Time Well Spent
(original post February 22, 2014)
When I was in the grip of withdrawal, I would sometimes speak with a young lady from our church who also had experience with the “mental health” system. In withdrawal, I was never shy about describing my misery to anyone who had ears to hear my complaints. We both helped with stocking the food pantry of the church. She had known me before I went into the zombified state of misery that benzo withdrawal is, so I thought she might like to know where the very capable “other Don” went and who now was occupying the body that he once occupied.
One afternoon at the food bank I began explaining that I was in withdrawal from booze and benzos and very quickly learned that she was on Zoloft and had been for quite some time. (It’s amazing how many people around us are on psych drugs….but that’s another story.) She wasn’t doing well but seemed perfectly “normal” to me simply because I was in a mentally and emotionally pathetic condition. (I think “normal” encompasses a very wide range of human behavior, but the behavior caused by benzo withdrawal or withdrawal from any psych drug is not within that range.)
We didn’t speak to each other much over the next several months, but right about the time I was beginning to rejoin the living, she was taken to the psych hospital at her own request. She did get out of there and was doing better. I suspect she was put on some sort of drug cocktail. She left the church about a year ago, but I recently received a phone call from her and some emails. She has just started a very good job and needs to know how to use Excel spreadsheets as part of the job.  (She knows nothing about Excel.) Someone from the church told her that I might be able to help her. We will be meeting tomorrow afternoon.
Once again I have taken the long way around to get to what I want to say. Since I have gotten well, a single word, scent, sight, or idea can often trigger many thoughts of “who I was” before and during withdrawal as well as who I am “progressively becoming” since I have healed from withdrawal. In this little story, it was the word “Excel.”
When I was in withdrawal, I saw a therapist for about a year. Generally, the therapy had no beneficial effect on me, but my therapist did have me write a list of things I would like to do once I was well. With great effort, I complied with her suggestion and listed about two dozen different things I would hope to one day do. They were pretty much “pie in the sky” types of things which I was pretty certain would never come to pass – basically “wishful thinking.” They were all “feel good” things that were mostly social in nature. I craved anything that might give pleasure because it had become a totally foreign concept to me. I could not remember what pleasure felt like. I even had some doubts that I had ever really experienced pleasure in my life. My brain kept lying to me that there was no such thing as pleasure and that all the people around me who were laughing and smiling were “faking it.” I was just not as good at “faking it.” It was an extremely convincing lie. I pretty much bought it.
The very strange thing about that list was that there was nothing having to do with the return of my cognitive abilities. I was once a very capable environmental scientist before withdrawal. Once I fell into withdrawal, I could barely add or subtract. During withdrawal, I struggled every month to balance the checkbook. I would sit and shake and have panic attacks for over an hour doing something that should take about 5 minutes. I would often be reduced to tears wondering how I ever got into such a pitiful, useless state. So, I assumed that my scientific and mathematical expertise was gone forever. The technical writing that I was so good at was over. The ability to reason and use even the simplest logic were things of the past. My brain was obviously cognitively “toast” – hence, no point in putting anything having to do with thinking on the list. It didn’t even cross my ailing mind.
So, when I heard my friend say the word “Excel,” it brought back a flood of memories. At my pre-withdrawal job, I was extremely proficient at “all things” spreadsheet. I loved the math and the designing. It was so fulfilling in so many ways – creativity, mathematics, and raw logic. I thought about my first return to spreadsheets as I started to feel well in withdrawal. I had latch-hooked dozens of wall hangings and rugs in withdrawal as a form of distraction. I always used a pattern that was part of a kit. At a little over a year off, I decided to transfer patterns onto spreadsheets and later design some simple patterns on spreadsheets. There was no mathematics or logic involved, but it was the first reemergence of creativity in me.
As time went on, I was asked to be a “counter” at church. I developed a spreadsheet to do that which made the job much easier. My mathematical ability was reappearing. Four months later, I took on a bookkeeping position – more difficult math. Now, I am going to be doing some pretty intense spreadsheet design and mathematics for my friend. It has all come back.
When we are being tortured by benzo withdrawal, we believe we are wasting precious time. I spent two years in an absolutely horrid place where I could barely function in any meaningful or productive way. Everything I did was directed at surviving one more minute, one more hour, one more day. Survival was the sum total of my purpose for living. Survival was the reason for my existence.
Now, as I look back, I can see that I was, in reality, progressing every day, but that progress was at a subconscious or unconscious level. It was not consciously discernible. Once the progress/healing reached a certain “threshold,” it was perceptible. It was then that I seemed to be able to “help it continue” by consciously doing things, or maybe it was the increasing doses of “healing hope” that accelerated the healing (or a combination of both). And it continues to progress in ways that are obvious and profound.
It is the “continuing progress” that continues to amaze me. When I think back on that “to do” list I wrote at the suggestion of my therapist about 3 ½ years ago, I realize that I did everything on it in a matter of months. It wasn’t even a conscious effort. I just did them naturally. More amazingly, I have done countless more things over these many months – things that far exceed anything that was on the list – things that I never would have done had I not experienced those two years of withdrawal torture – things far and away outside my previous comfort zone or within what I thought was my range of abilities.
Yet, incredibly, there are dozens more things I want to do and know I am capable of doing – really wonderful, fun, worthwhile things. The brain that could not balance a checkbook without panicking and causing me to sob is now capable of conjuring up fantastic ideas about things to accomplish without the slightest fear of failure or embarrassment.        
I know that part of this is my personality (particularly with respect to the types of things I want to do), but the lion’s share (the actual mental/emotional state in the doing of those things) has to do with what I have been given by surviving benzo withdrawal – peace, calm, confidence, happiness, positivity, and increased mental cognition.
I know this is one excruciating, seemingly eternal battle and that my words are hard to fathom with an ailing brain going through withdrawal. I read similar posts when I was in withdrawal and could barely comprehend that such words could possibly be true. They are very true. One day they will come true for each one who gets to this side.
The time of suffering does end. It truly does.