The first thing to know is that benzo withdrawal suppresses our good chemistry, and that's bad.
Therefore, it's imperative that we access that good chemistry. Yes, it's possible. But let's first dive a little deeper into how and why this happens. It all begins with evolution. All of us have a little evolutionary insurance policy called the Limbic System. It's a biosecurity system that is always on, constantly scanning, analyzing, and assessing our bodies and our environments for potential danger.
Even a flicker of a ca tail in the distance and the limbic system can turn on. Because, after all, it's better to waste 100 calories priming us to fight or flight and survive possible danger than it is to spend 1000 calories in a last-second ditch frantic effort to survive! The limbic system (by way of the amygdala) isn't playing around, and it isn't taking chances!
The second thing to remember. This bio-security system (aka the limbic watchdog) has the most significant memory recall system you'll ever know. It's almost a damn computer. It can store something in our memory forever after only having a fleeting experience. Not only that, but it attaches almost a kind of system of hashtags to that particular memory, and anytime we access a hashtag, it can instantly fire up that old memory. Not only that... but as it fires up that old memory, sharp as a razor, those old feelings can fire off simultaneously. This produces not just a memory but what feels like a relieved experience. The limbic system almost allows you to recall the taste or smell of that day.
The third thing to remember is that the limbic system isn't looking for good days to store. The entire nervous system is biased. It works for survival instincts. The memory recall system is always of something potentially bad, dangerous, fearful, or traumatic. But that's the point. The limbic system's way of saying, "We encountered a serious life-threatening problem and will never let you forget!" Thank you, Mr. limbic system (eye roll). This is a great design when the thing it won't let us forget was that dangerous part of the woods where it once encountered a grizzly bear. However, this process is completely wonky and even personally destructive when we are simply sitting on the couch watching television.
Chronic diseases, such as high blood pressure, ulcers, and other cardiovascular problems, for example, share a strong relationship with prolonged elevated stress levels. Which, of course, stems from a needlessly overreactive limbic system. The chemical/hormonal reaction of a triggered limbic system creates a cascade of many physiological changes that in a short period of time, are not harmful to the body, but this physiological response is meant to be short-lived.
The fourth thing we need to remember is that GABA isn't the only transmitter we use to manage stress. Oxytocin, dopamine, serotonin, and dopamine, endorphins (natural GABA production), are all examples of good neurochemistry associated with not only stress reduction but production of good feelings, the creation of good pathways, and the building of neuroplasticity.
By this point, I hope you can see some of the science behind my emphasis on accessing "good chemistry" while attempting to suppress "bad chemistry". Not only that, but we must learn how to rewire those cerebral cortex-learned responses. We must learn to change the symbolism of deemed fearful triggers and help the amygdala more quickly and efficiently calm its hyperarousal. The amygdala uses our outer cortex, which is largely involved in processing and interpreting sensory information, to then determine if it needs to ring the hypothalamus and send out the arm (release fight or flight chemicals). Benzodiazepine dependence and withdrawal bypass so much of these processes and send a profound, nearly continuous distress signal to the limbic system, which is, of course, a system spanning several parts of the brain.
That said, while it's an uphill battle, there's still much we can do to help! At the very, very least, there are ways we can mitigate the escalation of these processes through unchecked, rapid rumination and fear-driving chemical responses and learned maladaptive coping mechanisms. Finally, I want you to think about your life before benzos, specifically before Benzo withdrawal hell. Think about all the things you likely did. Your hobbies, your friends, your family, your exercise, the films you watched, the lovely dinners you had, perhaps you went to theme parks, perhaps you love to spend time in nature, or learn, or play music, etc.,
ALL OF THIS WAS your prescription for mental health!
All of that was how you accessed the good chemistry and how you suppressed the bad chemistry.
Now, in Benzo withdrawal hell, all of those wonderful, mentally healthy things you used to do have likely fallen by the wayside, and cortisol and adrenaline are running the show!
So, what do we do about all of this? We reverse-engineer things.
We figure out where the wheels came off work to put them back on. Of course, this is a massive process requiring a lot of psychoeducation, skill-set building, hope, brain rewiring, neuroplasticity building, and more.
The takeaway here is there IS hope... because hope has a path out of the woods.