that I’d recover in six months of less. Everyone in the benzo community said that six to eighteen months is the average, so I assumed I’d heal quickly. I had already invested eight months into a taper before I was cold turkeyed, so I couldn’t imagine being benzo sick for much longer. Boy, was I wrong. Some of us take a long time to heal. That doesn’t mean that we are suffering every day, but it does mean that we are symptomatic from time to time to one degree or another. It’s not a bad thing that some of us take longer than others, nor should it be something to fear. It just is what it is. There isn’t any way to know how long your recovery is going to take, so just take it one day at a time. Don’t worry about the days that go by. Know that you are healing and that one day, you will close the chapter on benzo withdrawal and go on your merry way.
- Since my recovery took some time, with two pretty intense set-backs, one at three years off and the other at six years off, I wish I had some way of knowing beforehand how much I’d grow and learn from being in benzo withdrawal. No one told me that I’d become more spiritually mature, or that my capacity for empathy and compassion would grow. No one told me that I’d evolve into the person I always hoped that I could be. No one told me about the silver lining of benzo withdrawal. All I heard in the beginning and through the first year or so was negativity from other sufferers. But, finally, I began to see the growth that was taking place within me. If no one has ever told you that you’ll learn and grow and become an amazing person for having gone through benzo withdrawal, let me be the person who tells you that. Keep your heart open and allow this healing process to make you better, instead of allowing it to make you bitter.
- No one told me that I’d lose so much. Maybe it was better that I didn’t know the extent of my losses, but I wish I had at least been prepared for them. I had financial losses, relationship losses, career losses, physical losses, and more. Benzo withdrawal impacts all aspects of our lives. For some of us, that means we lose some things that are dear to us. We lose things that we feel define us. (For example, I had been a thought-leader in my field and had been on radio and television before benzo withdrawal. Without my ability to work or the recognition I was used to, I wondered who the hell I was.) I lost the ability to take care of myself, my looks (I even shattered five teeth), my creative abilities, etc. It’s important to know that Benzo withdrawal is often accompanied by loss, and we may better navigate our losses if we build a loving community to help us navigate those losses. It helps to know that our losses will one day shift and we will begin gaining what we lost and more. (See number three above.) I now feel that I have gained far, far more than I lost in benzo withdrawal, but while I was in the thick of it, the losses were an enormous source of pain and anguish.
- No one told me how isolated and alone I’d feel in benzo withdrawal. There was perhaps no way for me to know how my friends and family were not going to be able to understand the medical nightmare I was living through. No matter how much I tried to explain my symptoms, no one really understood. I wrote email after email, or made phone call after phone call, begging for help from friends and family. Usually, I was told to “think good thoughts,” or worse, “go see a doctor.” The degree in which benzo withdrawal is so misunderstood is mindboggling. Get cancer (I hope not!), people will bring you food and ask to help. Lose a loved one? You’ll have people sharing their sympathy with you. Go through benzo withdrawal? You’ll most likely have to educate those around you about the syndrome and educate them as to what you need. Which, of course, is exhausting to have to do on top of the already exhausting work we have to do to just get from one day to the next in withdrawal. But, until benzo withdrawal goes mainstream in the pubic’s awareness (and I think that one day it will!) we are left to cope without much support from people who haven’t gone through benzo withdrawal. If we understand this, perhaps we don’t feel so let down by the people we hope will lift us up.
There are so many other things I wish I had known before I started my “getting benzo free journey.” But I had to learn things as I went along. There isn’t a crash course for recovering from benzos. And, maybe that’s best. We all have to stretch and grow in our own ways as we recover. The one thing that I had heard before I started tapering and my subsequent cold turkey, was that we heal. In time. Many, many, many, times I doubted it. My healing was so up and down and sideways, that I thought for sure I would never, ever, heal. I was wrong. My nervous system is better now than it was pre-benzos. I am not anxious. I don’t have panic attacks anymore. I’m grateful, and full of awe and wonder every day. You will be too, in time. Keep healing. It’s worth whatever effort you must make. It’s worth whatever you may think you’ve lost along the way. Life after benzo withdrawal is incredibly rich and sweet. You’ll get here!