Excerpts

From Chapter 3 - The Basics

 

‘Unbelievability Factor’

Even people who were usually trusting of my judgement and cared deeply were sceptical about a prescribed drug having such adverse effects. Only after I recovered did they acquiesce with bewilderment and relief. This inability to grasp the complexity and possible duration of benzodiazepine withdrawal could be referred to as the ‘unbelievability factor’.

If you are experiencing protracted withdrawal and your family, friends or carers insist it is not possible and that withdrawal does not last longer than a few months, please share relevant information from credible sources with them. Then consider your circumstances carefully before doubting yourself or coming to this conclusion. If you do, you could end up feeling that your symptoms are caused by some other medical condition. This could result in further heightened anxiety and your being misdiagnosed and treated for something that is merely a withdrawal symptom, one which will eventually disappear.

If you are experiencing physical discomfort and are concerned, it is advisable to see your doctor and even have diagnostic tests if necessary. As in most cases, they will be negative and you will be assured that your symptom is indeed due to withdrawal.

Another way of identifying withdrawal symptoms is that they would first have appeared either during tolerance when the drug stopped being effective, when you first started weaning off, or during or after your taper. Users of benzos with very short half-lives and those who take the drug erratically may also experience symptoms as part of interdose withdrawal. You may also find that they abate during your windows of clarity and resurface during the waves of withdrawal, often with other accompanying symptoms.

Tapering

There are different recommended methods of tapering. One of the most successful and widely used is the Ashton method, as outlined in the Ashton Manual. It recommends the use of diazepam (Valium) to taper off other benzodiazepines because it is more slowly eliminated from the body. Diazepam comes in liquid form and in doses of 10 mg, 5 mg and 2 mg which makes it easy to make very minute reductions in doses.

If you have decided to discontinue taking your medication, there are a few factors which will determine the duration and pace of your taper and how well you are likely to cope.

If you are on a high dose, you will take longer to withdraw. The drug will be reduced in very small increments periodically in order to allow your body to readjust to the new doses at each stage of reduction.

The tapering schedule should be used only as a guide. If you require a longer period to taper, you can discuss this with your doctor and adjust it accordingly.

Many people use razor blades or the water titration method to make the smallest possible cuts. It is believed that the smaller the cut, the easier it will be for your system to adjust.

Benzodiazepines differ in potency. If you are on a highly potent one you will need a longer time to reduce. If you are tapering using diazepam, your dose of diazepam will be higher. For example, I was on 1.5 mg clonazepam daily which is equivalent to approximately 30 mg diazepam; someone on 20 mg oxazepam which is lower in potency, is on the equivalent of approximately 10 mg diazepam and would have a shorter tapering period.

Your personal circumstances, overall general health, the stressors in your life, stamina and previous experience with drugs, if any, may also influence how you cope and determine the pace at which you can realistically tape

 

From Chapter 7 - Post-Acute &  Protracted Withdrawal

 

February 26, 2006

My First Window

“Today the veil has been gently lifted and everything is bright and glowing. The sun is emerging after what seems like years in another universe. I am filled with hope and a knowing that withdrawal has at last ended. I feel like a new person.

This is overwhelming. I cannot recall being this lucid since the late 1990s. It feels great to be able to feel again, to connect with myself and others, and to have energy to do the little things that were impossible to do just a few days ago.

I am so grateful for my healing. It has been a long time but my precious brain has finally readjusted to being without the dreaded pill. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”

 

September 26, 2007

Hope

“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies” is a quote from one of my all-time favourite movies, Stephen King’s Shawshank Redemption (1994). It is so easy to lose hope when a situation takes longer than anticipated to be resolved, or when our egos interfere in our healing by trying to control the process, as in how and when. The key then, I tell myself, is to let go and not have a timeline or other expectation. I can use what I have now, today, to be comfortable and make my life as pleasant as possible.

This was my gentle reminder this morning after waking up feeling spaced out with a few other benzo reminders which I am choosing to ignore. Instead, I am about to curl up on my sofa and watch Shawshank Redemption for the umpteenth time. Today is a good day.”

 

From Chapter 14 -  Employment and Debt

 

Employment

The stress of having to work during withdrawal can worsen symptoms. Some people with mild and tolerable symptoms are able to continue working. Others are too ill to do so and are house bound. An unfortunate percentage who are the sole earners in their families are challenged with the struggle of working throughout the recovery process. These are some of the ways in which withdrawal can affect work:

increased periods of absenteeism and sick leave

impaired performance and productivity

poor time-keeping

tendency to lose concentration

tendency to become confused

memory impairment

mood swings, irritability or aggression

low energy or lethargy

deterioration in relationships with management

deterioration in relationship with colleagues

deterioration in relationships with clients

risks of accidents with jobs which involve driving, the use of machinery or dangerous equipment

 

From Chapter 16 - Recovery

Recovery from withdrawal can be like a rebirth. Imagine that you have experienced what could possibly have been your biggest life lesson in patience. You have now resigned yourself to the persistent re-emergence of symptoms. Then, you notice that months have passed with none or very few. At last, your GABA receptors have been repaired and your nervous system is calm again. This is recovery!

 

January 16, 2008

Positives About Withdrawal

“It is good to keep remembering that every symptom is evidence that your nervous system is healing. It is readjusting to being fully functional without the drug. You are going through this to get to that place of full recovery. Symptoms are symbolic of the recovery process.

If you have not been able to work, it allows you to get a well-deserved break from the rat-race. You get an opportunity to re-evaluate your work aspirations and even make plans for a career change post-recovery, if that is what you have decided you want.

You may have found that at least one person has turned out to be the most supportive, loyal and non-judgemental friend or family member that anyone could ever ask for. If you have lost connections with others who were unable to support you for whatever reasons, you now have more space in your life to welcome new and harmonious relationships, which you will.

You may have gained confidence as well as renewed respect for your body for having endured withdrawal. You may find that once you are over the shock of the experience, you will have a sense of invincibility and no challenge will ever again phase you.

You may find that the benzo experience has made you tap into your spirituality and has re-ignited your relationship with and belief in a God, Higher Power, Source, Spirit - whatever name you use or concept you have. You now have an unshakable faith and will approach any future obstacles with confidence.

It is possible that you are now au fait with coping strategies, techniques, alternative therapies, healthy eating, exercise, and are on your way to being fitter and more balanced in mind, body and spirit than you were before. You have become a walking reference library, well-equipped to help yourself and others.

Things are no longer taken for granted. You may notice feeling pleased and grateful for being able to accomplish a simple task or hobby that at one point, during the worst of withdrawal, you doubted you would ever be able to do again.

If you are experiencing withdrawal, it means you are on your way to creating a new beginning. You can look forward to being benzo-free, to having a clear, lucid mind, a strong, retentive memory, being focused and able to concentrate. Your cognition will no longer be impaired and you will feel like a new person.

Being in withdrawal means you are preparing for a new healthy reality that will give stability, clarity and purpose, and make you open to receiving your good.”

June 22, 2008

Winds of Change

“Today is an unusually windy day in South Wales with extremely high gusts. Outside my home are two big weeping willow trees which line the water’s edge. I’ve grown quite attached to them especially to the larger of the two, the branches of which hang near my windows.

As I gaze outside I can see the less flexible trees and other plants losing leaves and branches as they resist the wind, but my dear weeping willows are simply swaying, dancing, moving to and fro, making beautiful music in the process.

As I enjoy the windsong, my mind wanders to the withdrawal experience and I feel moved to write about it. When we go against the wind, we become tense, rigid and more susceptible to the pressure. When we gently ease into the flow and not resist, we are less likely to ‘break’ and tend to have a smoother emotional path to recovery.

May the winds of your challenge soon take you back to that place of wellness. As your journey progresses, may you be filled with acceptance and courage. May you also have hope, peace and even find opportunities to make good music and dance along the way.”

 

 

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