Healing isn't exactly what we think it is. Healing isn't linear, nor are windows the only evidence of our recovery.
The strange truth is that much of our healing occurs on bad days, during waves. This feels completely counter-intuitive, so when we enter a wave or have symptoms, we tend to fall into that rabbit hole of fear and rumination. However, fear is a symptom and mustn't be taken too seriously, as though WE were FEARING. That's not quite how it's working.
Our brain produces chemical fear, which we attach to something. We have to be mindful not to put the horse before the cart and mistake the fear for being real.
Windows are evidence of healing, and we certainly do a lot of healing during windows, but in the bigger picture, it is the waves where all the real work takes place.
Think about the skill sets and coping skills you've been working so hard on. Those tools are useless on good days. We do not need them. On good days, everything is going great. Everything comes easy. We do not need to work on much, outside of perhaps taking advantage of the window and doing healthier things, but again, it's easy.
The sun comes out, the clouds part, and we are inspired to live a little more again.
This is great, but there's no test in that. And beating benzos looks a lot like beating other things, such as anxiety, rumination, depression, agoraphobia, panic, insomnia, etc. Remember. Benzo withdrawal is a seven-headed beast! It's not all just chemical withdrawal. Hopefully, that much will become evident if you've followed my work.
Think of the bad days, the waves, as our big test days. Here we are in the Benzo recovery school, learning and growing, developing new skills and better coping; we don't test those things on the good days. Test day is on the bad days. That's when we get to test our skills, and my friends, please do your best to frame things this way. See the bigger picture. Yes. Waves absolutely suck, but in a way, they're necessary. And how we handle and navigate those waves is everything. I'll say it again. How we handle and navigate those waves is everything!
The more we fight and resist during the waves, the more we actually teach our limbic system that we are still in danger, and the limbic will respond accordingly by pumping us full of fight or flight chemicals, which further exacerbates our withdrawal symptoms and strengthens our anxieties, phobias, and depression.
Try to understand that to heal, we need a degree of stability within the vulnerability. We must first be able to become vulnerable. When you become vulnerable, it is the stage for the limbic system to test the waters and the environment and see if that bear is beginning to go away.
Of course, as I always remind you, your limbic system has massive trust issues. It will begin to put down its guard but then becomes startled as if to say, "Oh, no! Did I make a mistake by dropping my guard? Did I leave us vulnerable to be harmed!"
That's the immediate question it asks during and after a window. "Oh, no. Did I make a mistake lowering hyperarousal? Did I leave the host vulnerable to danger?"
The limbic system tests the water by producing a fear response as if to say, "Just in case there IS danger... here are some chemicals to help you escape!"
This is a very critical moment, my friends. How you answer the limbic system will determine the future of this ride. If you give into the fear and fall back on maladaptive coping, the limbic system will then conclude that, in fact, you were still in danger, and thankfully, producing the hyperarousal was successful in keeping you alive and protected. Therefore, it will begin to double down next time.
Knowing how this works can be a game changer because even though we are still afraid, we can implement different, healthier reactions and reverse engineer this process.
In the latter stages of healing, we often go through what I call the Yo-Yo Phase, where the windows and waves seem stuck on repeat. It's window, then wave, window, then wave, and it can intensify. The windows get a bit better and longer, but the waves also seem to get stronger and longer as well. Again. Try your best to wrap your head around why this is happening. The limbic system is doubling down, but the good news is, it is beginning to let down the guard, hence the windows. Most people even report sleep returning, which is a fantastic sign your hyperarousal is coming back down. However, when your limbic feels vulnerable, it becomes startled and tends to overreact. Hence, the quicker, stronger waves.
Make peace with this process. Help your clunky amygdala to figure it out and rediscover its North Star. Work through the trauma with love, compassion, understanding, and acceptance. Forgive. Let go of the anger and disengage from the fear. Become a scientist. Observe your symptoms as though you were conducting a qualitative study. Ask yourself what the traits and characteristics of this experience are. Again, disengage. Do not become overly emotionally involved with the research.
You might observe things and conclude, "Interesting. The amygdala becomes frightened and produces chemical fear hormones, which then try to latch on to something to rationalize the chemical fear. Ah, interesting. This isn't me. This isn't coming from me!"
By putting that gap between us and the symptoms, we disengage from the clutches of fear, the gravity of fear, which is good because fear is a liar. I hope you know this by now. The fear is a liar. So, do your best to embrace the bad days. See the bigger picture. Your wave is your test day! You've been working hard, right? Preparing for the test? Right? I hope so. Now, here's the test. Trust in your work, and be patient. You will have to take the test multiple times. It isn't just one test we pass and then are finished. No. It's a process, a series of tests, but the better you do, the fewer tests you'll need to take, and the quicker you can sail through this fog. Embrace the waves as you do your windows. The reason we fear the waves is that we believe the lies that these waves are evidence we cannot heal or won't heal. That's not true. Waves are painful, and they're dreadful, but they're not dangerous. They're not evidence we aren't healing. Quite the contrary. It's evidence that healing is taking place.
Engage your healing. Learn to welcome and embrace the tough days. You'll get there!