What is the Big Brain Question?
At your first inhalation, after you were born, your brain began “scanning” the environment (people, places, and things) and “asked,” “Am I safe?” This action, the determining of safety or danger, will go on your entire life. (Safety, it should be noted, is more than physical safety. It is also emotional safety.) If you receive more yes answers than no answers as you grow up, your brain will develop and organize optimally. If you receive more no answers, or you experience a big traumatic no answer, your brain will not develop and organize optimally. You will have more neural real estate and networks to your threat detection circuitry and less to your prefrontal cortex, the executive functioning region of the brain that allows you to make good life and love affirming decisions.
Safety is job number one.
Safety is the prescription for everything. That statement is so important, I’ll repeat it. Safety is the prescription for everything. When we feel safe, our nervous system is in a state called Connect. We are able to connect with others and life around us in positive, compassionate, kind ways. Scientists call the connect state (it is a parasympathetic ventral vagal response) rest, digest, and renew. In the Connect state, the body is at peace, and organs and systems work optimally with ease. This is the state we want our nervous system to be in as often as possible. It is in the Connect state that we behave in ways that are loving and helpful for ourselves, others, and the world around us. But in order to enter into the Connect state, we first have to feel safe. Hard to do in benzo withdrawal, I know. What can we do, given the fact that our GABA receptors are damaged and our threat detection is misfiring, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, terror, hopelessness, and helplessness? We can gently do a reality check and remind ourselves that we are indeed, safe.
Your benzo symptoms are simply body functions.
If your doctor has ruled out anything nefarious, and you feel certain that your strange symptoms are indeed caused by benzo withdrawal, you can rest assured that they are simply a body function. They are no more significant than any other body function such as a sneeze, hiccup, burp, or fart. The symptoms are there because of the downregulated GABA (and who knows what else has taken place in the brain and nervous system). You aren’t afraid of your farts, which are just body functions, so don’t be afraid of your benzo withdrawal symptoms, which are just body functions. Remember, safety is job number one. Look around, what do you see? What do you feel on your skin? What do you hear? Use your senses to bring you back to this present moment, for, in this present moment, everything is okay. There is no tiger waiting to pounce on you. There is no danger. You are safe. Meet your benzo withdrawal symptoms eye to eye, don’t run from them, or try to fight them. Simply observe them, name them for what they are, a body function caused by downregulated GABA receptors, and tell yourself that you are safe here in this present moment.
Am I Safe?
Answer your Big Brain Question, “Am I safe?” With a resounding “Yes!” Keep coming back, over and over, to this present moment, knowing that you are safe. Be kind and gentle with yourself. Don’t judge yourself, for judgment causes the nervous system to go into a self protect state of fight, flight, or freeze. If you are experiencing the common “life review” benzo withdrawal symptom (focusing on past regrets, guilt, or shame) do your best to just observe those thoughts and let them pass through you. Be very tender with yourself, and take good care of your body, mind, and spirit. I often ask myself, “What is the most loving thing to think, feel, and do, and I do whatever that is. Love, kindness, compassion, forgiveness, generosity, acceptance— those are things that help our nervous system go into a Connect state, a state that rests on safety. Do your best to rise above al the strange happenings in benzo withdrawal and hold onto the fact that you are safe, you are healing, and you will recover!
Keep going. We really do heal. Life is incredibly good. It is such a gift, even in benzo withdrawal.