Rumination is probably the single most COMMON symptom of benzo withdrawal/recovery that I see my clients struggling with. In particular, there’s one thought that circulates, on repeat, day-in, and day-out.
“What if I never get better?”
And it’s a damn good question, as it is the only doorway between a second chance at life vs a life of constant torture that eventually leads to suicide. I know how grim and triggering that can sound, but it is a very real voice inside our head, and we cannot ignore it because it will grow louder. The thing we need to do is come to terms with our situation and learn to foster faith in our recovery. Believe in it. Know it is real. Understand you’re going to have to walk through lava and thorns many miles to get back home. But that home is out there.
It’s okay to be angry or sad. It’s also okay to have moments, windows, where you are able to look beyond the immediate and see what your life can be like after benzo. As silly as it may sound, I’d often think about fishing and camping, and all the cool new cabins I would go stay in, all the beautiful nature parks I’d explore. No. I didn’t know if I’d actually see those things and be able to enjoy them.
Hell. I didn’t know if I wouldn’t end up disabled at such a young age. But I found faith in my recovery because I understood a VERY IMPORTANT detail about recovery… that if I give up in my mind first, my body will follow. What’s real in the mind is as real as reality. The brain can be shown to fire exactly the same in a dream or deep state of thought as it does actually seeing or experiencing a certain reality.
That’s how powerful our minds are.
And when you have something like OCD or OCD-like-tendencies, tendencies to worry and ruminate, this becomes all the more difficult. Because your mind is constantly running a program of self-assessment, or as I like to call them, little anti-virus programs. They scan the body looking for every sensation, analyzing what it is or could be. Warning. Heart palpitation. Could this be a heart attack?!
Warning. Pain in right eye. Could this be an ocular tumor?!
We go to the hospital and have ourselves checked out and we hear the same thing over and over. “You’re okay. It’s just anxiety/stress.”
Damn. We were so sure this time.
This is the nature of cortisol and adrenaline. Its function is primarily to enable you to be survive, to evade predators, and to evade danger.
But if you ask any boxer, combat sport fighter, or even athlete, they’ll tell you that the anxiety and stress help them. It keeps them sharp, improving their reaction times. They become hypervigilant and their body undergoes biological alterations that enhance their ability to respond to dangerous stimuli.
The problem with this is when the brain doesn’t realize the fight is over and instead it never shuts off!
The body is constantly being flooded by stress and anxiety chemicals. And after a while it really begins to alter the way we see ourselves and the world.
The reason we cannot stop worrying is because we have a chemical in our head that makes it almost impossible. Almost, but not entirely.
The first step is identifying that little lying voice in the head.
The next step is learning to accept our condition, while fostering some faith in our recovery. This will help ease the tension in the mind, as if it were two hands gripping around our brain, squeezing. The tension becomes less and less as we find peace. And remember, peace isn’t the same as happiness or pleasure. But peace is surely enlightening, by the truest definition of the term. To en-light-en.
We have to come to terms that we have been dropped out in the forest all alone and must walk out all by ourselves. There are no miracle drugs or herbs or vitamins or sound therapies or scream therapies or cranial nerve reprogramming or mantra or protein shake or talk therapy or light therapy (etc. etc. etc.) that is going to guarantee us a way out.
And I’ve seen so many clients spend so much time and energy looking for the miracle cure that they almost never actually did the things that sincerely DOES promote positive health—the things that WOULD help lessen their symptoms and promoted healing. Namely the dietary changes, getting sunlight, becoming more physically active, and working on their anxiety/depression as a symptom of their withdrawal, WHILE promoting relaxation (positive neuro-health) daily. A lot of people won’t even bother because none of these things seem very effective. But truth be told, we are not entirely sure because we never gave them a real shot. Instead, we rationalize. We say, “eh, good health only goes so far. I’m damaged. That stuff takes more energy that it provides…”
And to that I can only say consult the research. Be educated on the topic.
Does exercise impact anxiety and promote a healthy nervous system?
Stubbs, B. et al., (2017). An examination of the anxiolytic effects of exercise for people with anxiety and stress related disorders: A meta-analysis. Psychiatry Research, 249(1), 102-108. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S016517811630909X
Previous literature regarding the benefits of exercise for anxiety/ stress disorders is equivocal.
Our data suggest that exercise is more effective than control at reducing anxiety symptoms.
Given its wider health benefits, exercise should be considered a strategy to improve the health of this population.
Exercise and depression?
Rethorst, C. D. (2019). Effects of exercise on depression and other mental disorders. APA Handbooks in psychology series. APA handbook of sport and exercise psychology, 2(1), 109-121. American Psychological Association. https://doi.org/10.1037/0000124-00600
Throughout history, individuals have noted the mental benefits of exercise and physical activity.
Reduction in physical activity over time was also found to be predictive of an increased risk for developing depression. There is substantial evidence supporting exercise use in the treatment of mental disorders, especially depression.
Do people recovery from benzodiazepines? Well let’s look at one study involving the elderly and withdrawal? Current evidence shows that benzodiazepine withdrawal is feasible in the older population, but withdrawal rates vary according to the type of intervention.
Five studies measured clinical outcomes following benzodiazepine discontinuation, and observed no difference in prevalence of withdrawal symptoms or sleep quality.
Seven studies of benzodiazepine and z-drug withdrawal were identified, with discontinuation rates among 65%.
For me, the education was important. Having a rational world view of benzodiazepine withdrawal and recovery I was better able to confide in the statistics and the probability of my recovery. No. I didn’t know for certain. Yes. Studies can be misleading. Yes. I’m well aware of the horror stories. But I just looked at the bigger picture and unless I was going to go down a rabbit hole of conspiracy, I could see clearly that indeed
MOST PEOPLE RECOVERY FROM BENZODIAZEPINE!
That’s extremely important to know. Without it we can feel utterly hopeless.
I’ll go into deeper analysis of this in a later chapter.
I had to keep reminding myself and lulling that paranoid anxious voice in my head back to sleep.
It’s going to be okay. I need more time. I need to engage in my healing at a safe steady pace. I need more
I believe this is very powerful step in fighting benzo-induced self-defeating rumination.
Olfson M, King M, Schoenbaum M (2015) Benzodiazepine use in the United States. JAMA Psychiatry 72(2):136–142. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2014.1763
van Hulten R, Isacson D, Bakker A, Leufkens HG (2003) Comparing patterns of long-term benzodiazepine use between a Dutch and a Swedish community. Pharmacoepidemiol Drug Saf 12(1):49–53. doi:10.1002/pds.784
Lopez-Peig C, Mundet X, Casabella B, del Val JL, Lacasta D, Diogene E (2012) Analysis of benzodiazepine withdrawal program managed by primary care nurses in Spain. BMC Res Notes 5:684. doi:10.1186/1756-0500-5-684
Westbury J, Jackson S, Gee P, Peterson G (2010) An effective approach to decrease antipsychotic and benzodiazepine use in nursing homes: the RedUSe project. Int Psychogeriatrics 22(1):26–36. doi:10.1017/S1041610209991128
Petrovic M, Pevernagie D, Mariman A, Van Maele G, Afschrift M (2002) Fast withdrawal from benzodiazepines in geriatric inpatients: a randomised double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Eur J Clin Pharmacol 57(11):759–764.