I read a great quote by John Grayson and I thought it summed up perfectly the mental anguish we often feel in benzo withdrawal:  It’s like “the feeling of going insane while you are sane enough to be a witness to the event.”   I can’t tell you how many times in this process I have felt like I was perched on that edge, that cliff, that sliver of ground that kept me from plummeting to what I felt would most undoubtedly be the end of me as I knew me.  To summarize Pema Chodron, we have an opportunity to find what is indestructible in us only when we encounter the edge of annihilation over and over again.   I think many of us can relate to that edge of annihilation, and yet we persevere.

I think about James Stockdale and his years spent as a POW in Vietnam.  He survived as a result of  what is now deemed the Stockdale Paradox – a combination of radical acceptance of his hellish experience while holding out a form of hope that was not time bound.  He didn’t say “I’ll be home by Christmas.”  He would say something more along the lines of “I’ll be free one day.  Today is clearly not that day, so today I do what I have to do to survive.”   I was talking to a dear friend who is really struggling a few months after coming off a relatively rapid taper from a benzo.  He said that he truly grapples with the idea that he cannot think his way, mindful his way, pray his way, meditate his way out of this.  He spoke about feeling weak that he cannot overcome the symptoms and sensations that are often extremely terrifying, painful and debilitating.  We spoke about the Stockdale Paradox and he was able to see that Stockdale’s story wasn’t that he somehow escaped his prison, found a way to mind bend the bars, sneak out, and have some fantastical race home.  Stockdales’ heroes journey was that he had to find a way to stay alive long enough.  Long enough to tell his story, to see his family, to live the rest of his life.

Whatever we are going through, we have to do the same.  If a magical treatment existed, we would be paying top dollar for it.  If some supplement, additional med or certain therapy could pull us through this faster, we would all know about it.   Despite where you land on the spectrum of severity of withdrawal, at the end of the day we have to just keep going.  Keep swimming.  Find it in ourselves to go one more moment, then another.

We are resilient creatures.  If you are reading this, you or your loved one has or is probably enduring a hell I would never in a million years have believed had I not experienced it.  That’s embarrassing to admit, but it’s true.  I was a good therapist, an empathic therapist.  But there is no way I could have wrapped my head around the degree of mental, physical, and spiritual anguish that I and so many of us have endured and continue to endure.  When you know better, you do better.  At least that is the hope.  And that is true for me.  I look forward to getting back to my career one day knowing I will forever be changed as my clients describe what it means to feel depersonalized, derealized, unable to manage their racing thoughts, cut off from feeling connection, love and joy and feeling random fear for no apparent reason.  I will have a deeper understanding when someone feels they just aren’t sure they want to stick around for another chapter and I will certainly be listening closely as they tell me about their medication trials, what they are on, and trying to come off.

I want to use this hell as alchemy.  If I am going to go through this, it will yield the best possible me.  We can all use our membership in the club that no one wanted to join to grow ourselves.  Living, loving and relating in benzo withdrawal is like trying to have a picnic in a hurricane.  Imagine if we practice good skills, work to practice the best care of ourselves and employ the right tools while holding on to trees and our picnic baskets being blown to bits just how freaking strong we will be when the fierce winds finally cease.  If we can find a way to not lose ourselves completely to bitterness or terror we will, I believe,  emerge unstoppable.

Amor Fati, my friends!