Friday morning, June 23, I woke up to the deliciousness of six years of freedom from the benzodiazepine I took (as prescribed) for eighteen years. I threw off the covers and padded into the bathroom. I stared at myself in the mirror. A wide grin and dancing eyes revealed my happiness. It wasn’t always that way in the mornings. I remember my weak, unsteady walk to the bathroom during benzo withdrawal. I remember my reflection. My eyes were sunken, hollow from weight loss and despair. I’d search my reflection for some small trace of “me.” But all I could see was a wounded, terrified animal staring back at me. I was nowhere to be found. Benzo withdrawal had eviscerated me.

If you’ve read my blog posts over the years, you know how hard my recovery was. It took years for my brain to heal. It took years for me to cobble myself back together again. But I didn’t just return to my old self. I put myself back together in ways that make me extraordinarily happy. I’m not the person I was pre-benzos, on benzos, or in benzo withdrawal. I’m a whole new person for having had to walk through fire. I love who I’ve become because I had to weather such extreme adversity.

So what’s it like six years out? It’s awesome! I love my life. I take nothing for granted and I’m grateful for everything. I’m more humble, less desirous to try to control people, places, and things. I’m not afraid of much, including big feelings like loss, grief, or anger—feelings that used to have me running for a big glass of red wine (I celebrated six yers of sobriety last October 13th). I’m happy in my own skin, including my wrinkles, gray hair, and cellulite! I accept life on life’s terms.

“That’s great Jennifer, but what about your benzo withdrawal symptoms?” I hear you asking! Here is what remains at six years off. Tinnitus. It’s never let up for even a moment. It varies from soft to very loud, depending on my degree of tiredness or stress. I’ve learned to ignore it. My hunch is it isn’t going to go away, (yours probably will, so don’t worry) and that’s okay. There are worse things to have to live with. I still get tingling, mostly from the waist down. It’s a much milder version than it has been previously. It’s interesting that it revs up after I eat certain foods, and when I’ve done a lot of physical activity, or experience strong emotions. I still have a small patch of skin that burns from time to time on my left leg. It used to be incredibly painful, now when it (rarely) flares up, it’s just a slight ache, no big deal. My wrists, hands, and fingers are still painful at times. That pain level can be challenging. I don’t take any OTC meds for it. I just rest my hands and wait for the pain level to go down. I’m still prone to joint pain, especially in my hip sockets. The pain level has decreased a great deal over the years, and the pain isn’t an everyday occurrence. Dizziness, or should I say, a wooziness, is still something that comes and goes, along with some head pressure. I’ve learned to navigate my way through them, and not let them stop me. Everything, except the tinnitus, has scaled down remarkably from the first few years off.The mental symptoms are long gone. I don’t have instrusive thoughts anymore. No more benzo withdrawal anxiety, panic, terror, or depression. In fact, my pre-existing anxiety “disorder” is long gone as well. Remember, our brains are pliable; they can easily be remodeled.

Even though I’m not 100% symptom-free, I’m living a wonderful life. I have hope that as more years pass, the remaining symptoms will continue to fade away. But even if they don’t, life is good! I do everything that I want to do. Nothing gets in my way. After so many years of being unable to live life to the fullest, I’m wringing every drop of joy and satisfaction out of my days. You will be too before too long. Keep going. Keep healing. Your recovery is just up ahead. See it there? It’s waving at you and calling you to “come on over!”  You’ll get there. One day at a time.