(original post December 25, 2013)
This morning, as I opened my eyes to a new day, I slowly recalled that this is Christmas Day. As I lay there peacefully, I thought about what the day had in store. We have dinner here for our children and my in-laws. I tend to eat a lot on this day so I always plan a rather brutal workout before everyone arrives (so I can eat more). Of course, prior to the exercise, there is the pot of coffee, some reading, and a Sudoku puzzle or two. Then a nice hot shower, the company of my family, and eventually the turkey dinner. A very pleasant day for sure.
Then a few other things crossed my mind – not so pleasant. Yesterday, in one of the Facebook benzo groups, someone made some brutally hurtful remarks to another person in the group who is still in the grips of withdrawal. When I was in withdrawal, I would have been destroyed by such hateful words. It would have been like a dagger in the back. My heart hurt for this person. When I went to bed, I was very concerned for her.
Also, my thoughts went to a lady in Benzobuddies who has struggled in benzo withdrawal for a very long time. I used to write on her blog frequently, but she rarely posts anymore. She has since been diagnosed with Lyme disease which may be contributing to her difficult healing. She posted last month and is still battling the depression of withdrawal. My thought this morning was that I should write her a letter because she rarely reads her blog.
So, I proceeded with the day, and it played out very much in the way I had visualized when I was in bed. One of the unplanned highlights was playing with Play Doh with my grandson Eli. That was awesome.
After we ate, my son and I did the dishes. We all went to the living room to sit and talk for a bit. My father-in-law was recently diagnosed with liver cancer so he was very quiet. Although unspoken, everyone in the room was thinking that this may be his last holiday season with us. It is having a profoundly dampening effect on some members in the family. It is sad.
As I sat there, I thought back on earlier Christmas Days. The Christmas of 2007 stands out more than any other, but not in a good way. That year, the day began according to the usual plan. I did my workout, and everyone arrived by about 10 am. I thought it would be a good idea to “celebrate” the day with some drink, so I poured myself a vodka and Diet Seven-Up. (I didn’t want all the calories of beer or wine). Others had the beer and wine. As the day progressed, I guess we had dinner and whatever else. All I remember is sitting in my chair in the living room drinking beer after beer (must have run out of vodka). I don’t even recall our guests leaving. I made a fool of myself.
That is what I thought about as I sat there today. Then I thought about the letter that I wrote to myself the following day (December 26, 2007) when I was remorseful. I was clearly in mental anguish when I wrote that letter. Here is the text of that letter for anyone here who struggles with alcohol.
So, why would I willingly do such a thing to myself? It’s not as if I just stumbled into this thing for the first time and it resulted in problems. I’ve done this over and over with the same horrible results. Why do I think that the next time will be different – that I will be able to control it? It hasn’t worked yet. What is it about this thing that pulls me to it like a magnet? No, it’s more like a black hole. Once I am within its gravitational field – its influence, I begin to spiral downward accelerating faster and faster as time passes until I crash and burn yet one more time just like the hundreds of previous times. Self-control is not an option. I know that, yet I continue on the road to destruction. Why? I am a sane, reasonably intelligent person. Why do I approach the lion’s den and think I won’t get mauled again...and eventually destroyed?
If you play with fire, you get burned. There’s nothing hard to understand about that. So, what is it about the fire that draws me to it as though I am hypnotized? I seem to forget about all the burns I sustained the hundreds of other times that I willingly touched the flames. I forget about those periods of time when I voluntarily stayed away from the flames. I forget the sense of accomplishment, the success, the self-control, the healthy feelings in my body, mind, and spirit. If I do think on these things, I do truly desire them once more. But, then I realize I have stumbled so many times and must start all over again and again. It seems hopeless – undoable – an exercise in futility. I have become a slave to guilt and fear. Am I just existing until I finally destroy myself simply because I can’t take control? There must be some way. It seems like it should be simple yet it eludes me time after time.
The euphoria of that first drink cannot be denied. Why not a second drink? A third? Control is gone, and nothing good will come of the rest of the evening. I say stupid things that I don’t remember. I start to slur my words and have trouble walking even a short distance. I am embarrassed to some degree, but the damage has already been done. I want to be sober now. But it doesn’t work that way. The euphoria is gone. I am tired. I fall asleep. I get to bed (sometimes not even remembering how I got there). I have strange dreams. I wake up after a few hours in a type of terror. I have some trembling. My heart is beating hard. I try to remember if I did or said anything stupid. I try to remember exactly what transpired while I was in my stupor. Sometimes I remember –sometimes not. I try to soothe myself with Bible verses and prayer. I ask God for His help. I hate what I did that put me in this condition. I hate myself for being so stupid – for harming my body – for causing pain for my wife who prays for me but I keep blowing it. I cry out for God’s help. He is doing His part, but I’m not doing mine. I recall what a clear conscience and a good night’s sleep are like. “This will be the last time,” I tell myself, but within days I give a repeat performance. It is such an absurd thing.
So, what is it about that bottle that is so appealing that I am willing to endure all the pain that comes with it - to even cause pain for others? There is absolutely no good reason to be doing this to myself and to my wife. It makes no sense. I have accomplished many things in my life – given my life to God, helped many people, and had career and academic successes. God can’t be pleased with this, yet I know He is deeply aware of the struggle I am having and He holds the answer. But what is the answer? Surrender everything to Him? But how? What does that even mean?
There are others who have gotten through this struggle. I have read many of the stories from Alcoholics Anonymous. I have talked with people who go to AA. Somehow, sharing experiences with others afflicted with the same struggle makes sense. It seems like a huge step to take – not the embarrassment so much but rather acknowledging that I can’t conquer this problem myself – one that seems so simple. Is it God’s plan that I visit AA? It’s a scary thought. Am I sure I can’t do this without AA? How many years have I tried this on my own and I still haven’t succeeded? How many times have I been alone and sobbed inwardly because of this mess I am in? Do I have the guts to go to AA the first time? It could be the answer God has had for me all along and I ignored it. Can I do it? I feel like crying.
Now I am sitting here trying to absorb the day and my thoughts on the day. There were certainly both bitter and sweet things to taste. In the morning I did notice that the woman from the Facebook benzo group who was verbally attacked rebounded very well. I have known her for some time. Despite benzo withdrawal and its misery, she is a very resilient person.
This evening I did go to Benzobuddies and read the latest entry in my other friend’s blog. In the letter that I write, I may offer to have her and her husband (who has been totally supportive) come here while she heals – no matter how long it takes. There is always hope.
Although I can do nothing about my father-in-law’s diagnosis, I will have to be the strong one for the rest of the family and share my “outlook” on life both here and life “after here.” It’s an awesomely positive perspective. Perhaps it will be contagious and provide some hope during this time (for both him and the family).
The drinking story of 2007 brings back some appalling memories of just how intense my struggle was to quit drinking – and the extreme mental suffering from that struggle. In many ways, the drinking was the gateway to my fall into the abyss of psych drugs and 13 years of Klonopin use. And it was the Klonopin that made my struggle with alcoholism nearly impossible to overcome. I didn’t know that at the time.
Even though the suffering from the alcoholism was extreme, it pales in comparison to the suffering of benzo withdrawal. That is probably why I had forgotten just how hard the alcoholism was on me.
So very much has happened in the six years that have passed since I wrote that letter – lots of bitter and lots of sweet. After I wrote the letter, I managed about five months of sobriety but went back out for 11 months and finally realized I would die if I didn’t soon end the drinking. Then came two years of bitter, depressively black withdrawal from Klonopin.
But I am finding that the bitter is needed to really recognize and appreciate the sweet. Even more, what many would view as bitter, now has a sweetness to it. For some reason, when we heal, hope abounds. All things seem obviously possible.
Now that I have traveled the road, I realize that benzo withdrawal requires only the slightest modicum of hope – just enough to survive the torment. When the withdrawal is over and wellness arrives, hope blossoms in a way I can’t explain. It is a hope that cannot be extinguished even in circumstances that most who have not experienced withdrawal (and those who are in withdrawal) would consider dire and hopeless.
Hope (even in the hard stuff of life) has truly been a hallmark of my healing, and it is very sweet.