The Treasure: Pioneers With A New Perspective, Purpose And Paradigm (Part 1)
(original post December 21, 2013)
Recently, in one of the forums, someone in withdrawal was expressing concern to the wife of a man who has healed regarding how her husband is now viewed by family and friends since he has healed. It is very common (too common) for family and friends to “abandon” us during withdrawal (although it’s not always abandonment - it often just “feels” that way).
For the most part, it is nearly impossible for others to understand what we go through in withdrawal unless they have also walked a mile (or a few hundred miles) in our shoes. For example, I have a friend (Jayson) who went through post-acute withdrawal from alcohol years ago. He understood perfectly what was happening to me and that the light would shine again one day.
There was one other individual in my story whom I had forgotten about who understood in some way. His name was Matthew. He dispensed the nightly meds in the psych hospital where I stayed under suicide watch for three weeks. One evening, as I stood there getting my drugs, he said to me: “Sir, you don’t belong in here. You don’t need these meds.” I gave him some sort of feeble reply like, “I know but I just can’t……” I couldn’t even gather the swirling thoughts in my brain enough to construct a sentence. Other than Jayson, Matthew was the ONLY person in two years of torture who “got it” somehow. I don’t know if he had experienced some sort of withdrawal in the past, but he understood. Maybe he is just one of those rare individuals who “sees” the pain inside others and offers a hand. I don’t know. (If I do ever write a book about my experience, Matthew will be named. I would love to meet him again.)
As usual, I am taking the long way around to make some points. Throughout my withdrawal experience, most of my “normal” anger has been directed toward the injustice (perpetrated against me and countless others who have suffered and are suffering) caused by the blatant greed of our culture/society. Of course, there was also the anger caused purely by withdrawal (which I turned inwardly toward myself - but some of us direct it toward others as well).
In the past couple days, I have tried to mentally place myself in the position of others who are now on the withdrawal journey. It has been a “what if” exercise for me. Many people lose significant relationships (spouses and significant others), careers, homes, savings – everything. I didn’t. My wife stayed (although I was certain she would not). I lost my job, but I had a good 30-year career and retired with a decent pension. I didn’t lose my savings, home, or anything of monetary value. I lost time – yet, in a sense, it was the time in withdrawal that has made me a better human being.
So, I ask myself – “What if I was a young person who lost all I had without really ‘getting started’? What if I was alone? What if I had no money and no job? What if I had what appears, on the face of it, to be nothing?”
I have really given much thought to this. In the midst of withdrawal, there would have been no hopeful answers to these questions, but now there are (for me). This mental exercise has taken a great deal of soul searching and has resulted in some answers that are a bit unsettling – things I will have to process in coming days.
What would I have done if I had lost relationships completely – especially my wife? For me, there would have been incredible sadness – but not anger or resentment. We have been through some unbelievably difficult experiences in our marriage. There was a time early in our marriage when she suffered from symptoms of what is labeled schizophrenia. That was taxing for our relationship and took me to my limits because I had no understanding whatsoever of her condition. After all, on the outside she looked okay (much as we do in withdrawal). When it was my turn to go through my own mess, she stuck by me largely because she had some inkling of what mental and emotional torture can encompass….but not exactly the torture of benzo withdrawal.
It is that “not exactly” that somehow gives rise to something that troubles me in some way but also provides a sense of hope in me for others going through withdrawal (and who will go through withdrawal). There has been something about benzo withdrawal that has provided a very strong “bond” with others going through it. Perhaps it’s the intensity, type, and duration of suffering that withdrawal entails – giving a sense of “co-warriors/survivors.” I don’t really know.
Right now, I enjoy the company of just about anyone. But I am not “bonded” to them as I am to others who have experienced benzo withdrawal. If, for some reason, my current relationship was no more (or I had lost it while in withdrawal), I don’t know that I could closely relate to anyone who has not experienced withdrawal. That experience is a large part of me. It changed me. No one can possibly understand that part of me unless they had also walked through the depths. So, if my wife had left, any subsequent close relationship would have to be withdrawal-related. That troubles me in some way.
The “hopeful” part lies in the thought that, if I had lost that relationship (as many have), I am a much more compassionate, grateful person than I ever would have been without the withdrawal experience. I have “more to give” somehow (if that makes sense). But finding someone else who would fathom my withdrawal experience would be almost impossible unless that person also had the same sort of experience at some point in their life.
Since I have healed, I have many very good relationships with others (both old and new relationships). Others see that I have changed in an incredible way, and they want the energy, peace, wisdom, and sheer wonder of life that I have. All of that is wonderful. But, they don’t “get it,” and they never truly will. It is only those who have had the experience that “get it.”
For example, this morning my brother and a friend of his (whom I had never met) dropped by for a visit. His friend is 10 months clean from drugging (street drugs and opiates) and booze. His story was rather amazing, and we sat there and traded stories of withdrawal, past thoughts of suicide, blackouts, and physical addiction to chemical substances. We were connecting at an intensely deep level because we shared past personal pain and suffering. It felt like I knew this guy for years.  It was as though my brother was not even in the room. My brother basically raised me, and I will be indebted to him forever for that. But he did not go through the suffering of benzo withdrawal or any withdrawal.  We simply cannot connect at that level – perhaps the deepest level there is on earth.
It’s the same for many individuals in the AA rooms. They have shared an extreme addiction, and they find it necessary, at some level, to be in each other’s company to share the joy of and gratitude for the victory - simply because others will never be able to “get” or ”feel” what addiction and the release from it is like.      
As I sit here, I realize that others will never understand what I went through, and they may, in the back of their minds, even wonder if it could happen to me again...that maybe Don will ”lose it” at some point. It’s not important. The important thing is that I know I will never be in that place again.
They perceive me in a way that is different than the way they once did. That is neither good nor bad. It is what it is. But, if I am going to be brutally honest with myself, I perceive them differently too – because my withdrawal experience has profoundly changed me and my perspective on life, its meaning, and its relationships. My relationship with them can never be identical to what it once was – not because of them but rather because of me. I am a different person…a far better person…but still a different person. To go the final step, in all truthfulness, I perceive myself differently (not a bad thing at all). How could we not perceive ourselves differently after such a life changing experience? And, if we perceive ourselves differently, it is only reasonable that others perceive us differently.
No doubt, others will perceive us differently when we are well. But we will also perceive ourselves and others differently when we are well ….just as we do when we are in withdrawal. It actually is a good thing because it is based on what we learned while we were in withdrawal…and we learn an awful lot.   
[I had intended at the beginning of this post to “talk” about much more, but, as usual, I got carried away with my words. There is much more to write, but I don’t want to put you to sleep. So, I will start afresh in the next post with some thoughts on purpose and paradigm.]