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Throw away the healing deadline...

One of the single most asked questions I receive as a Benzo coach from people post-taper is, "It's been X amount of time since I've been off Benzos. Shouldn't I be better by now!"

This question is usually followed by the second most asked question, "Why am I not better yet?"

Let me first say, YES, it's extremely normal to have symptoms post benzos, even up to a year after coming off the drug, even if you were only on the drug for a short period of time. Part of the problem isn't just chemicals and receptors but that the experience itself is often traumatic and brings a host of profound withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms, predominantly anxiety-related, are the building blocks of anxiety disorders of all ilk, from things like insomnia, health anxiety, panic attacks, exercise intolerance, rumination, depression, GAD, and even PTSD.

When you really think about it, it makes sense that the anxiety sticks around for so long. It's like a bear that's been feeding on an endless supply of salmon. It's not going away very easily. And with every fear of how long it's been since we've been off, with every fear of not healing, with every fear of FEAR itself... we inevitably feed the bear. Sometimes, it's just tiny snacks, but the bear is stubborn and lazy and loves human food! You could throw down a piece of bread, and he's gonna stick around a while longer, hoping you'll throw down another slice.

My advice to you all is to THROW AWAY THE HEALING DEADLINE!

You all know what I'm talking about. We have this deadline in our mind of how long this should all take, and when we don't meet that deadline, we really begin fretting!

I'm reminded of CBT-i for insomnia and how some of it can be problematic to people battling insomnia. While CBT-i is a great tool for battling insomnia, it can backfire a bit because it focuses too much on the "doing" part, or as Coach Daniel (sleep coach) might say, it relies on us exerting too much "sleep effort."

CBT-i teaches us that when we cannot sleep, after lying in bed for 20 minutes, we should get out of bed for a short period of time and do something. Then, when you feel sleepy enough again, return to the bed. This isn't bad advice and does work for many; however, for others, it really backfires because we lay in bed, and the pressure of falling asleep within 20 minutes is too much.

As soon as our heads hit the pillow, we become clock-conscious. We begin watching the clock, and the pressure is on, almost like sleep was a race. Okay, we have 20 minutes to fall asleep... GO!

After 10 minutes, you really begin to grow frustrated because you can feel the pressure building. This sends a distress signal to the limbic system. It, in return, responds with hyperarousal (fearful, anxious, wakeful chemicals), which, of course, results in us being more awake. After 20 minutes, we jump out of bed in sheer frustration.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

A similar thing happens when we set healing deadlines. When you come off the drug and then say, "Okay, I'm giving myself 100 days to feel better," the clock begins. And, like sleep, the pressure begins building, and we begin watching the calendar. We also begin comparing and contrasting each day with the next, as if we were forecasting our recovery. While instinctual and rational, it really backfires on many of us.

After 50 days, you begin to panic. You think, "God, I'm halfway to my deadline, and I don't feel any better!" In fact, you may feel even worse. This is likely, in a big way, a result of the healing pressure and related anxiety.

Think of it this way. You're lost in the woods, trapped in a cave or hut by a giant nasty grizzly bear, and you know help is coming, but only once a year at a specific spot.

The pressure is on. You have to get by the bear and get up the mountain to the spot where the helicopter lands. This creates a ton of fear and pressure. "OMG! If I don't reach the landing spot soon, I'll be stuck here with the bear forever!" This is how the limbic system interprets things.

As though we were stuck, help was possibly coming, but it was all time-sensitive, and if we didn't reach our destination, we would be left behind and left to our demise. The limbic system rightfully registers the approaching distress and emotionality and responds accordingly with an ever-escalating fight-or-flight chemical reaction.

The entire mission truly is one of not feeding the bear, not creating recovery pressure (or any other pressure) for ourselves, while nurturing our recovery and being patient while we heal. The truth is we all heal differently and at different speeds. Healing is also not linear. Embrace these things, as difficult as they may be, and you will help put yourself on the straight and narrow road to recovery. Healing isn't intuitive. It isn't always logical. Almost nothing about Benzo withdrawal and recovery is logical or rational!

Stop counting the days. Throw away the healing deadline. You will get there when it's your time. Please see the point in all of this, or else it will drive you mad, make you ruminate even more, and inevitably drag out the process even longer.

Healing has a lot to do with faith. It has a lot to do with faking it until we make it and living our best life.

Healing is letting go of it all: the hurt, the pain, the anger, the frustration, and certainly, the clock.

Part of the problem in all of this is that most of us are Type-A personalities. Therefore, everything has to be fixable and rational. There's got to be something we can do to fix this. Things should be predictable. Well, that isn't true, and we can all benefit from being a bit more Type-B personality. Again. Let go. Breathe. Surrender. Let the ocean have its way, and trust in the process that it's all working out as it should.

Focus on what you CAN do at the moment to help, which, ironically, is usually to surrender to the idea that there's nothing you can do. That said, we work on many things in the school for our recovery, from neuroplasticity building to brain rewiring, CBT, DBT, mindfulness, etc. These are wonderful tools and will help put us on the straight and narrow, and they will speed up the process. But after all of these things, in the bigger picture of it all, learn to let go. Trust in your nervous system. You ARE healing, and you WILL make a full recovery. That old, hungry bear is extremely stubborn and may hang around for a while, but he always eventually gets bored and hungry enough to wander off. Starve him out. Don't feed him.

Many times, with post-Benzo symptoms, what I truly believe we are working on the most isn't just receptor damage but the manifestations of anxieties and trauma that emerged during our tumultuous tapers or cold turkey. We are battling two things here: biology and psychology. Don't underestimate the second.

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