There’s No Duct Tape for Benzo Withdrawal

Melissa Bond

October 11, 2012

It’s stunning what a quarter milligram of a benzodiazepine can do to the body. Even less than that, I’ve found, can send the body spinning into the deep dark unmentionable. I’ve been detoxing off a high dose of benzodiazepines since September of 2011. The first few months were a failure. I didn’t know about the salve of exercise, didn’t know that shifting from the slam your head benzo to the slow trolling benzo was crucial for mitigation of withdrawals. But this past May, I found my expert and thought I had the formula. I was systematic, dropping my dosage weekly, walking fast even when my legs felt like lead and reminding myself to look up. Look: sky, birds, sun. Things were going well for detoxing off a substance many deem more addictive that heroin. That is, I realized, until they weren’t.

This is how it goes when you’re riding through relatively uncharted medical territory. I felt bad last week. I’ve been attending a women’s support group facilitated by a social worker. Nothing huge – just talk, just no-nonsense support. After last week’s group, the social worker pulled me aside. She was concerned at my claims of nausea, malaise, muscle spasms and existential abyss. I spoke with a friend who specializes in addictions, she whispered, and she told me that there’s no way detoxing should take more than a month. We’re afraid that your doctor is taking you for a ride. I stared at her, the benzo dogs of fury frothing. I wanted to rip her apart verbally. I wanted to have her cowering in the corner in the face of what I could unleash. I told the benzo dogs to get down. Down, dogs, down! I spoke as calmly as I could. There’s no duct tape for benzo withdrawal, I said. Those week long detox centers? They’re M*A*S*H units that titrate people and send them into the world held together with chicken wire and bubble gum. When the Librium (one of the first, longest acting benzos) gets out of their system, they’re out of their minds. I think it would help if you read a bit of the Ashton Manual. Or Robert Whitaker’s Anatomy of an Epidemic. Check it out. Good bedside reading.

I left the meeting stunned. It was one small example of how the cultural at large, including those who consider themselves mental health practitioners, know little about the brutal animal of benzos. Dumping benzodiazepines into the bowl of “chemical addictions” and thinking that their action on the body is similar is a broken and highly dangerous concept. There is no duct tape for benzo withdrawal. The brain has been hijacked. It takes months of slow, careful withdrawal to convince the brain to come online again. And even in the realm of slow and careful, it’s no cakewalk.

So it was this week that I discovered that I’d hit what can or can’t happen during withdrawal: A plateau.  My body said, “NO.” Every system in the body said no, can’t do it, can’t cut back again. For anyone else going through this, the signs can include the following:

1. Nausea and a lack of interest in eating coupled with belly sounds resembling those of a large aquarium.

2. A feeling of oppression, as if the sky was tightening its belt around you, growing dark.

3. Apathy.

4. Night muscle spasms that rip you out of precious sleep as if a pit bull had sunk its teeth into your neck or stomach or leg muscles.

5. Wildfire under the skin. Acid.

6. Fury that I call the Benzo Dogs. They are Michael Vick’s trained killers and they want blood. (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a must here as is walking the Dogs and walking them far if you don’t want to end up punching someone. Like your therapist, for example.)

7. A walk into the Existential Cafe where you sit down and stay. You order a coffee. No cream. You stare at the scratches in the table.  You lay down on the floor. You curl into a ball and begin sobbing.

Number seven was the kicker for me. The first thing I did (after sobbing briefly in the bathroom and crushing a wash rag into my face), was to remind myself that my symptoms were the drugs, just the drugs.

I returned to Professor Heather Ashton’s website that details 30 years of research on benzo withdrawal. The woman knows her neurotransmitters. And for the record, I’m detailing all of this because these medications are distributed like candy, like cookies at a PTA meeting. And let me say, they are amazing hammers. When you need a hammer, they are your magic pharmaceutical tool. But the dark side of the pharmaceutical/medical industry is in the laxity of regulation. These little pills are so addictive, so fast to seduce the body, it’s rare for people to take them for the few weeks for which they’re officially recommended. They’re the modern opiate flower and once you’re in, you’re in. And if years pass and then more years, these little hammers will slowly deregulate your body until it cranks to a halt.

Here’s a metaphor to explain their operation in the body. You have receptors in the brain called GABA receptors. GABA receptors are the sweet grandmother neurotransmitters. GABA Grandmas say, Hush to the other neurotransmitters. Hush.  Be quiet babies, turn everything down a bit. GABA Grandmas are great and necessary to regulate all systems of the body. When the body needs to quiet down, GABA Grandmas are there to help them. Benzos take the GABA Grandmas and throw them into a closet. They stuff their mouths with rags. Like the Mafia, they then turn the main generator of the body way down.  

This is a problem. Long term, it’s a problem. Everything gets dialed down: muscular tension, neural activity, digestive activity, cardiac rhythm, organ systems, you name it. Everything goes Shhhhh. Which, after years of use, can cause some serious problems. Not to mention setting up camp in the Existential Cafe which is just a bummer in general and the coffee sucks.

So, there you have it. The quickie medical description of what happens with long-term (described as 4 months or longer) benzodiazepine use. This is my word of caution because it’s so, so hard to get off. So hard. If you need a hammer, know that you are using a hammer.

So, I’ve plateaued, which is a bummer. But I’ll get there. Persephone does return from the underworld and she’s not carrying pills in her back pocket. Neither will I.

Melissa Bond

Killer Brain Candy: After 2 years of Ativan for pregnancy-related insomnia, and the knowledge that the drug was slowly disassembling her brain and body, Melissa Bond went through a hellish withdrawal. She writes about it on her website and in her forthcoming book Dear Little Fish. The Kickstarted campaign launches October 28.

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48 thoughts on “There’s No Duct Tape for Benzo Withdrawal

  1. You are one brave lady! It’s so easy for me to say, but hang in there. Really living once again is so much better than merely existing. You will make it!

    You’re so correct about how these things are handed out like candy. While I was in the hospital every time I had a quizzical or foowning look on my face the first thing the nurses tried to tempt me with was a benzo! I usually wan’t in distress but was just thinking about stuff, trying to put everything back into place but all they wanted to do was stymie the process with the wonderful benzos. When I left the hospital they handed me a brown bag full of the damned stuff!

    You are a wonderful and very articulate writer and your choices of metaphors enrich and color what you’re sharing with us from your experiences.

    Hang in there! You will make it!

  2. I know exactly what you are talking about. A well-meaning doctor prescribed Ativan to help my mother to come to terms with my father’s death. The doctor assured her that it was a marvellous new drug you didn’t get addicted to. She would be able to stop it whenever she wanted. When just a month later she tried to stop the Ativan, she couldn’t. She was just on 0.5 mg. The doctor thought she was having him on and being difficult. I didn’t know what to think: I couldn’t believe that doctors prescribed pills you couldn’t get off again and that they didn’t have a clue how they worked.Her withdrawal symptoms were horrific.

  3. Oh Melissa, I have been through this–and very recently at that–yet even I sit here and think, “Can it really be this bad?”

    Our society does not acknowledge how addictive and devastating our legal drugs are. It denigrates and marginalizes our experiences of these drugs both on and getting off if seen as critical of their usefulness. This is not a message America really wants to hear…

    Thank you for your strong writing voice and for your conviction that we as a society ought to hear about something we don’t want to acknowledge.

    You’re a strong woman, Melissa! Keep up the witnessing.

    Thanks,
    Emily

  4. LOL at large aquarium sounds. I’ve had “benzo belly” and looked as though I was nine months pregnant. :/

    I plateaued for several months. During that time, I started feeling really great. It was hard, but I started my taper once again.

    I’ve also had the experience of doctors having no clue, thinking you can up and quit after 4 mg of Ativan for 12 years.

    As far as the Existential Cafe goes, been there. Jesus Christ took me out.

    Keep spreading the word. People need to hear the truth about this poison. Wishing you much peace.

  5. I’m a bit uncomfortable stating the obvious, but you’ve read Whitaker and others and know that for some, there’s sometimes no complete return to the way things were, biologically, pre-drug. I hope that’s not your situation, but for many it is. These drugs can cause permanent damage. Very dangerous, thanks for sharing.

    • Hi David and Melissa,

      I also have concerns about what Bob conjectures in his book – the possibility of irreversible brain damage. However, there have been remarkable studies about the nueroplasticity of the brain that show we can actually create new neural networks and capacities our whole life long, particularly with good nutrition, exercise, mindfulness and other spiritual and compassion practices.

      I recall a story of a nun who, after her death, was discovered in a brain autopsy to have advanced Alzheimer’s. She had no symptoms of this disease during her life time. Contemplative practices had helped her develop other areas of her brain that more than compensated for the damage wrought by Alzheimer’s.

      My take away is that there is ALWAYS hope for recovery. I hope that slow supported withdrawal – where nourishing new practices and supports are added as medication(s) are gradually and carefully removed – can improve our quality of life no matter how long we have been on medications, (if we believe this to be true and honor what our body is telling us is the right pace).

      That said, because these drugs and withdrawal effects are so powerful, it does seem to be essential to have a strong team of supporters, friends and a big bag of wellness tools (with lots of reminders to use them).

      Good luck Melissa! You are a courageous woman. Thank you for sharing your experience for the benefit and understanding of others, too many of whom are still struggling.

    • I’m not happy with the ‘irreversible brain damage’ message and agree with Jennifer on this. It’s not helpful to be saying this when many folk have had treatment forcibly for a number of years that they couldn’t resist.

      My mother had many courses of ECT in the 50′s and 60′s, was on a depixol injection for over 20yrs from the 70′s, and yet had a quality and enjoyment of life. She managed her affairs well, did full-time work and lived until 68yrs old. Smoking was the thing that impacted on her lungs and caused cancer there but she had a peaceful death, in that it was painfree and we had time to say goodbye.

      I would have preferred for her not to be on a depixol injection but she was OK taking it, and lived with it, and that was her choice. Which is the key thing, people’s choices. There are many drugs of choice in this world. And we should let people choose, if it’s what they want and they know the options. Otherwise we would be directing them, controlling them, and be just like the psychiatric system.

      Let’s not be prescribing treatment for others. There’s too much of that going on already.

      • Another good point, Chrys, and one that Laura Delano so eloquently shared recently at a conference in Syracuse co-sponsored by the Foundation for Excellence in Mental Health Care. We are ultimately engaged in a human rights movement, a movement in which everyone has access to unbiased information about treatment options and their risks and benefits and everyone has the right to choose how they would like to heal and be supported. I am glad Melissa has found a supportive prescriber, that alone is a mighty challenge. Chrys, I’m glad your mother could make choices that worked for her.

        • Jennifer – I’m getting back to you on the point about choices and the psychiatric system. For sometimes and maybe even most times the choices are limited, for people engaging with psychiatry.

          Although my mother made the best of it that doesn’t mean that she had a lot of choices. Her strength, I think, lay in her ability to get on with her life despite limited choice or autonomy.

          I agree about the human rights movement aspect of mental health activism, and it’s why I am involved. And see it as requiring a shift in the balance of power. While being aware that there will always be power battles in organisations and institutions. And realistic that to remain free thinking and an individual will always be a challenge.

  6. I’m so appreciative of all the comments. Scared, and appreciative. It’s inconceivable to think that a medical doctor could have caused irreversable brain damage. This is what moves me forward. In the last week I’ve met two people who have been ripped off benzos by well-meaning, clueless health professionals. It’s epidemic. I’m doing everything I can to educate with calm, clear, researched based stories. Hell in a hand basket and here’s why. The last week I sent a pitch to both 60 Minutes and Frontline. We’ll see if they’re interested in tackling the dark and dirty. I hope. With all my might. I don’t want one more person to lose their life or sanity because of these drugs.

    Deep thanks to all of you.

      • Hi mellissa,
        I am curious if you heard back from 60 minutes or Frontline. I have been in benzowithdrawal/revocery for almost a year. I have had quite an education on the subject in the the last 9 months. I thank God everyday for the online Benzo ‘closed’ supoort groups on facebook i joined. They saved my life. Anyway, I have come to realize and am really appalled with how pwerful Big Pharma is and how much it influences our politicians and government decicions. I really don’t like saying this, but the real root of the problem is BIG Pharma. It will be extremely difficult or next to impossible to allow TV media to expose their evil practices. I hope I am wrong. And I hope your recovery is going OK.
        Best,
        Deb

    • Oh dear, didnt need to read I may have permanent brain damage.
      We all know its dangerous to cold turkey off benzos. But what if one had no choice, and its over and done with? Its been 6 monthes and 4 days for me and I am barely hanging on. Having small windows but most sx remain in high gear during those few minutes of “lightening”. I have searched and found not a single medical professional who is knowledgable about benzo withdrawal near me. Ive come to the point, that when Ive had to seek medical care, I just dont mention my withdrawal, as I know I will be labelled and categorized. I’ve gotten some very strange looks when I try to explain. Its like a veil comes down over their faces, a polite blankness takes over. I’m familiar with this as I am a nurse…..and ashamed of my own profession now.
      Every support resource online is focussed mainly on tapering. Which isnt possible for me at this point. Im left wondering if this means I truly am permanently damaged, beyond hope and help. Can anyone reassure me??
      One symptom is brain fog and I cannot find anywhere else to post my concerns except right here.

    • Melissa, you’re amazing. I am also recovering from benzo withdrawal. It’s been 23 months and I am still living in hell. No doctor on this earth understands what I’m going through. They think benzo withdrawal only last a few months and that I am making myself sick to stay home from work. I have thought of taking my life several different times. I don’t want to die, I just don’t know how I can go on feeling the way I do each day. Some days are better than others. When I have a good day I don’t want to go to bed at night for fear of what I am going to feel like the next day. No rhyme or reason for the inconsistency of unwellness. I have no social life as I never know how I am going to feel. I rush to get to bed hoping I will feel better the next day and I don’t. What a sad existence. I am a prisoner in my own body. I was on klonopin .05 each day for 5 years. I was sick 4 years of this 5 years in inter dose withdrawal, however the doctors did not have a clue why I was sick. I suffer from dizziness, any noises, being in public, derealisation, digestive issues, insomnia, clenching of teeth, nausea, plugging of ears, anxiety, etc. I don’t know how much longer I can do this.

  7. People need to taper at the rate their systems can handle, Melissa.

    Heather Ashton is a giant in the field of benzo withdrawal, but there are a few flaws in her advice, which was based on experience with addictive drugs.

    One flaw is that she discourages updosing if you run into trouble. If you’re a heroin addict, this could indeed be a problem as it might throw you back into your habit.

    Another is that if you sense the reductions are too much for you, you can hold on the reductions. Let your nervous system settle down and accommodate to the cuts you’ve made already.

    A third is that she recommends antidepressants to counter benzo withdrawal. These bring in their own problems, not the least being they can exacerbate benzo withdrawal anxiety and sleeplessness. They also have their own withdrawal syndrome.

    (Withdrawal syndrome is probably not brain damage but nervous system dysregulation, which can correct. Stay positive! This is important.)

    If you taper very gradually to the tolerance of your nervous system, you don’t have to add a drug to deal with another drug’s adverse effects.

    While some people can go off in a week or month, others take years to go off a benzo or other psych drug, that’s how strong these drugs are. There’s a lot of bad advice about how fast you should taper out there. Each person needs to find her own rate of tapering.

    If you need very, very small reductions, there are a variety of methods to make liquids from benzos. A compounding pharmacy might be able to help with this.

    I agree with all those who say the lack of knowledge about getting people safely off psych drugs is a disgrace to medicine, a public health menace, and a denial of human suffering.

  8. Another problem I am encountering…every site I visit, including this one, seems to be either closed down or the posts are not recent. Why is this??
    I am quite active on BenzoBuddies. Thats the only online support group I can find. And they have been absolutely wonderful, but I often feel a need to hear things in a “different voice.” Need to reassure myself! I truly fear Ive stepped over some invisible line and am now permanently insane.
    Every time I find an online support group, its closed…..ANY suggestions on this would be deeply appreciated.

  9. After 7 yrs on Xanax XR (after panic/anxiety for 20 yrs, a life changer for the better for the most part—at the time) and never abusing it, trying to get off of it now I find myself on Librium–100-200 MG a day. My Dr is trying a new found use of an old drug ( Baclofen-see book “Cure For My Addiction”) to titrate me to. I see no end to the hole I’m in. I don’t want to see light at the end of the tunnel-but I do want to see the tunnel.

    My hopes are nil. I’m a drugged zombie. I’ll either go back to drinking to the end or give up all together. I’m not there, but I see why this process leads too many to take their lives.

    I hope you will never be one and I hope I will not either. But I’ve never been this depressed.

    IF ANYONE HAS SUCCESS STORIES PLEASE POST THEM.

    Thank you.

    • I am 52 and have not had a drink since 92, yes the darkness can be overwhelming at times. As I mentioned below in a brief summary of my experience, I am presently using the Ashton Manual am believe that I am being successful and am moving in a ‘healing’ direction. I make sure I have lines of communication with my support system. Living in the isolated community I do, it’s not easy. I had to tell my counsellor that they didn’t need to have a knowledge of prescription drug withdrawal, this was about support. Just listen as I sort through the ‘madness’, if you feel moved to, ask me a question. But DON”T try and fix me, that is the job of myself and my HP.
      Hang in there, maybe you’re in the tunnel already and the light is just around the corner.
      Peace

      • I appreciate this comment. Your comment.

        “Just listen as I sort through the ‘madness’, if you feel moved to, ask me a question. But DON”T try and fix me, that is the job of myself and my HP.”

        Excellent.

  10. Onece again I didn’t even think I was going to a place that might ruin my life for a uncertain period of time. Thought well I’m here to get my life back I can tell my little boy I am coming home in a week and daddy is going to get his energy back. Here I am Benzo Detox. How did I end up here small businesses owner 3rd generation of hard working men. Detox!!! Ok let’s get this done. Well I am no writer but I can fill this page with plenty of run on sentences about the journey I just started. Get in get admitted get out 7 to 10 days I’ll bue fine. Day seven I’m feeling like I just got my ass kicked by a rugby team. O well I’m going home today this must mean I’m healing. Wow why do I have tunnel vision. I will just pull over and get my bearings. Ok back on the road radio is buzzing turn it down oh its off its my ears ringi;ng.: Ouch! Head pounding vision blurred. These seats seem wrong my lower back is burning is my heated seat on fire no its just lower back burning a path up my spine finding its way to my kneck to settle.
    How is all this happening its supposed to be at positive day. Well people this is the start of something I never heard of benzo withdrawal syndrome. Now I’m home hi Jr. Sorry daddy left his energy in the car. I ran right upstairs and grabbed the ringing phone it wasn’t ringing it wasn’t even wtf its the TV remote I just picked up and answered oh my god I’m seeing things. Maybe one of those little spoiled heroin punks did something to my coffee. Where is my tablet I need to look up this medicine my doctor told me to get off I feel worse I should of listened to my shrink and uped my dose. Holy shit I should of did some research on my adventure I’m about go on. Be

  11. Onece again I didn’t even think I was going to a place that might ruin my life for a uncertain period of time. Thought well I’m here to get my life back I can tell my little boy I am coming home in a week and daddy is going to get his energy back. Here I am Benzo Detox. How did I end up here small businesses owner 3rd generation of hard working men. Detox!!! Ok let’s get this done. Well I am no writer but I can fill this page with plenty of run on sentences about the journey I just started. Get in get admitted get out 7 to 10 days I’ll bue fine. Day seven I’m feeling like I just got my ass kicked by a rugby team. O well I’m going home today this must mean I’m healing. Wow why do I have tunnel vision. I will just pull over and get my bearings. Ok back on the road radio is buzzing turn it down oh its off its my ears ringi;ng.: Ouch! Head pounding vision blurred. These seats seem wrong my lower back is burning is my heated seat on fire no its just lower back burning a path up my spine finding its way to my kneck to settle.
    How is all this happening its supposed to be at positive day. Well people this is the start of something I never heard of benzo withdrawal syndrome. Now I’m home hi Jr. Sorry daddy left his energy in the car. I ran right upstairs and grabbed the ringing phone it wasn’t ringing it wasn’t even wtf its the TV remote I just picked up and answered oh my god I’m seeing things. Maybe one of those little spoiled heroin punks did something to my coffee. Where is my tablet I need to look up this medicine my doctor told me to get off I feel worse I should of listened to my shrink and uped my dose. Holy shit I should of did some research on my adventure I’m about go on. Wow I’m in full withdrawal here goes the unknown is it going to be a week or a month or years. Three sweaty days lying in my bed with a sabertooth tiger under my covers and that midget with the stun gun that was shooting volts of electric shock at my extremities. Wow maybe I will run downstairs like a freak in my under wear and try to explain this all to my family since I locked them out so they don’t worry. Bad idea psyche ward no I do sound like I’m nuts holy shit why would anybody believe a 36 year old banana hammock wearing bed head Italian guy who looks like he just got home from his uncle Bruno’s 3rd bachelor party. Here comes the benzo shot. Goodnight my friends. OK I’m up shit why am I naked and why r all the wires missing from all the machines in my room.
    Ok suicide watch. Be carefull what I say cause my bug eyes do scare me a little more than my swinging jaw play stupid and get yourself home so you can try to explain what’s going on to your Trigger happy 911 dialing 5 foot ginnea wife. OK hunny read this I’m not crazy. Wow how was I supposed to know that it takes months to years to get off these lentle size brain scramblers how am I going to support my family all summer and winter if Im not at work. Got an idea my brother is my partner hey bro can u cover for me I am going to have to taper off my meds for the next few weeks months year is that cool? He what he said that sucks he did that when we were younger well thanks for the warning assmunch. Am I the only person who didn’t know about these benzo pills. Now I’m up in my bed writing my story at 3:00 am help us god for trusting the Dr and shady pines detox center.

  12. Hi Melissa, I read in one of your other pieces that you located a specialist in Draper, Utah, who was able to help with your withdrawal. I’m currently one year into withdrawal and suffering a great deal. I would be very interested in contacting Dr. Mike. Please feel free to email me. Thank you for your time and consideration. Sincerely, Wen

  13. For all of you out there:

    You can do it.
    There is NOTHING that can stop the human mind from overcoming once you’ve made the DECISION to DO IT. This not trying.
    This is DOING it.
    First off:
    It’s extremely NOT EASY.
    You still have the power.
    Second off:
    You have to do this.
    At some point–Benzodiazapines cannot be continued by anyone.
    The initial calming is followed by maintenance.
    Our brains are wired to adapt and develop tolerance and craving to a wide variety of substances.
    Third off:
    Our brains are plastic and amazing.
    It takes time to retrain…reprogram..rewire.

    You must exercise, meditate, and have a focus doing something you love.
    You can do it.
    You are all amazing, capable–and unbreakable on many different levels.

    I’m doing it.
    I’m 41.
    4 years on 2 mg. twice a day of Ativan for PTSD.
    I want off.
    I’m down to 1 mg. in 2 weeks, and will be down to none in two more.
    It’s unbearable–but I’m doing it anyway.
    I nearly lost my Sales career two weeks ago, but am now on a Federally based leave act.
    Hard to sell anything with rebound anxiety harder than anything I ever had before.

    Still–I keep on going.
    It can be done.
    It will be done.

    Just want to send out a message of strength to all of you.
    You are NOT weak.
    Your brain will heal.
    Tell it to heal.
    Tell your body to heal.
    Make your body obey you like an athlete.
    Make up your mind to do it and you will.

    Love you all!

  14. Also:

    Take Supplemental Omega 3-5-9 fatty acids.
    Focus not on the obstacle, but getting to the OUTCOME.

    Imagine being knowingly and wrongfully imprisoned, and finding a way to break out with someone ready to hand you a similar and familiar identity.

    You will struggle.
    Try doing push ups.
    You will quiver and shake.
    Do jumping jacks.
    Go run stairs.
    Eat when you are hungry.
    Rest often. Recover.

    KNOW you have it in you to run for your escape.
    Know you will be free afterwards.
    Know you will haves scrapes and bruises and pain.
    Know and TRUST your body and brain will heal because you have ordered your body to do just THAT.

    Again–I love you all, and I quiver as I send this.

  15. I found this while searching for another drug my doctor has me on. I will be 37 years old on the 22nd of the month and have been prescribed benzos on and off since I was 19 years old. Then off course, I have self medicated with them. My doctor does know the side effects, the withdraw symptoms, and all the cons of prescribing benzos because he once was addicted to them. I have taken myself off of them cold turkey at one point in my life, and I feel this led to a miscarriage. Finding out I was pregnant was my reason for stopping the way I did. I do suffer from bipolar disorder as well as panic attacks. I also have been an addict for the past 13 years. My drug of choice was opiates, which led me to a methadone clinic. Every rehab I have ever been too gives patients benzos to help relieve the withdraw symptoms brought on by opiates or anything else. I suppose it never occurred to them that once out of rehab, I would want and need the comfort the benzos provided. I was 29 the first time I took myself off of them. After being on them so long, I felt my doctor was not providing the treatment I needed. I had a seizure for the first time ever, nausea, shakes, chills mixed with hot flashes, and other things going on mind wise. I am so sorry to hear you are going through this right now. A lot of people, including myself, don’t/didn’t realize how addictive benzos can be. There are still too many people that don’t understand the withdrawl symptoms can be as bad as alcohol and can be fatal. I can relate to your “benzo dogs” you have to keep at bay, because I can be ready to tear my own hair out at times, much less put up with someone telling me I’ll feel better in a few days. I do know I was incarcerated in 2004 for 10 days over driving on a suspended. At this time, I was attending the methadone clinic in my area, was on 120 milligrams daily, when I stand 5’5 and weigh around 125. The dose was extreme to say the least. I also was taking throughout the day, around 10 milligrams of Xanax, not prescribed. Ten days in jail for someone like myself who’d never been was bad enough, and very humiliating. After the 4th or 5th day when I began to have withdraws not only from the Methadone but the Xanax also, I may as well had been pulling a year in my mind. My blood pressure was going up and down so quickly, I could literally feel heat start at my feet, move up my body, reach the top of my head, and then be slammed with chills all over. I was vomiting, having to use the restroom while another cell mate was there. To me that was degrading enough. I don’t like now for my children to come to the bathroom door while I’m in there. I had a sense as if my body wasn’t exactly my own. I think it’s called Depersonalization. I would be in the shower, and the water made my skin crawl and at times I felt as if I were watching myself preform everyday task, such as shower, brush my teeth, ect. The regional jail in this area which is more secure than most prisons, had their nurse look at me. I was prescribed Vistaril and Ibuprofen for the remaining 5 days. I suppose my entire comment is to let you know, I more than understand what you are feeling and many others. Like most addicts, I have been in treatment for 3 years now due to legal problems in 2008. However, the treatment I’m on is Suboxone and Klonopin. Even though the Klonopin is a low dose, and I’m being tapered off the Suboxone, it is terrifying. I’m more concerned about the side effects of coming off the Klonopin than I am the Suboxone. I am on Zoloft and a couple other medications for being bipolar. So, in theory, I don’t need the Klonopin, but in my mind and at times my body are screaming the opposite. Thanks for sharing this and I’m glad I ran across this site while searching for withdraw symptoms. Thank you for your time. Blessed be.

  16. Thank you for sharing your experience. I can recall being a child of 16 and walking around with a psychiatrist prescribed bottle of 10 mg. valium. 90 pills per prescription. Eating them like candy as I had no idea what I had, the true nature of the poison. Luckily I recall the relationship was maybe 2 refills. I then turned to alcohol and other drugs to feed my addictive nature. Fast forward to age 31, treatment programs and a new life direction. Fortunately or not, the initial ‘driving’ force of the addictions began to surface (childhood abuse). From 1992-2001, lots of counselling, different doctors attempted to get me to take SSRI’s. By late 2001 I acquiesced to the ‘treatment model’. Paxil 20-40 mg and Clonazepam 0.5-1 mg daily, in 2011 I experienced serotonin syndrome due to my physician attempting to help me finish my withdrawal from Paxil 10 mg. to 10 mg. Prozac. Needless to say, the serotonin syndrome necessitated my intake of Clonazepam to 1 mg daily. I have been SSRI free since that time and am now working with the ‘dogs’, trying to get ‘granny’ to reawaken. I am following the Ashton Manual, I had to educate my physician/clinic as they had not heard of it. Although my physician did share (whether conscious of it or thinking out loud) that they had wondered as a team why benzo withdrawal was such a dismal failure for most that attempted it. I am dismayed by some of the comments regarding permanent damage, that is truly frightening. Needless to say I am committed to being prescription drug free. I have transitioned from the clonazepam to the diazepam. 20 mg diazepam for a 1 1/2 months then dropped to 17.5 mg. I’ve been at this level for 3 weeks tomorrow and have been experiencing some of the withdrawal dogs mostly the cramping stomach. I figure I will go another 3 weeks minimum before dropping the next 10%. I have to say though, I find the lack of knowledge held by the medical and pharmacists community, negligent at best and bordering on what should be criminal when it comes to the drugs they so readily push, yet ‘recoil’ at the thought of discontinuing.

  17. I so appreciate and respect everyone’s courage and determination to heal. Personally, I don’t believe any damage is permanent. Our bodies have the wisdom to heal in every way, if we allow them to and believe in our own innate ability to heal.

    I did successfully withdraw completely from 20 years of multiple psych meds of various classes. By the time I had reached a 9-med cocktail that a pill-pushing psychiatrist put me on in my most desperate hour, I was experiencing only heinous side effects which kept my neighborhood hospital ER quite busy one summer.

    Finally, one of the ER docs advised strongly that I ditch the meds, which felt so relieving to hear. It also felt like ‘the truth’ to me. I went to see a medical intuitive who could read my energy, and gave me the prescription that did work for me, but not without great shifts and transitions on my part. That was hard work, took a lot of focus, incredible patience (which I couldn’t always practice easily, but I learned the value and stability of it, eventually), an open mind, and an open heart. Being open in my heart was a tough lesson in and of itself, due to all the betrayal issues from many sources (e.g., family, the system), but it was vital for healing to occur.

    I began a daily discipline of meditation specifically to practice being grounded. That was not easy with such a chaotic mind as I had at that time, so I found a good meditation school to practice with others. The overload of meds had completely shocked me out of my body for a long time. The withdrawal was so painful, the last thing I wanted to do was to be in my body, but I knew that it was the direction in which to go, so that I could, once and for all, allow the pain and malaise from 1) past issues/trauma and 2) medication toxicity, to begin to move. A lot of energy from multiple traumas had been stuck underneath all that medication, haunting me in ways I was not detecting.

    Once I cleared my body of medication, I had emotional pain to face and I faced it head on while doing Chinese Medicine (acupuncture, herbal remedies, Qi Gong) to help soothe and regenerate my cells, building up my energy which had been so drained. Chinese Medicine is based on our body’s ability to naturally regenerate. It merely removes blocks and brings organs into balance, so our bodies’ natural processes can occur with ease.

    I also did a variety of energy healing, based on Carolyn Myss’ groundbreaking book, Anatomy of the Spirit, where she teaches about Chakras and energy and how this relates to health and balance on every level—physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. This goes way beyond our very limited and intellectual/academic western medicine model (not to mention, highly experimental, at the expense of patients), and what I found to be consistently trustworthy, reliable, and effective. The disciplines which moved me forward and allowed me to heal were the ones I chose to learn and practice and integrate as a teacher and healer. This keeps me on my path of personal evolution, daily.

    The most challenging part of healing has been saying good-bye to the world that made me sick. It was, after all, my world from time I was born. I thought it was all there was, the way society was set up to be. It was in my 40’s (I’m 52 now) when I finally woke up to the fact that we’ve been brainwashed as a society in so many ways, and I learned how to bust through all of the illusions, thanks to a lot of spiritual work, all of which boiled down to Law of Attraction. That was the big ‘aha!’ and where I really turned a corner. I’ve since learned this thoroughly, and how to apply it to practical everyday life. In essence, it’s how I created an entirely new existence for myself, one that reflects the real me, and not some construct of society’s expectations. That’s where I feel we can really go down the rabbit hole, trying to meet someone else’s expectations.

    It’s my responsibility to stay well and healthy, and it’s hard to stay well in a world out of balance. In healing myself, however, and paying close attention to the choices I made thereafter, I discovered that transforming my inner world is what leads to transforming my outer world. If I want peace and harmony in the world, I must first experience peace and harmony within myself. A tall order, indeed, but I believe this is how we create, from the inside out–one of the many valuable things which my dark night journey taught me.

    It’s been over 8 years since I took my last 1/8 mg of clonazepam, and I’ve since moved from the toxic environment in which I had been living. My whole life and community have changed for the better, in every way. But there’s no way that this would have occurred had I not allowed myself to shift what I believed about myself and my life experience. That’s a tough haul, but a rich and exciting journey, nonetheless. Not easy, at first, but totally transformative. Then, it becomes much, much easier. At least, that’s been my experience.

    It’s humbling to have succeeded in this endeavor, and I’m so aware of the struggles of others. I hope my information can provide some hope and light. It’s the only reason I have now to share my story.

    • Hi Alex,

      Thank you for your very hopeful and positive post. I found it refreshing from all the fear based information I have read online.

      Like you I am also recovering from multiple traumas, the worst of all from debilitating anxiety brought on by peri-menopause. I was bordering on psychosis from weeks of no sleep because the heart palpitations and anxiety were so bad. This happens to many women at menopause and it is so misunderstood. Before that I had never even taken aspirin for many years. I was athletic all of my life and ate very healthy. There is much mis information about women’s health and the hormone imbalances that can create a serious host of problems for women at this stage of life.

      I got so bad that I had to check myself into a psychiatric hospital and they immediately put me on lorazepam. It worked like a charm and I spent three days in the hospital sleeping for the first time in over a month. Like most people here I was never informed of how addictive this stuff was and they just continued to prescribe it for me. I did not even know I was addicted to it for a long time as it continued to work for me even though they did have to raise the dose a couple of times.

      Then finally I got a nurse practitioner that knew more about the drug and informed me that if I decided to come off the drug not to do it cold turkey. When I asked why she told me it could be very dangerous. despite being on it for years, I never had any serious side effects from it other than it made me tired all the time. She then put me on a supplement called Kavinace that helps boost your GABA receptors and when I got through menopause and things settled down I researched the Ashton Method and began a very slow taper. I was able to work through the whole thing and by the time I got down below 20 mg of diazepam I noticed how much my energy was returning. I had not felt that good in years.

      Then in 2010 a pharmacist screwed up on my testosterone prescription (I was taking Bio Identical Hormones which in low doses worked wonders for me). I was severely overdosed for ten months before they discovered it. All of my anxiety and heart palpitations plus insomnia returned with a vengeance this time. I went almost three years with little to no sleep, and had to go back up on my dose of lorazepam. This time I went up to a much higher dose, but it was not working because of the severe endocrine disruption.

      My story gets more bizarre from that point, but the short of it is I have not been able to work in over three years. I was extremely weak from the testosterone as it over drove my adrenals glands so bad. I would collapse from the smallest amounts of stress……and saw countless specialists attempting to get my hormone balance back. After finally getting the anxiety and back under control with going back on the Kavinace and taking a very slow paced lifestyle, I have had periods where I have been able to do some forms of activity that I was unable to do over a year ago. I am sleeping much better, but now suffering from debilitating fatigue and depression. I have gone from 100 mg of Diazepam to 26 mg since last spring. It is hard to tell how many of my symptoms are being caused from the benzos and how much if from the hormone imbalance, but for sure it has been a lonely ride as it has for many of you on here as my friends do not understand and I have no real support other than a very good counselor that comes out to my place.

      Like Alex, I have spent a great deal of time re-inventing my life with yoga and meditation. I am hoping to afford acupuncture once I am further along in my recovery. I also moved into a quiet place and spend a lot of time on my artist endeavors, such as music and writing magazine articles about women’s health in hopes of educating other women about the horrors of what can happen with this stuff if you are not well informed.

      I also try to swim, as it helps with the depression and I eat a very clean diet.

      I don’t know if we are allowed to share other contact information here, but Alex….I would sure like to be able to share some resources with you if you are willing. I think we have some very similar stories that parallel one another in our wake up call about the system and family betrayals. I am fortunate to have a doctor that got into drug rehab because of his own cold turkey withdrawal off of benzos and alcohol. He was in his sixties at the time and is now 81. He recovered his life and is now back doing heart surgery. He has truly been an inspiration. He introduced me to a very brilliant compounding pharmacist that is very knowledgeable about balancing women’s hormones and benzo withdrawal. I get a liquid compound of the diazepam so I can opt to slow down the withdrawal and pace myself. Slow and steady wins the race.

      You can reach me at firehawkproductions(at)yahoo

      Wishing you all the best. There are many of us that are going through this very difficult life altering experience.

  18. Hello All,

    I have enjoyed the topic and appreciate what everyone has shared. Like many of you, I too have struggled with prescription and non-prescription drugs. My struggles began in childhood and continue to this moment as I write this entry. I have experienced opiate and benzo withdrawal, simulatenously and separately over the year. I have been to many different detoxes and rehab facilities. I have experienced sobriety and all the joys in brings, I have been in jail and experienced the humiliation and fear, I have been in the gutter but I have also been on top. I have been more or less clean for about one year, I am participating in a suboxone maintenance program, but because I take it as prescribed and have been so doing for awhile I do not experience euphoria and it has become more medicine than fix, so evaluate that as you will. I wanted to explain that to say thanks to those who have shared their suffering because it is the only thing that kept me from ordering from an online pharmacy today. Drug addiction is a strange thing. I know that it is bad for me, I have more personal examples than I can remember, but after awhile I don’t feel that is is bad for me. I completely forget how miserable I once was and how awful I really felt. On the edge, ready to kill myself, it is so insidious, it permeates your being, and once entrenched it never goes away. But we can heal, it takes daily effort, I believe strongly in the power of plasticity, if I can call it that. For certain, having experienced both, benzo withdrawal is more severe and longer lasting, but you will heal. To anyone that is experiencing symptoms that last longer than 6 months, you seriously need to have things re-evaluated, I am not saying that what you are feeling isn’t real, but there may be other underlying causes that aren’t specifically connnected to your former benzo use. As for the Dr’s responsbility, they are people, that’s it, granted they have tremendous power and responsbility, but when it comes down to it, they are just people who want to go home and live there lives. You (everyone) needs to be accountable and take responsbility for what you have allowed the Dr. to give you. Don’t always just drink the KoolAid because someone says you should do it. There is too much regulation in the world already. We don’t need more laws and more costly regulation. Just be aware, take a part in your own life, do some research, and no that you have the responsiblity to say no that you do not want to take this or that. To summarize:

    1) This thread kept me drug-free for another day.

    2) You will get better, if you abstain.

    3) Take responsibility for what you put in your body.

    Thank-you.

  19. I take 1mg of clonazepam 4 times a day and it works great to control my anxiety… I’m not sure why you keep referring to Ativan colloquially as “benzodiazepine” (misleading, causing confusion) and 1/4 mg of Ativan can mess you up? That’s less than the usual starting dose… Benzodiazepine use is a serious matter and should NEVER be dramatized. I would encourage you to keep this in mind while writing, and be more responsible with your rhetoric and factual information. I could go into my whole story but the specifics don’t matter, for it’s not in the differences that we find understand each other, but the similarities.

  20. Lots of blame, no personal responsibility, but that doesn’t sell books does it. This is no way is backing the medical and pharma community but still reading package inserts and warnings is the patients responsibility.

    • When you are in a state of shock and having heart palpitations, and anxiety so bad you haven’t slept in days……..you become psychotic. We put our lives in the hands of people that are suppose to know what they hell they are doling out when we are incapable of making decisions of any kind. I was in very bad shape. Not exactly cognizant tobe reading labels. In fact, there were no labels to read. I was in a hospital when they first gave it to me.

      I have had so many friends with the same experience. There is some product liability here.

  21. Prayer To Persephone

    Be to her, Persephone,
    All the things I might not be:
    Take her head upon your knee.
    She that was so proud and wild,
    Flippant, arrogant and free,
    She that had no need of me,
    Is a little lonely child
    Lost in Hell,—Persephone,
    Take her head upon your knee:
    Say to her, “My dear, my dear,
    It is not so dreadful here.”

    Edna St. Vincent Millay

  22. Thanks to Melissa for sharing her experience with all of us, and so eloquently.

    At the request and interest of many who are also experiencing benzo withdrawal I will offer my own story here, which is available at the survivingantidepressants forum.

    I CT’d after using 0.5 to 1mg of Lorazepam for 4 years. It was 18 months before symptoms of tolerance appeared, but I was clueless. My GP prescribed the dose for occasional use but refilled whenever I asked. 4 years later he finally said “no more” but without any plan to taper and I wasn’t aware a taper was necessary.

    I quickly learned within 30 days how necessary a taper would be. I had all the symptoms, and 2 separate weeks of being bed ridden almost entirely immobile. I jumped to an SNRI, not fully appreciating the place I found myself in, just wanted anything to relieve me. I was off work for 3 months and I think the ADs helped me get back to the office.

    I was acute post withdrawal for about 4-5 months, severe WD for another 4 months from there, then WD symptoms persisted for another 8 months.

    I’m now 2 years off the CT of Ativan, and 1 year from a sloppy taper of Pristiq. I’m pretty much healed, but always tweaking. Always in search of ways to make the body and mind work that much better.

    Benzos were an absolute disaster. But I managed to keep my life, my family and my job, all of which I am so thankful for. For those who are already in withdrawal, or looking to an intentional taper, rest assured that it is both hellish, but possible to restore yourself.

  23. Melissa, thank you for sharing your experience.

    December of 2012 I was put on clonazepam for anxiety (caused by a menopause–which was not determined until after I was on the medication). It became problematic quickly, causing me more anxiety than I had before taking it.

    My withdrawal began in October of 2012 as I hit dosage tolerance after 6 months and immediately began having withdrawal symptoms. At that time I was taking 1mg per day. Not wanting to face having to increase the medication potentially every 6 months I made the decision to go off the medication.

    After a bad experience stopping prilosec cold turkey on the advice of my physician, with the help of a naturopath I began a program of tapering. I did tapering and titration, but my withdrawal was still horrific. During that time I also found myself in counseling because of the freakish things it did to me mentally. I have been free of clonazepam since January 6, 2013.

    After finishing the clonazepam, I had to take amitriptyline simply “take the edge off” the withdrawal symptoms so my body could rest and begin to heal. I have been off the amitriptyline for about two months now, which I also tapered, but it was far easier.
    I still experience some symptoms of withdrawal, though they are incredibly minor compared to what they were, and they come in waves. I am able to function normally and the span of days that I feel “normal” in between waves is becoming longer.

    I am learning how to make changes to help: I avoid stimulants as much as possible, so coffee, alcohol, chocolate, even spicy foods are not allowed in my life, and I exercise every day. While inconvenient at times, because I love chocolate, I have found it a blessing to my overall health. I feel like I am living in the light, and not just seeing it at the end of the tunnel.

    Best wishes for success to all who are on this journey.

  24. I have been on low-dose benzos for 21 years and have recently tapered off using the Ashton Protocol transitioning to Valium (Diazepam) and then off. One thing that concerns me about the Ashtson Protocol is that once one gets to the long-half life Valium, one needs to proceed to taper and discontinue the drug. It may be that there is a temptation to linger at the low dose long half-life Valium but I think this is a very bad mistake. Since Valium has a very long half life, (200 to 400 hours) taking it at a very low doses every day allows it to build up in one’s system to high blood levels. One can be lulled into thinking that the low dose Valium is a place to plateau for a while but I believe that low-dose Valium taken every day could be worse than taking short half-life Xanax every day and slowly tapering down from that. (I hate to use the word Xanax and would never recommend it but maybe you can get the point I am trying to make. )

  25. I was forced off benzos against my will in March 2013 by a triage nurse who barely knew me at all after I’d been on very high doses for 30 years. I have been sitting on my bed since May (numerous emergency dept visits and a stay in a psych ward between March and May 2013) ever since craving pills and fighting panic and all the symptoms of withdrawal to lesser degrees. I want to be dead.

  26. Angelique, I had the same anger about my situation, and found the anger only made me worse. Once I let go and surrender to the situation….things have gradually gotten better. Still a lot of ups and downs due to other health issues. Getting angry doesn’t change the fact that you are still going to have to go through this. I found that out the hard way.

    Now, I am still having a lot of difficulties with my health due to bad medical advice, but once I stayed focus on my goal of recovery, and look for the good things in my life; things are VERY slowly improving. I am sorry for your pain and do understand from the depths of my soul.

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