At 36 months out, I got slammed with the mother of all waves. It hit after I had been making measurable strides back to health and wholeness. I was out in the world more. I was writing again. Laughing. Going out on a few dates. I even created the curriculum for a class I taught at Stanford University! So you can imagine the horror I felt when I woke up and that nasty terror I had felt right after my cold turkey was sitting on the side of my bed, waiting for me. To say I was heartbroken would be an understatement. Of course, all of the other symptoms rushed back in as well and I found myself once again swirling in a sea of pain and unspeakable horror.
It was by far, one of the most grueling periods of my entire recovery. Outside of the weeks that followed my cold turkey, nothing was close to being as devastating. For weeks I fought to hold on. I walked around in a fog of depersonalization and derealization. I woke every night at 2 a.m. to a bolt of sheer terror that tore through every cell in my body. The intrusive thoughts that had been slowly fading away came roaring back, loud and exceptionally vicious. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it. All I wanted was to go back home to God.
I remember I went for a walk one afternoon when my symptoms were raging. I was weak and woozy on my feet, but I managed to make it around the block. On my way home, as I crossed the street in front of my house, a thought suddenly popped into my mind. “I’m going to get better, or I’m not.” The realization of that statement hit me hard. “If I’m not going to get better, how am I going to live my life to the fullest in this condition?” Instead of feeling angry or sorry for myself, a child-like curiosity swept through me. Acceptance, I told myself. That moment was when my *real* healing started.
Acceptance is one of the most powerful tools that we have to survive benzo withdrawal. When I share my story of acceptance with my benzo withdrawal coping skills coaching clients, they ask me how to practice acceptance. Here are suggestions that I hope will help you to practice radical acceptance of your own healing process.
- Acceptance isn’t something we do, so much as it is a state of mind, a way of being. If you change your perception from expecting life to go the way you planned, to understanding that it very often follows a very different path, you may be able to practice acceptance a bit better. Acceptance is about relinquishing control over life, over outcomes, and simply being in the moment, on life’s terms.
- Acceptance *might* be easier to practice if you have faith in something greater than yourself—a “higher power”, God, Source, call it whatever you like. it’s easier to relinquish control when we feel that *something* has the control and is looking out for our best interest in the long run.
- Editing your story can help you practice acceptance. Everything is a story we tell ourselves. We create our reality with our words. You can edit the scary stories you tell yourself about your healing process. You can tell yourself a new story, a story with a happy ending. When we change our stories to more positive ones, we are more able to tolerate the dark and scary places we find ourselves visiting.
- Healing from benzo withdrawal is a journey. Much like any other journey you go on, you will encounter new sights and experiences. You’ll be curious about these new things. You’ll welcome them and embrace them. You can do the same thing with your benzo withdrawal symptoms. You can become curious about them instead of fearing them. You can even let them amuse you, instead of confuse you. It takes some energy and effort, I know, to be curious, but I know you can do it.
- Acceptance is a practice. That means we may never perfect it. That’s okay. We practice. One day, we will improve to the point where we are pretty good, and that’s good enough!
- Prayer and meditation can help us practice acceptance. If a sitting meditation practice isn’t feasible in withdrawal, try a walking or moving meditation. Gardening was my way of meditating. You can also buy a bell and walk with it, focusing your attention on not allowing the striker to hit the side of the bell, making a sound. Meditation is about focusing your mind on something other than your consuming thoughts and self-focus.
- Trust, even when you’ve lost hope. If you’ve run out of hope, let trust buoy you along. Sometimes we feel we can’t trust our healing process, but the fact that we keep going, day in, day out, is living proof that somewhere in our unconscious, we trust the steps we make on this long and lonely journey. keep going. One step at a time.
Acceptance is a state of mind. It’s about facing life on life’s terms and not insisting that our willpower, or our wants, or our ego, run the show. To me, acceptance is surrendering to God’s greater plan for my life. I may not be able to see the glory up ahead, but I trust that the dark places I must visit are where I grow and learn. For that, I am grateful.
My three-year wave finally lifted after five or six months. It has never returned, nor do I think it can, if I remain alcohol and benzo free. It was by far, one of the more grueling experiences in my journey to wholeness, but in that dark and fetid place, I learned how to let go, to let God, and to accept exactly where my life was at that given moment in time. When I did, the goodness in life began to seep back into my bones—into my heart—into my soul. From there, I began the true climb out of the darkness and into the brilliant light that makes me shine. You will, too. In time.