Benzo withdrawal and recovery presents a rollercoaster of emotions and mood changes. We often feel like we are just along for the ride and cannot do anything about this. Of course, that largely isn't true. There's actually plenty we can do once we truly understand how it all works. We will come back to this in a moment. First, a few words on guilt, shame, anger, jealousy, and sadness.
You will hear me speak often about the powerful role of the amygdala because it's so very intricately wired into our Benzo withdrawal and recovery journey. And it is a significant factor in how much we suffer, for how long we suffer, and if we manifest other conditions that only add further suffering to us! When we speak of the amygdala, we usually think of its role in fear and activating the fight or flight (stress & anxiety) response, which of course, dramatically strengthens our withdrawal symptoms. However, the amygdala isn't some evil little almond-shaped piece of our brain set out to make our lives hell! One of its primary functions is processing intense emotions, both positive and negative experiences.
The amygdala is like a sensitive smoke detector, and our emotions are the smoke.
This is why even strong positive emotions, such as laughter, can trigger a panic attack during benzo withdrawal. The amygdala becomes quickly overwhelmed and sets off an alarm that the hypothalamus and other parts of the brain react to.
So what do we do? Does this mean we need to avoid laughter?
No. In fact, we generally shouldn't avoid anything, as this makes us sicker. Of course, highly overwhelming things we should exercise some self-preservation over. The trick here is to be mindful of our emotions, and if the amygdala gets activated, don't panic. In fact, take advantage of the opportunity!
What I mean by that is we cannot 'rewire,' so to speak, our amygdala until they are activated. Hence, in exposure therapy, we are practicing the activation of our amygdala, coupled with specific cognitions and behaviors aimed at creating healthier pathways and diminishing the stress and anxiety causing established pathways.
Now, more on those previously mentioned emotions: guilt, shame, sadness, anger, and jealousy.
These emotions seem to be easily overlooked by us during our benzo recovery journey. Fear takes center stage, naturally. However, be mindful of the other emotions, too, as they can be a pervasive source of poisoning. A kind of systemic poisoning that often goes unnoticed and untreated. We just accept that these emotions are going to be with us during Benzo withdrawal, and that's that.
Well, again, there's a price.
Anger can actually feel a bit like stress relief. It can be a coping mechanism. The more angry we are, the less fearful we might feel. At least initially, and that's a massive part of the problem. Anger activates the amygdala in a dynamic way, almost as powerfully as fear! Think about this for a moment. We spend so much of our time each day trying to diminish fear, but what about anger? What about shame and guilt? Both of these emotions powerfully agitate the amygdala and the right orbitofrontal cortex. Again. Think of it as a subtle, pervasive poisoning. It's creating more cortisol and adrenaline response. It's creating more hyperarousal.
If you're a student of my work, you already know a huge part of our mission in benzo withdrawal is to activate good chemistry and help lower the so-called bad chemistry (cortisol & norepinephrine).
Guilt is personal. It's based on a self-assessment of something we feel we did wrong or didn't live up to. It doesn't matter if others know or are aware, or even care. It's us versus us when it comes to this emotion. Conversely, shame is a feeling attached to how we feel others will view and judge us.
Take this example.
You're supposed to go to an important family function. You desperately want to attend, but your symptoms are just too bad, and you can't make it. So you come up with an excuse and tell everyone you're sick. They believe you, but now you feel guilty. It plagues you inside. Now, let's pretend we attended the event, but in the middle of dinner, we had a massive panic attack, so we abruptly left. As a result, we feel shame. We might think, "I'm ashamed I ran out on dinner without any explanation. What must they think of me? Maybe they think I'm weak, or crazy, or rude..."
Shame, like guilt, is very subjective in the sense of how we rationalize and interpret things.
Shame is a feeling experienced when we feel we didn't meet some expectations or standards others hold for us. Again, it is a subjective experience from person to person, from environment to environment, to populous to populous.
Is the guilt or shame necessary? 99.9% of the time, the answer is NO!
Stop being so damn hard on yourselves. Would you act this way towards yourself if you had cancer?
Think about it. Would you beat yourself up similarly if you were fighting cancer at a family dinner or had to leave early because of your symptoms and couldn't manage? And if so, then I'm sure I don't need to tell you that's wildly unhealthy and unfair.
Avoid these emotions by practicing being better to yourself. At the very least, treat yourself like you'd treat someone you loved who was going through Benzo withdrawal. I think that's fair. Next, look at jealousy. Are you jealous of people not suffering? Should you be? Why? Why not?
Again, a totally normal reaction to your situation. Don't feel guilty or shameful! Don't be angry. Let it go. Acknowledge you're going through a profound process in your life. Perhaps the most challenging and profound! Give yourself time to heal. Let yourself be sick, wounded, injured, or temporarily weakened.
I hope this blog helped you become more aware of some of these other emotions, as they can genuinely plague you subtly but intensely.
Here's something that helped me deal with this.
I looked at my situation, looked at the nature of these emotions, and examined closely how they made me sicker. At that point, I treated them like lousy food in my diet. During Benzo withdrawal, I removed them like I did sugars, caffiene, processed foods, fast food, etc. It doesn't matter how I feel about those emotions any more than it does how I feel about those foods removed. See the point.
What is terrible or hinders our recovery has to GO! Keep it simple. If you're angry, well, let's work on that. Let's find forgiveness. Let's practice forgiveness. And then let it go. Remove it like the little piece of toxic food that it is. Same with guilt or shame. Again, my friends, see the damn point. Your recovery and survival may depend on it. Stop indulging in the pity party we throw for ourselves. I mean that with all love.
If you need permission, I'm giving it to you now. In fact, I'm giving you an order, my benzo soldiers! Abort the mission of self-sabotaging negative emotions. Let them flow through you. They will come and go. That's not your concern. Your concern is when they show up on your doorstep, don't invite them in, feed them, and provide them a place to sleep.