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The most important skill we can develop during benzo recovery...

I teach a lot of skills in my Benzo recovery program that are designed to help us heal, manage symptoms, and embrace a future life without meds.

Our work is bigger than merely tapering off the prescription drugs. In some ways, that's almost the easier part. Healing, growing, repairing, learning, and changing are arguably a much taller order, but one so necessary to keep us off the drugs.

With that said, I ask you, "What is the most important skill we can develop during Benzo recovery?

To answer this question, think about the one skill you most need to remain off the benzodiazepines. Give it a moment. What do you think it is?

If you answered, "emotional regulation" then give yourself a pat on the back. However, most people are likely not to think of that answer, yet, it's so obvious. Isn't it? Think about the reason why most of us got on the Benzos in the first place. If we were to use an umbrella term that encompasses the various potential issues we would have emotional regulation, or emotional dysregulation.

Once upon a time, we understood that our thoughts influence our emotions, behaviors, and chemistry.

Then Big Pharma came around and told us this was largely not true and that the real problem was a chemical imbalance. Now, we've come full circle, and modern science has disproven that false theory and returned us to the original prescription, learning to grow and see clearly.

Regulating our emotions is key to managing rumination, anxiety, depression, insomnia, health anxiety, borderline personality disorder, narcissism, histrionics, panic disorder, somatic symptoms, pain disorder, OCD, eating disorders, and even trauma!

You see, the problem for everyone (benzo or not) is that we are not as emotionally developed as we are cognitively developed. Our entire lives, from birth, is a master class for developing our intellect. We are first taught our names, then the names of people around us. Then we are taught language, how to string sentences together and fully communicate with others. We are taught math, science, geography, etc. until we get out of formal education.

Next, we learn a trade or go to college, where we learn even more. We work so hard to develop our intellect that we even have games and competitions around it. We see who can solve the most complex puzzles quickly and who spells the biggest words.

But what about our emotions? The painful truth is that most people stop developing emotionally a little after high school, with many, arguably most, not ever developing past the age of eighteen. In the words of the late Dr. Leary, we have a brain all dressed up and nowhere to go. I'd add to that, and no ability to fully handle the experiences should we arrive!

Now, think back to what you already understand about emotional regulation. Consider how children behave and the emotional lessons we help them learn as they develop. A child is initially very needy, impulsive, and has weak emotional regulation. Anything can scare them. Their emotions are so very heightened and even fragile. If they don't get the toy, they cry or even throw a tantrum. When they get the toy, it's the entire world to them. But then they learn how to deal with those emotions through emotional development, and things change. Suddenly, they're no longer so impulsive and emotionally reactive, either way.

This conditioned emotional regulation development process continues until around the age of eighteen, at which point development slows down tremendously. As I said before, many people don't develop much emotionally after this point. Sure, we can continue to develop intellectually, but let's not confuse the two.

Mental illness feeds on emotional dysregulation like a bear feeds on our garbage. This is why the goal of therapy for any counselor is to help the patient achieve a stronger sense of awareness, perception, and emotional regulation. To help the individual understand that simply because we "feel" a certain way doesn't always reflect the reality of our experiences.

For example, we can be angry at someone for false reasons, or we can be angry for other reasons and then project that onto others. The same is true for emotions such as sadness, fear, love, and jealousy.

Intense Emotions are some of the most challenging for us because emotions drive our thoughts and behavior. When we are happy, everything and everyone is good. When we are sad, everything and everyone is painted with a melancholic brush. We can become so angry we can harm someone, so jealous that we can destroy someone's life, so sad we can end our own life, so afraid we can run away from everything and everyone, and so in love that the thought of being separate from the person we long for can make us sick.

Then comes Complex Emotions, which take even greater command of regulation. Complex emotions are when we combine two intense and usually opposing emotions. For example, you can love someone so much and simultaneously hate them. But the way the mind works it will not allow us to recognize both of these. No. It prefers to simplify the matter by focusing only on one emotion at a time. We either love them, or we hate them. We can oscillate, but reconciling both at once requires real emotional maturity.

The same can be said about loving our enemies and those who have harmed us. It takes a very, very emotionally developed heart to accomplish such a feat.

But perhaps nothing is more challenging than managing fear. I mean real, raw, pure fear! The kind of fear that paralyzes and terrifies us. This fear is so profound that even when we know it isn't real, we usually cannot manage our response. A response, by the way, that has been so heavily conditioned by nature.

We become afraid, even over a false trigger, and our limbic system hits us hard with that hormonal cocktail that triggers a host of physiological changes. A cascade of biological survival mechanisms ripples through our body, and as an act of evolutionary insurance, our fight or flight center hits us with an unimaginable dose of chemical fear.

After all, they don't call it the fight or flight center for nothing!

My work in the Benzo community for nearly the past decade has been to help give hope, direction, support, and skills/knowledge that can lead to stronger emotional regulation. Indeed, I can sincerely tell you all that my clients who did the best in their recovery, those who were able to stay off the benzo and be truly successful, were all individuals I witnessed great emotional development. In fact, as a coach and as a therapist, it's perhaps the most rewarding part of the mission. It's wonderful to help people get unstuck and learn to conquer their fears and manage their emotions. Because we know that is something that will better all areas of their lives, from their relationship with family, friends, significant other, and even their employers.

Fear hits us hard during withdrawal, and we reflexively go running. Of course, running comes in many forms. It might involve avoiding things, people, doctors, food, stimulation, exercise, exposure, etc. Running away may also involve rumination and leaning on unhealthy coping mechanisms. These could include up-dosing our Benzo, drinking alcohol, taking pain pills, chain-smoking, living on negative forums, or just constantly begging people for reassurance.

So, how does one correct this? By practicing the same kind of emotional control they've been practicing their entire life. However, these are much tougher emotions than we've ever had to deal with. Our old tools may not be enough. This is why, in my Benzo recovery program, we are learning new skills. New ways of thinking and reacting. New ways of looking at benzo withdrawal and recovery. We are learning to be less reactive and more mindful. We are learning to be at least as aware of our cognitive weather as we are of the geographic weather around us. We can see a storm coming, yet we are always caught and surprised by our emotions, even when others can read us like a book!

It's ironic. Much of our world and our human race is suffering from a lack of self-awareness (not to be confused with narcissism), while others suffer neurotically due to too much self-awareness. Anyone with health anxiety understands this. Naturally, there's a balance to be achieved. That said, we should also not confuse hypervigilance with hyper-self-awareness.

All of this said, what I hope you take with you from this article is that we should focus on developing emotional regulation. This is a huge part of our mission during Benzo withdrawal and recovery. Try your best not to lose sight of it. Reflect on it often when you're dealing with intense emotions and want to ask that person one more time today if you'll be okay. See the point. That emotional development comes from our ability to self-regulate and to self-soothe healthily. Sometimes, all we can do is sit with these emotions and breathe, but that's enough. In fact, that's the art of mindfulness meditation and dialectical behavioral therapy.

When we are terrified and panicked, ready to run away or be compulsive, our ability to sit and be strong can break us free from this vicious emotional cycle. Learning how to regulate our emotions through healthy coping can be the key between victory and defeat, between good mental health and neurosis.

Be patient and easy on yourselves. It's easier to learn a second language than it is to master our emotional responses. "Response" is the keyword there. Remember, when we cannot change something in our lives, we can change how we choose to react and respond. Over time and through much practice, this becomes increasingly easier, and we suffer less. So much of suffering is mental, as there is a profound difference between suffering and pain.

Stick with the good work. Breathe. You can do this.

Even old dogs can learn new tricks ~

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Great insight. For me, the most important skill I need in benzo recovery is flexibility; being able to re-frame situations into something less triggering. This allows me to regulate my emotions by seeing things with a different perspective and not in the original context that created a heightened emotional response. Of course, I use sheer willpower to control my emotional responses too, but re-framing is easier. This idea of the essentialness of having intellectual maturity and emotional maturity is critical for survival. I see high I.Qs, but not as many people, including myself, with high E.Q.s.

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