Is It Ever Really Over?
(original post November 27, 2013)
 
   
It’s Thanksgiving Eve, and there are so many things I could write about. This time of year is bittersweet for me. It is when my whole journey through withdrawal hell began (in 2009). I lived through the agony of withdrawal during two holiday seasons. The end of the first one found me contemplating suicide only a few feet from where I now sit. During the second one, I had been off the Klonopin for about 4 months. I was not suicidal, but I wanted to die. I went to the required family holiday gatherings severely depressed and feeling constant panic and terror.  
                     
It was this time of year in 2011 that the “sweet” part of ”bittersweet” finally arrived. I recall the very day that year when I knew without a doubt that I would be well again. It was 2 years and 9 days from the day that my “death march” began in 2009. It seems so long ago and far away, yet it also seems like only yesterday. Very strange.
 
This is a very difficult time for every person going through benzo withdrawal. We fondly recall holidays from years gone by, and we desperately want to be well and enjoy the season. We see others doing the holidays with abandon and happiness which only serves to emphasize our misery. I was terrified that I would never experience such joy again, and, even more horrifying, my brain was telling me that it was a certainty. Perhaps this is the reason for a lot of the “excess” hopelessness that I see on some forums in the past several weeks.
 
In the depths of withdrawal, it is hard enough to believe that healing and wellness are imminent, but when “stories” from those whom have declared their escape from withdrawal reveal that they are once again suffering withdrawal symptoms, it is more than demoralizing. Hope evaporates. Or, when we read about some “study” which concludes that some other ominous fate may face those who took benzos, we are petrified. When I was suffering from the cog fog, depression, and dread of withdrawal, such “stories” and “research” threw me into sheer panic. My once-capable and calm brain was far too ill to process it in any way other than to tell me that I was “toast” and that the game of life for me may as well be over.
 
My brain has now returned to its “former self” (actually better) with respect to cognition, logic, and objectivity. Emotionally, I can handle both the “good” and the “bad.” During my 30-year career as a scientist, I reviewed hundreds of very technical reports, papers, and published studies from the literature. The most important aspect of any study is its design. A study must be designed properly and must follow appropriate protocols if it is to result in any meaningful conclusions. Data from an improperly designed study can be analyzed and statistically manipulated in many ways, but any conclusions from such analysis are meaningless. It really is that simple. The latest study “making the rounds” would be a very difficult one to design properly. I read the abstract which gives no real details of study design  – only results and conclusions. I highly doubt that the myriad of confounding factors (which would necessarily be inherent in such a study) were properly addressed. (End of semi-technical talk.)    
 
The whole thought of a “healed one” suddenly declaring that he or she has “relapsed” after years of wellness is beyond disturbing to someone still feeling the effects of benzo withdrawal. We begin to believe that withdrawal is like a disease that, for no apparent reason, decides one day to “reappear” from latency – something like cancer that has been in remission, hepatitis C, Lyme disease, and the like.
 
I view these declarations of “relapse” as “mini-studies” with a sample population of one. There are always confounding factors which can creep into such studies and must be addressed or accounted for. I will use myself as an example. I have had recurrences of withdrawal symptoms throughout my “healed time,” but I have not spiraled back into withdrawal by any stretch of the imagination. I have written about my surgery where I was given a benzo as part of the anesthesia. I have also written about unknowingly ingesting some alcohol last spring. In both instances, I clearly felt the return of some withdrawal symptoms. They didn’t hang around very long and were not intense, but they were definitely there and were certainly uncomfortable and somewhat distressing. Similarly, there have been instances when I drank far too much coffee and/or stretched myself too thin for much too long. So far, during these times, I have been able to detect some symptoms getting ready to ”flare.” That is when I have to tell myself, “Dude, cool it.” I have always had a tendency to push myself to the limit anyway.
 
These are all things that those who have never been through benzo withdrawal must also be careful with – alcohol, benzos (or any drug), caffeine, stress from overdoing anything, and so on. (In fact, the alcohol, caffeine, and excess stress in my pre-benzo life pushed me over the edge, and I landed in psych med land and on benzos.) The only difference is that we are probably more sensitive to such things.
 
In no way am I trying to sugar coat the possibility that we will never have symptoms again. But I am quite certain that withdrawal will not “recur” simply “out of the blue.” When symptoms have returned for me, it’s because I experienced something that caused the recurrence (sometimes unknowingly). We must be vigilant – but not afraid.
 
I know this journey is very scary and that our brains interpret anything we hear or read in the most negative and fear-inducing way. Once wellness arrives, our brains no longer do that, and we can think clearly and logically. At that point, vigilance becomes a way of life (as it should be in everyone's life), and even if we get a little “sloppy” in that regard, our brains are easily capable of correcting our course calmly and without fear.
 
The answer? Yes, it really does end. It does.  
 
Hoping you all have a reasonable Thanksgiving. The joy will return.