“This is a new pattern.”
Every week I receive a phone call from someone in the benzo community who is experiencing a change in their usual symptom pattern and they are concerned. They want to know what it means—is healing close at hand, or are they falling deeper into the snake pit? My answer is that there is no way to tell what’s happening in benzo withdrawal, except to know that every day we are closer to recovery. Symptoms can come and go on a regular basis, or they can shift and cycle in and out at random, with new things being added to the mix.
No windows and then a roller coaster ride.
It’s not uncommon to experience windows after long stretches of suffering and to then have incredibly intense waves crash back in. I experienced this towards the end of my healing, and it was unsettling. I worried that I was back in the belly of the beast forever. I wondered what I was doing that could cause such an up and down pattern. But of course, there wasn’t anything I could point my finger at. I hadn’t changed anything in my diet or lifestyle. Benzo withdrawal is just so damn unpredictable. All we can do is to hold on for the ride. If you’re experiencing a change in your usual pattern, especially if you’ve gone from “Groundhog Day” to windows with subsequent intense waves, know that things will eventually settle down. The waves don’t mean anything other than your nervous system is doing some deep healing.
Windows to No Windows.
I also get people asking about the significance of going from having good windows to no windows at all for months on end. Again, unless you’ve changed your diet or are taking something that could impact your recovery, or are experiencing new stressors in your life, there is no way to know what causes these changes in patterns. They are upsetting, I know, but they do come to an end. You’ll eventually get another window, and one day, your window will become your door and you’ll be out of benzo withdrawal.
Remember the things that help your healing.
There are a few things we can do for ourselves in benzo withdrawal.
- Diet. Eat one ingredient foods, organic if possible. I believe that going gluten-free is a good idea in benzo withdrawal, but I don’t recommend extreme diets of any kind. I tried vegan and keto at various times, and both made me worse. In all things benzo withdrawal, I think the Goldilocks approach often works best. Not too much “this,” and not too much “that,” but rather a sweet spot between the two. Drink lots of fresh clean un-fluoridated water. Avoid sugar, additives, coloring, caffeine, alcohol, and preservatives. Supplements can make us worse, so please be careful. magnesium, fish oil, vitamin D and vitamin B often rev us up in withdrawal. Avoid herbs or teas that work on GABA.
- Exercise. Our bodies need to move, however, in benzo withdrawal too much movement can bring on a wave of symptoms. It’s best to take gentle walks or swims and to avoid intense exercise. Find your Goldilocks exercise intensity and remain with that until you are more healed and you can tolerate more physical activity.
- Avoid stress. Without enough working GABA receptors, your body is under a great deal of stress. We don’t need to add to it. Avoid places with loud noises or a lot of stimulation. Don’t drive in heavy traffic or for too long. Avoid people who are drama-filled or are energy vampires. Don’t make big life decisions in benzo withdrawal if you can avoid it, i.e. don’t get divorced, sell your home, etc. Find ways to cut stress out of your daily life whenever possible.
- Rest. We may not sleep well in benzo withdrawal but we can rest throughout the day and night. Turn off your phone and take a break from your other devices. Let your body and mind rest. You may experience intrusive thoughts, but that’s okay. Simply observe them without getting emotionally hooked into them. I used to curl up on my couch and pull a blanket up over me and let my body relax as much as it was able to. I found myself sometimes focusing on my thoughts or the pain or other uncomfortable sensations in my body so I’d do my best to not get caught up in it. I’d remind myself that I was healing.
- Spirituality. I believe that we do better when we believe in something greater than ourselves and we put our will and our lives into the care of that something greater. I call that something greater God, but you can call it whatever you like. My healing journey out of benzo withdrawal took me away from religion and deeper and deeper into the heart of God. Your journey may take you on a wonderful adventure as well. Be open to what is in your heart, and know that the fear and or anger that you may feel towards your “something greater” is a healthy part of healing. Don’t worry. It will go away in time. Just be honest and open and trust that you are being held and loved.
- Medications. Benzo withdrawal symptoms are the result of a chemical brain injury. GABA receptors have been down-regulated. We heal better if we respect our brains and bodies and avoid taking any medications that work on GABA or are known to increase benzo withdrawal symptoms.
Patterns come and go, but eventually, we heal.
If your pattern of symptoms has changed don’t be alarmed. Ask yourself if you’ve changed anything that may have impacted your symptoms, but if nothing is found, don’t worry. Of course, if you are concerned about any changes in your symptoms or health, please seek medical attention. Remember that patterns in benzo withdrawal can shift over time but that the eventual outcome is healing. Some of us take longer than others, but we do heal and get on with our lives. And remember too, that many of us experienced some of our most intense waves right before it all started lifting and life became wonderful again— the dark before dawn, so to speak. Take one day at a time, and know that “this too, shall pass.”