The definition of trauma is to be unable to do anything to change the situation. i.e., the loss of control or a sense of helplessness. In benzo withdrawal, we feel traumatized—feeling that we have no control over what our bodies or our minds are doing— we don’t have a sense of agency over our lives anymore. On top of not being able to control our thoughts or feelings (terrifying in and of itself), many of us are unable to maintain normal relationships, bathe, cook, or earn a living.
In addition to feeling as if we don’t have any control in benzo withdrawal, we don’t have much predictability. We don’t know from moment to moment, what our symptoms will be. When we can’t do what we used to do, and we lack predictability, we can eventually feel helpless and hopeless, victims of the circumstances beyond our control. This reaction is a dorsal vagal shutdown, a parasympathetic nervous system response commonly known as “freeze.”
Add the current COVID-19 pandemic on top of the trauma we can fee in benzo withdrawal, and, well, it can be pretty overwhelming for people. What can we do to best help ourselves? Create structure. Predictability is imperative for anyone facing life situations that feel beyond their control.
Why is predictability so vital to restoring a sense of control, of calm? Predictability is the foundation for safety. When we know something is going to happen at a specific time, we trust the flow of our day—we feel safe. Safety is what our brains and nervous systems have to have for all of our organs and systems (and thoughts!) to work correctly. Safety is what allows us to think, feel, and act in the highest and best ways. Predictability and safety go hand in hand.
Creating a defined schedule for our day is essential. It gives us a sense of agency, a sense of control. We do best to structure blocks of time to do certain activities on certain days. By creating a schedule for activities, we create an energetic force that breaks through the nervous system response of freeze, which in turn allows us to think, feel and act, in healthier ways. We can create a structure to our day, even if we are bed or couchbound, or we have unpredictable symptoms. By doing so, we are sending the message to our nervous system that we are in charge, no matter what our bodies, thoughts, or outside world are doing. (If your symptoms rev up and keep you from an activity you’ve planned, that is okay. Do your best to take it in stride and not let it bother you.)
We mustn’t allow benzo withdrawal or the worries about the pandemic, or even the shelter-in-place restrictions, to push us into a sense of doom and gloom and make us emotionally or physically immobilized. If you are not bedridden or couchbound, make sure that you schedule a time to get up and move your body. Do some gentle at-home exercises, or go for a stroll in your back yard. When we move our bodies, we gain a sense of confidence that we can take care of ourselves, that we have some control. Even cooking a simple meal can give us a sense of confidence. If you are bed or couchbound, schedule a time of day when you do some stretches, or tighten and relax each muscle group. Even these small movements make a positive difference.
One helpful thing is to schedule a daily time to connect with others. Use Zoom, Skype, Facebook, Messanger, or any other video chat technology to see and talk to others if you are alone at this time. (You can pace yourself so that you don’t become overwhelmed.) I’ve created predictability and connection for people in my Mornings With Jenn support group. We connect Monday through Friday at 9 A.M. Pacific time. It’s time together that you can count on, and look forward to, a way to anchor your day. I’m also writing and publishing Soul Reminders, Monday through Fridays, so that people have comforting words to wake up to.
I have my daily routine here at the cabin as I shelter in place with one of my sons and his girlfriend (and our three dogs!) because I know the power of predictability in the face of uncertainty. I hope that you will do all that you can to create a structure to your day, and to build some predictability even though your benzo withdrawal symptoms may be unpredictable and the outside world seems out of control.
If you’d like to share how you are creating predictability as you recover from benzo withdrawal and wait out the COVID19 pandemic, please let us know below. If you have a question or concern, please use the contact form below. Want to more info about Mornings With Jenn? Click here. Want to get Soul Reminders delivered to your inbox? Click here.