1. Recovery from being an accidental addict to benzodiazepines is serious. It takes time for the central nervous system to heal and for neurotransmitters to stop being sensitive. None of us had the faintest idea that this kind of situation lay in front of us. So we are dealing with shock at what has happened as well as the real physical and mental/emotional symptoms of coming off this medication.
2. Recovery is not linear, as it is with other illnesses or injuries. If we cut our hands, we can actually see the cut heal and the pain diminish over time. In benzo withdrawal we can be well one day and very sick the next. This is normal and we have to look at our healing differently.
3. Recovery is an individual thing, and it is difficult to predict how quickly symptoms will stop for good. People expect to be completely better after a certain period of time, and often get discouraged and depressed when they feel this time has passed and they are not completely better. Most patient support programs tell clients to anticipate 6 months to a year for recovery after a taper has ended. But some people feel better a few months after they stop taking benzos; for others it takes more than a year to feel completely better. Try not to be obsessed with how long it will take, because every day you stay off benzos, your body is healing at its own rate. If you do not follow this particular schedule, it does not mean there is something wrong or you are not healing. Even if you are feeling ill in some respects, other symptoms may disappear. Even people in difficult tapers see improvements in symptoms very early on. So don’t let these time-frames scare you. The way you feel at one month will not be how you will be feeling at three months or at six months.
4. It is very typical to have setbacks at different points of time (these times can vary). These setbacks can be so intense that people feel their healing hasn’t happened at all; they feel they have been taken right back to beginning. Setbacks, if they occur, are a normal part of recovery.
5. When people are in recovery, they have a lot of fears. One is that they will never get better. Another is that their symptoms are really what they are like — perhaps what they have always been like. Both of these fears are stimulated by benzo withdrawal. In other words they are the thought components of benzo withdrawal, just as insomnia is a physical component.
6. There is no way around benzo withdrawal and recovery—you have to go through it. People try all sorts of measures to try to make the pain stop, but nothing can shortcut the process. Our body and brain have their own agenda for healing, and it will take place if you simply accept it.
7. When you are having a bad spell, healing is still going on. People typically find that after a bad spell, symptoms improve and often go away forever. Try to remember this when times are hard.
8. There is no magic cure to recovery, but you can help yourself by comforting and reassuring yourself as much as possible. Read reassuring information, stay away from stress, reach out for support from your partner, family and others for reassurance, and go back to the things you did at the beginning if you are experiencing really tough symptoms.
9. When we start to feel better, it is very typical to try to do too much. We are grateful to be alive and we have energy for the first time in weeks or months. But this can be a dangerous time. When we do to much and take on too much too early, it re-sensitizes the nervous system. It doesn’t prevent healing in the long term, but it can make us feel discouraged. So try to pace yourself, even if you are feeling good.
10. You do need to respect your body during recovery, although you don’t need to make drastic changes to your lifestyle. Exercise, in any form is critical—even if you can only walk around the house or to the end of the block. Eating well and avoiding all stimulants is crucial. Regular high-protein snacks can help with the shakes and the feelings of weakness we have during withdrawal and recovery.
11. Recovery is all about acceptance, but this does not mean passive acceptance. Set small goals for yourself that are achievable. Try to keep exercise happening. Work at your recovery even if that means accepting you are sick—for now. You wouldn’t be hard on yourself if you were in a traffic accident and had injuries; you would work at rehab. Try to take the same attitude and approach to benzodiazepine withdrawal.