June 11, 2022

Welcome back everyone!  The day almost got past me, but I wanted to log on and post a bit about something that happened today as I am guessing I am not alone in this.  Today was an overall better day in my withdrawal story.  Meaning:   I was not symptom free, but I had enough space that I was able to fake it pretty well and I was not devoured by the sensations/thoughts/feelings.  That said, as has been true of every single day in this process, even on a better day there is always a moment, or hours, that grip me and take me under.

So, I had come into Houston ( I now live about 50 min outside of Houston) to spend the weekend with my younger brother and his kiddos while my SIL is out of town for the weekend.  If you don’t know this about me already, you will learn that my ten nieces and nephews mean everything to me.  They are pure joy for me, each and every one of them in their unique way.  Anyway, my brother had to take the older one to a sporting event….so I was left behind with the two six. year old twins.  They wanted to go to the pool, it was 10am and already nearly 95 degrees and I was thinking come on guys, maybe a good couch surf with Diary of a Wimpy Kid or I will even watch Frozen or Ghostbusters for the thousandth time….but alas, they wanted to swim, so I set off to get towels, water, sunscreen, the works. As we were heading out the door, their little friends from down the street wanted to come.  I said “sure” but inside I was thinking are you freaking nuts, Jen?  But I loaded them all into the golf cart and off we went to the end of the street to the neighborhood pool.

Here’s where it takes a benzo turn:  I notice there are four lifeguards but only two seem to be working and they are probably seventeen.  I was a lifeguard at seventeen and this fact, unfortunately, does not increase my confidence or sense of safety in the situation.  As the kids kick off their flip flops and run off in different directions, the gravity of my decision has now sunk in.  I am responsible for FOUR little kids, in two side by side community pools, with slides and diving boards and it is nearing 100 degrees outside.  I can’t be in the pool and keep an eye on all of them, so I have to basically walk around counting heads and silently nudging the super tan and fit but seemingly slightly hung over life guards to pay attention.

I find my inner lifeguard and nearly reach for my non-existent whistle as I am telling kids to stop running, wait for the person to clear the way before diving off the board…if I am not careful and remember I abandoned my lifeguard days 26 years ago, I am about to go all in and call an “Adult Swim!”……I am now burning up, my mind starts spinning as I smell my old favorite smells – coconut suntan oil and chlorine.  This should take me back to a wonderful time in my life, but in benzo withdrawal all things are distorted and tainted.  So suddenly my favorite teenage smells now seem to only make me feel more depersonalized, more scared.   Keep counting heads Jen, I say to myself allowing the weird fear that is growing inside me to just be there.  Then I see a lifeguard spinning her whistle and I am instantly transported back to my summers where  for five years me and a bunch of my friends were all  guards at a private lake and pool in PA – the best summers of my life.  But again, this memory gets twisted somehow and I get a whoosh of terror.  Count the heads, Jen!  

 Then one of the four rugrats I am responsible for gets frustrated and moves into a full on tantrum because their goggles are not fitting right  – this is probably to be expected when you are six, over heated, over tired and probably also now a bit hungry.  So, as I am trying to navigate a melt down in a child I have met all of two times before, they are losing their little damn mind and seem to decide its smart to kick and stomp their feet.  Of course, one of these stomps comes down squarely on a lego piece that had apparently rolled over from the nearby two year old who clearly had no interest in swimming but was like a weird tiny Frank Lloyd Wright in the making as he built what appeared to be a near replica of a prarie style edifice.    As the now howling six year old in front of me is hopping around in pain, he peels the lego from his foot and throws it at the small child,  I am momentarily mesmerized and distracted by this Lego genius who is also sporting a seersucker bathing suit and what appears to be a comb-over as he simply smiles at the tantrumming mess who is four years his senior, picks up the lego rolls his eyes, shrugs and returns to his craft.   He rolls his eyes and shrugs!  I love this kid!

But my reverie is sharply interrupted by the squeals of the child in front of me and my brain feeling like it is sizzling with rapid fire strange and fear based thoughts and a growing dislike of this little human in front of me who clearly cannot pull himself together!     If this were my niece or nephew we would be BACK HOME AND IN NAP TIME faster than they could say “it isn’t fair” for the 5th time.  But, that is not the case, so I am problem solving, defusing and now working to fix goggles that apparently require some sort of graduate degree in mechanical engineering to put back together……and I am still counting what are now three heads, working to calm the shit out of one dysregulated first grader all the while my head is spinning with “what if you can never enjoy the smell of suntan oil and chlorine again?”  –– counting heads, wiping tears, fixing goggles — “what if you never feel normal again?”  “what if you are stuck like this forever in this weird Willy Wonka meets Steven King meets Being John Malkovich life of yours?”  while spikes of fear pierce through me —  shit where did the third head go — there he is over there looking like he is headed for the bathroom — oh hell no you don’t go to the bathroom without telling me!  

Once I make that point clear to the one in the bathroom as well as the three others, fix the goggles, quell the tears, come up with a game they can all play, the background noise in my head is in high gear.  The “what ifs” are kicking my ass!   I am super hot, super annoyed, my ears are ringing, my thoughts are racing, the smell of the coconut suntan oil feels like it is taunting me remember those days Jen – when you were normal – before all of this happened — when you had normal thoughts, felt comfortable in your skin, weren’t afraid of your own mind?  and THEN IT HAPPENED.

The guards had their music set up — in benzo withdrawal — me and music don’t have a good relationship.  I loved music of all kinds before benzo.  After and in my withdrawal, it is like a knife to the back with each familiar song.  So there I am boiling inside and out and Journey comes on the loud speaker.  Just a small town girl, living in a lonely world —- my all time favorite song.  And that was the moment.  The moment where for about 30 seconds I thought I might literally combust….I imagine my head exploding into a million tiny pieces.  Little kids swimming around thinking wow, what’s this — oh that’s Jennifers amygdala – wow, its so funny looking………hey mom, check out this funny beach ball that just landed in front of me — mom’s screaming “that’s not a beach ball that is Jennifer’s pre-frontal cortex, put that down! “ —- and all the while I am still counting heads, still helping organize a game of Marco Polo, still looking and seeming for all intents and purposes like a normal human being.  The feeling of utter panic and annihilation and head explosion eventually passed a bit, but my bell was rung.  I sat down, counting heads but a weird carnival laugh began to build inside of me…….how is it that I could be surrounded by the sights, smells and sounds of things I love the most in the world….the things that absolutely make me ME — kids playing, being “aunt Jen”, the smell of coconut and chlorine and Journey playing in the background and I could feel ANYTHING but me.   This, I thought to myself, is one completely fu%ked up process!   

Later when I could cool off, it was fascinating to me how as my system got overwhelmed with the heat, the kid crying, and the frustration mounting that a benzo injured sensitized me could turn freaking Steve Perry into Lucifer, an adorable over-heated six year old into a devil spawn and even coconut suntan lotion could morph into a grizzly bear, a serpent, a cockroach and torture me.

If it weren’t my psyche being hijacked, I would be fascinated.  Well, tomorrow is a new day.  I wonder if maybe I’ll smell something that reminds me of my favorite roast beef dinner at Grandma’s house and feel the need to shed my skin and run for the hills.

You can’t make this crap up!  One day at a time, my friends!  We’ve got this – the only way out is through!