This is a pretty common question any Benzo recovery coach receives. What does healing look like?
And it can be challenging to answer because everyone is different, and the process can vary, but... there is a considerable middle ground where most of us find ourselves. In that middle ground, I can give you some details. First, let me say that healing comes in all shapes and sizes. I used to think it was tall tales about the person who woke up one day and was healed. However, I've seen this... many times. I can tell you it is a reality. People can wake up one day and suddenly report, "Things just felt different. The fog lifted, and I felt different." While this is beautiful, I don't think any of us should simply be sitting on our beds, lost in rumination, and praying to win the Benzo recovery lottery! However, I've noticed a correlation with these people who suddenly healed one day.
They all worked on themselves and their recovery. And none of them were lost in rumination, glued to the doom and gloom forums, catastrophizing daily about how they will never heal. That's important to note, my friends. And it's a very possible feit.
No. It's quite the opposite, in fact. These people usually were working on themselves, and more often than not, the sudden healing proceeded as a kind of switch being flipped in their heads. In other words, a profound change in thought or behavior usually happens just before they wake up healed.
This, like healing, is different for everyone.
But it often has something to do with surrender, acceptance, or some "Ah-hah!" moment they had about their condition or recovery. I've seen people finally break down and make true peace with healing, and then, BAM, a jolt of healing happens!
This makes complete sense to me if you understand my perception of recovery. Again, everyone is different, and this may not apply to everyone. That said, for many of us, our limbic system gets stuck in crisis mode, and it will not allow us to fully heal as it continues to react as though we were fighting for our lives. It produces a powerful trauma response, and no one heals from a traumatic event that never seems to end! Even if it isn't real. Even if that traumatic event is a loop of false fear running on repeat in our brain.
The bulk of my work with all of you has been to help you retrain your limbic systems to realize that you're no longer in danger, no longer need to be stuck in crisis mode, and that the grizzly bear has finally disappeared. You're safe again! You may not feel very well, and your limbic system may still be producing fear chemicals for a period of time, but you are indeed safe.
The incredible, difficult-to-believe thing is that your limbic system can QUICKLY reset once you accomplish this. Sure, there will still be healing, as healing from trauma takes time, but you can quickly experience a massive improvement. The same can be observed with profound insomnia, where our amygdalas are stuck in hyperarousal mode, frightened by lack of sleep, perceiving the lack of sleep as a grizzly bear. Then, with just a little acceptance and surrender, suddenly, we sleep again, where we once thought our sleep was permanently broken.
As soon as our amygdala feels safe, it can quickly restore homeostasis.
Now, back to the original question: what does healing look like?
Healing encompasses much of what I've just spoken about above, but the visual healing process looks like a rough ocean slowly calming. The waves begin to get smaller and smaller. The windows begin to get wider and wider. At first, this can be damn confusing and even scary as we begin to yo-yo. The yo-yo-ing can feel even more intense than our initial withdrawal, which, again, is confusing.
We might mistake this very good final stage of healing for a setback, which I assure you is not!
It represents the nervous system finally working out the trauma, but that means dealing with its massive trust issues as well. So the limbic system begins to put down its guard, but then it has a kind of startle reflex as if it were saying, "Oh crap! I almost forgot we were deep in these woods, surrounded by grizzly bears! I almost let us become vulnerable and in danger!"
Sometimes, the limbic system doubles down. And we feel a stronger wave come over us as our hyperarousal becomes more intense. Of course, hyperarousal exacerbates withdrawal symptoms.
But if you're kind, understanding, compassionate... if you can trust in the process and not go running away, not retreat to your old fearful defenses and maladaptive coping, then you will succeed in retraining this part of your brain. You will succeed in demonstrating to our amygdala that it is indeed okay to finally and permanently put down the defense.
It's okay to turn off the alarm system.
This can take some time, or it can happen pretty fast. Often, it's a mix of both. We yo-yo for a while, and then suddenly, we find ourselves really turning a corner!