Success Stories

We love sharing success stories and welcome yours if you have one.. or rather WHEN you do, since it is only a matter of time! Here are some sent to us from kind souls who want to share, encourage and reassure. You can also read more success stories in our Recovery and Renewal book and the full story of our founder’s recovery in her memoir, With Hope in My Heart. If you are early on in your recovery or are just tapering, please remember that the average duration of withdrawal is 6 to 18 months. Keep this in mind as you read. These are some of the worst cases so please don’t anticipate yours being similar.

Also, usually when someone says it took 3 or 4 years for full recovery, it does not mean the entire time was spent with intense and disabling symptoms. They tend to write mainly about the worst times but many of them had periods when things were manageable, or in some cases just a few symptoms persisted. Please don’t be discouraged.

Remember that the usual outcome of withdrawal is recovery and so overcoming this challenge can be expected. Keep thinking of how resilient the nervous system is!  Keep trusting that “This, too, shall pass.”

Marta’s Story

My benzo story started over 26 years ago with a panic attack. I was a very active person, I had 2 beautiful children, a good hubby.  Life was good, my children had just started school, I was sad about it, I didn’t want to let them go, but I had to of course. I worked when I wanted to so that was good and I had a very busy social life. I suddenly started getting panic attacks. They were frightening and I thought I was about to die. I went to my GP and was given 60 diazepam 2 mg pills. She said take one, twice a day.

I took one 2 mg pill a day, my panic attacks stopped and I got on with life. I was grateful that the med was stopping further panic attacks.  At no point did my doctor warn me of any dangers, I thought it was okay to keep taking them,  and in the early days it stopped my fear of another panic attack.

Looking back over the years I did have bouts of depression, became more anxious and had other complaints – stuff I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I passed them off as me getting older. I thought it was just me, and that’s how I was. I know better today. Life could have been so much better for me had I not have been given these drugs.

About 7 years ago the panic attacks started again but far worse than before, awful anxiety, I could not function.  My doctor increased my dose and it went up and up until I was taking 20 mgs a day. I started getting very depressed, crying all day, my doctor added A/D mirtazapine to the mix. I was a complete mess, in a lot of pain, I thought my mind had been taken over by aliens, voices in my head, I thought I was going mad and I soon lost the will to live.

I became housebound. I could not wash myself or dress myself. I was so sick my husband had to give up his job of 30 years, to take care of me. I was frightened of everything, I had many physical symptoms, and experiencing some terrifying weird stuff, moving objects, floor moving,  I would get electric shocks when the phone rang or the doorbell.  (I didn’t know at the time I was in  tolerance  to the medication).  Eventually  I was terrified to open my front door (agoraphobia). Soon after I was bedridden and couldn’t walk unaided.  I pretty much had every symptom in the Ashton Manual. I honestly wanted to die. I thought of ways I could end my life. The only thing that stopped me was my weakness. I had no strength and so was powerless to carry out my plans.

Doctors sent me for various tests. I would pump myself up with extra doses to get me in the car to go get tests done.  I had endoscopies, x-rays, bloods, scans – all my tests came back negative. I just got worse and worse with no diagnosis. I wondered what the hell was wrong with me. I asked the doctor if it could possibly be the meds.  She laughed as if I was mad and said, “How could it be the meds?” She said it was all in my head. 

I was too weak to argue, and what was worse for me was when my family and friends told me to pull myself together. My family’s reaction convinced me it was in my head. I was doing this to myself.  I agreed to having visits from a primary mental health team  whose idea of getting rid of the repetitive thoughts in my head, was to pull on an elastic band on my wrist.

One day I dragged myself onto the computer. God only knows were I got the strength from.  I did a search on diazepam. I did not know that my meds belonged to a group called  benzodiazepines….when I typed benzodiazepine that’s when I accidentally found Benzo Island. It was a support forum and I could not believe how my story was so common.

People like me with the same complaints! It was sad but also a huge RELIEF to me. I could hardly see with the floods of tears in my eyes…..I wasn’t going mad. It wasn’t all in my head.  I managed to type a few words they seemed to understand. I was so overwhelmed at these wonderful angels. The fact that they believed me was amazing to me!!! Kept telling me, “When you safely taper off this drug, I promise you life will get better”.

I didn’t really believe that I would ever get better, I was so sick, I was convinced I was dying…slowly… Anyway I did what they suggested me to do. I followed Prof Ashton’s manual and started my taper. I did 10% cuts until I got to 6mgs, 10% at this stage was dreadful so I then did 5% cuts. I was dry cutting. It was hard cutting the pills. I used a razor blade, ended up with powder most of the time. It probably wasn’t anywhere near accurate so I wouldn’t advise it, but I did what I could until I was free.

I did notice very early that the depression lifted. I was never a depressive person before benzos. I realised that it was the diazepam causing the depression. 

I have to say as awful as it was, I was so grateful at six months to actually be sitting downstairs.  Then at 8 months standing unaided, not for long but it was a good sign. At twelve months I was doing  better. I still had a way to go but I was happy to settle for the little things I was able to do. I wanted to shout it from the rooftops and would have gladly accepted it if it never got any better.

My emotions had been flat for a long time. I lost that feel-good feeling. I felt so guilty when my daughter would give me a gift…I felt nothing inside. I was emotionally dead.  A day in recovery I will always remember is my husband popping his head round the door and saying something funny to me, as he did often but normally he would get a blank look from dead eyes.

This day I laughed, a proper laugh, not a fake smile, that would hurt after a while. This was a genuine real laugh, my eyes were running with hysterical tears of laughter. My husband stared at me his eyes filling up….oh my God it had been a long time since I laughed like that.  I knew from that day I was going to heal and my husband knew  his wife was coming back.

It was a struggle to get out again, I had no support from anyone else. I did it bit by bit. Sitting right by the door for 5 minutes, then walking to the gate….to the lamp post…end of the road.  One day I felt well enough to wash the car. It started to rain halfway through, but I stayed out and finished it. My neighbours must have thought I was mad. I felt wonderful that day!!! Lol.

Then finally, after many weeks, I made it to the local shop and bought something…WOW!!.  I had no idea about prices; it was weird getting money out and paying.  The supermarket was terrifying. I went with hubby but would run out to sit in the car, until I was able to cope with it.

Life does get better and we do recover from benzo hell. Be as patient as you can. It’s just a matter of time. You will get your life back.

Marta

Adrian’s Full Recovery

Adrian, 33 year old Male, Australia.

My name is Adrian, and this is my recovery story.

I want to begin by saying that this IS a recovery story, and for all of you out there who are still suffering to varying degrees, please, don’t give up. I wanted to share my story to provide hope, because I share a common thread which each and every one of you, and stories like these were the difference to me on days when I thought I was completely lost, and would stay lost.

I have been an anxiety and depression sufferer for as long as I can remember, bullied as a child, through my teens, always being the ‘sensitive’ one.  Hitting my hormonal late teens, many elements came together to create a final boiling point.  I started experiencing feelings of unreality (DP or DR as many of you know it as) so a trip to a local psychiatrist, was, at the time, the best point of call for help.  I couldn’t afford to pay her, so she started seeing me at no charge.  I was immediately prescribed an anti-depressant, I remember taking it for the first time and experiencing, what I know now, to be side effects of a drug entering my system.

I called my psychiatrist and my local doctor in a panic, feeling awful, and my dosage immediately increased to 3 times the amount, and an anti-psychotic thrown in for good measure.  This was now a couple of months down the track, and I was now a depressed zombie, so drugged up and feelings all over the place.  My psychiatrists enthusiasm quickly waned, after all, she wasn’t being paid. I was in a bad way, 17 years old, still holding on to my full time job, panicked because I just wanted my life back.

 Now, enter the Xanax, 1 pill, just one was all it took, I still remember taking it for the first time, swallow, 20 minutes went past, relax, another 20, I felt better than I had in my whole life! Not just better, I was a super me, all the troubles of the last 17 years had been wiped, I was now confident, happy, enthusiastic.

 1 daily pill quickly became 2, 2 became 3, then another added in when I needed.  I was always chasing that initial feeling, and my doctors were happy to prescribe, never questioning the speed of the bottle disappearing.

 2 years later I was alpha me, I was taking copious amounts of Xanax, I was reckless, rude, aggressive, self destructive.  I saw shrink after shrink, by this time, I had been prescribed every drug in the book (and every type and class), It even got to the point were I would research the drugs myself and tell them what I wanted and it would be given to me.  Not one of my psychiatrists questioned the Xanax, that it could be now causing my problems and that I had been on it far too long.

At around year 4, I had stopped taking any other drug but the Xanax, and I had stopped seeing any psychiatrist, just a monthly phone call to my GP for a Xanax prescription (which came with a few repeats so I didn’t run out)

 By the end, I had been taking Xanax for around 7 years, I was going through a bottle a week, the little 0.5mg tablet that I took initially had turned into a frightening 15mg per day.  I was a train wreck, but because I had a full time job, I was NEVER questioned or refused a prescription.

 I didn’t understand addiction, and I didn’t know what I had become, I was completely unaware of my situation, I lived in a Xanax world.

 Until one day.

 I went to work as normal this day, I hadn’t had my morning Xanax, but thought, I’ll just get it when I get to work.  The chemist was still shut and I was busy at work, the day was speeding by.  Around mid afternoon I couldn’t get off the chair, my brain was shutting down, I thought I had a really bad virus.  I managed to get home and to the chemist for my prescription, swallow, 20 minutes later, no symptoms at all, debilitating sickness magically gone, I knew there was a problem.

 I did my research, found my internet groups, the ashton manual, and a local drug and alcohol support group (The Buoyancy foundation in Melbourne were truly amazing, natural therapy based and provided most of my support) Quit my job, moved back in with my parents and quickly started my taper.  I went from 15mg per day to 0.5mg in about a month, and yes I was sick, but nothing compared to the sickness I felt when I took my last pill.

Hallucinations, paranoia, major depression, anxiety, tunnel vision, no energy, constant suicidal thoughts, every symptom on the list I had in full force.  I was 24 years old and on a disability pension, I couldn’t even walk 5 minutes to the local shops without having to sit down.  No medical professional believed that after a month that I could be still suffering withdrawal, I had to hold on to my own beliefs and intuition, the support I had from the internet benzo groups and the Buoyancy Foundation was amazing, I kept going.

 It took 2 years for the paranoia to stop, 3 years before I would take my beanie off (I would wear a beanie, even in summer on a 40 degree day because I thought everyone was looking at me thinking I was hideously ugly) and 4 years before I felt like I had recovered enough to return to work.

 My moments of recovery would happen over night (which also no one believed).  I would get severe headaches the day before, then I would wake up and a symptom would be gone.  This would happen once a month, then every couple of months, getting further and further apart as I got better and made progress.

 After 4 years, I considered myself 85% healed, and that’s where I thought it would stop, I hit a plateau for a long time, maybe years.  I opened up my own business, I went back to work 6 days a week, in hindsight I probably wasn’t quite ready but when are you ever?

 6 years has now passed, it’s been almost 9 years since I have taken Xanax. I have fully recovered. I still run my own successful business, I exercise every day, I am an educator, I can talk to a room full of 100 or more people with confidence.  I tell you this for no other reason than that there was a time, not long ago at all, were I thought it would never be possible.

 **HERE IS WHAT HELPED ME (for the people who don’t want to read my very long story, and I don’t blame you, there were moments for years when I couldn’t even read without falling asleep)

 *Diet is everything – I considered my self 85% healed until I started intermittently fasting, this has been the biggest help out of anything.  I always had a great diet during my recovery, and that helped immensely, but until I found my way too intermittent fasting, I was still depressed and anxious and had no energy.

 I eat healthily for 8 hours a day, then I fast for the other 16.  After 3 days of doing this I was completely symptom free, I believe that fasting gives your body a chance to heal and pay attention to the things that it has been neglecting for years, because all of our energy goes to digesting food! 95% of it! My mind is clear, no more depression, I am anxiety free, and I have a lot of energy.

 *My recovery was at a stand still for a few years, no changes, then fasting changed everything, and quickly!!

 *Exercise is essential; you don’t have to become an Olympian!  Just get your heart rate up for a short period every day.

 *Meditation, 20 minutes a day of just sitting and letting my thoughts flow saved me and I believe, led me to find the things that helped me recover.  You don’t have to become a Buddhist!  Just sit, nothing more.

 *Water, water, water, enough said.

Please don’t give up, I didn’t, recovery is waiting.  It’s a journey, life, everything.  I look at my life in ways I never thought possible, I believe I have an understanding of things that I would never have had without going through such hell.  It has made me strong, I have gained just as much as it has taken, it is a balanced equation.

(Please note Recovery Road does not endorse fasting as a cure or aid for withdrawal.)

 We Survive and We Win

In 2001 I went to my doctor complaining of indigestion and gastric reflux. He did all sorts of tests but couldn’t find anything wrong. He said it was due to anxiety and prescribed Ativan. It seemed to help in the beginning but then I began to feel ill all the time. He told me to stay on it and increased the dose. I still didn’t feel any better. I started having panic attacks, couldn’t sleep properly and other side effects that I didn’t like. By the time I came on the internet I was on it for 6+ years. I found this site when it was called Benzo-Wise and contacted Bliss Johns. She said she couldn’t give me advice but told me to get hold of a copy of something called the Ashton Manual, take it to my doctor and discuss what could be done. She said if I decided to taper to make sure I didn’t rush it and that I was comfortable with how I was reducing.

Anyway I tapered over to Valium staying at 6 weeks for each dose as I reduced.  I had problems – the classic symptoms that tend to appear – some scary and some I could live with.  I would feel my adrenaline rush would pace up and down. I was in pain most of the time. I mean everywhere, sometimes it would travel around. My hearing, my vision, tasting, smelling — all my senses were distorted, my memory left me, I could not think or make sense of anything and I was scared of everything. I felt like I had gone completely crazy. I don’t want to scare you by writing everything that happened so let’s just say it was so frightening, it would have made a horror movie seem like a romantic comedy.  The nightmare continued for around 10 months and all this time I didn’t have any windows.

I was very worried and wrote to Bliss every single day saying I wouldn’t get better and she would reassure me. Every day she reassured me and told me to keep holding on.  I kept the Benzo-Wise book under my pillow to read because most nights I hardly slept. It was difficult not having windows. My agitation was so bad I couldn’t focus on anything. Never meditated in my life but I gradually started breathing exercises and would listen to meditation CDs, buddhist and hindu chants and similar stuff. I was very agitated so sometimes I would be pacing while listening. It was weird but helped me a lot. Sometimes a line from one of the chants or meditations would stick in my head and replace the repetitive thoughts I was having. That was powerful and helped me to cope better.

I also started telling myself positive things like I was getting better and that I was healing. Even when I didn’t believe it and was feeling like hell I would say until it. I printed off the emails from Bliss and read them over and over. In the book it talked about what you focus on magnifies so I didn’t research any benzo stuff or compare notes. Sometimes I would give in and lurk on a forum but I mostly protected myself from anything I felt would not help me.

At the beginning of the eleventh month off I noticed the symptoms going one by one. Within two weeks most of them were gone. They never returned. Bliss asked me to tell my story because those of us who heal quickly disappear and this is why there are ones about long withdrawals. LOL True!! So here I am telling anyone who hasn’t tapered yet that it is possible to get better early o’clock. But even if it’s taking longer man we all get there in the end. If I could give one bit of advice it would be to try one or two breathing exercises.  I swear this is what helped me to calm down. Breathing is not meditating. It’s the one thing we must do to stay alive and something as simple as noticing it going in and out of the nostrils is pretty powerful.  Withdrawal is scary but in the end we kick it, we survive and we win.

Judith’s Story

I’m finally benzo free after years moving in this one direction. I started tapering off of xanax in 1997.  For years I have been diagnosed with panic disorder and agoraphobia. I didn’t even start to truly connect the dots until I was nearly done with my taper. The xanax really did cause the agoraphobia and panic attacks.

I had muscle pain and joint pain and weakness. I had weight gain and intolerance to exercise.  All the time I thought I was ill but now I know that it was inter-dose withdrawal or protracted withdrawal from the couple failed attempts I made to get off the drug.

At a high dose I had very odd behavior and that definitely played into my going up so high in the dose and to me staying on the benzos. I won’t even go into how damaged my family got.

I reduced from 10 mg xanax to zero in four months.   It was unbelievable how sick I got. I reinstated back to 1 mg and slowly moved up to 3 mg and I somewhat stabilized. After about 18 months I felt much better so I continued my taper from 3 mg to .25mg xanax.

Something went south in my life so I had to go back to work or lose my house. I worked full time while I remained at .25 of xanax for several months. I lost a lot of weight because I refused to eat. I was incredibly sick.

When I first started this journey, I had really no clue what a computer was. Even without outer influences, I still was able to realize that the xanax was my problem and that I didn’t need to take it anymore and that it was making me so sick.

I journaled daily all that I was going through. I was very detailed and insisted that antibiotics at one time and a cortisol cream at another time gave me mega setbacks. No one believed me but I knew it was true.

It would be another couple years before I had contact with anyone else going through withdrawals. Once I got a computer and went online, all that I have gone through was validated as I met several more people who were going through the same thing.

Eventually, after much illness at .25 mg, I went back up to 1.25 mg xanax and when I stabilized, I went to school to become a massage therapist so I can finally work out of my home and get off the benzos. I also studies relaxation, positive thinking and meditation and practice this each day. This would turn out to be saving grace for me once I hit acute withdrawals.

Everything went smooth until the economy collapsed at the end of my taper. So off to work I went again. This time it was easier because I was working in a calm environment, doing massage and not working at a busy retail store. Also I’m sure that switching to a long acting benzo made a world of difference for me. For me, not much compared to trying to dry cut off xanax.

Everything was manageable until 10 days after my last dose. I don’t know why, but I thought the worse would be over once I was off the benzos. At this time, I needed to take 4 months off of work. I was home alone and running my home and our small apartment complex while my husband was living and working far away.

The first 3 weeks was the most horrid and hair raising experience I ever had. Somehow, the house didn’t burn down, none of our many animals or fish in aquariums died and neither did I.  That was a miracle.  My doctor called my husband and told him that I was sick and should not be alone.  It took 3 weeks for my husband to get home.   Then he had to leave again and it took him another several weeks to get medical leave from work (FMLA).

If I made it through that?  I can get though anything.  The whole experience of the withdrawals, although it was so hard while going through it, has changed me for the better forever.  One a the few awesome positive changes in me is that now I don’t worry about whether or not I can handle an emergency.  I can.  Problems came up with tenants and my pets, I handled everything.

Most of my friends, and I thought I had many, they disappeared. That was a very difficult thing to cope with. Very few, two people actually checked up on me and they are forever my heroes.

I had every symptom on every list I ever found. I can go into details of the nightmares I went through but if you are reading this, you already know.

One year off of benzos and I was doing much better.  Actually driving on the freeway again and flew to San Diego to visit friends.  I went camping to celebrate one year off of benzos then decided it was time to get off the beta-blocker.

That was in many ways harder than the withdrawals I felt from benzos. I didn’t expect that and it was depressing being so sick like back to square one again.   Now it is almost one year after my taper off Inderal (beta-blocker) and I am finally getting back out of the woods.

Very little remains of all those symptoms. I was starting to doubt I would ever get better. It took me so long. I am not 2 years off benzos yet and I feel I have maybe another year to heal but I feel so much better now.

The healing I recognize most is that I am not living so deeply within the misery and constantly trying to survive.    These days I often wonder “what just happened?”

I’m here to tell you that I was 25(+) years on benzos.   Half of that time I was on a very high dose.   I had every symptom on every list I ever found.   And I recovered.   I feel pretty good right now.   I’m still healing but I feel good. Recently, I was kicked off of my permanent disability that I was placed on almost 20 years ago while on a high dose of xanax.   When I found out that I lost my disability, all I could do was laugh.

I’m not disabled anymore.

Please follow your heart.

Judith

A Note From Al

I suffered with terrible symptoms for over 4 years and I almost gave up.  I quit cold turkey off xanax, valium and effexor and had awful obsessive thoughts, paranoia, the burning and pain was a nightmare because I had it all over my body, nightmare head pains which were the worse, muscle spasms, electric shocks, digestive problems. I cannot name all the symptoms because had about 80 in all and they were very intense. I was confined to bed some of the time and house bound for the rest of the time. I didn’t have the windows like some people do, it was hell 24/7.

I came here to tell you folks out there that you must never give up. If  I healed, anybody can. I did try supplements, green drinks and other things but they did not help and i think made me worse. I stuck to a bland diet, no vitamins, no alcohol, no caffeine and no sugar. These things rev up the system so if you are in a bad way like i was don’t take them.

I haven’t had any symptoms for months now.  I feel 100% recovered and it is a great feeling!!  Hang in there. Don’t give up, don’t give up, don’t give up.

Al

Rachel’s Letter

Dear Bliss,

I started writing to you more than three years ago when you had the old ‘Lights’ blog. I was off xanax and valium for almost two years and I was in hell. My doctor first prescribed Valium for menopause symptoms after I had a hysterectomy,  and later Xanax when I developed anxiety due to Valium tolerance… go figure.

As you know, many times I felt I wouldn’t make it. My doctors told me my problems had nothing to do with the benzos, it was anxiety due to the menopause. They offered me more drugs including  antidepressants. I am a single mother but my children are grown up. They ran out of patience with me and in the end, hardly kept in contact. Now that I am better they are angry with the doctors and I think also angry with themselves. But that’s water under the bridge.

I did not have many windows. Much of the time my symptoms were constant.  I spent a lot of time in bed. I had no energy, a lot of pain, my digestion was whacked and the psychological symptoms were horrific. I had awful unwanted obsessive thoughts, paranoia, my head felt as if someone was sawing it in half. The muscle and joint pain was bad and the burning was unbearable at times. The head pain made sleeping almost impossible. I didn’t know a human being survive on less than 3 hours sleep each night for  two and a half years. But I did! : )

At one point I was so desperate to heal, I kept trying to find other reasons for my problems. I was tempted to believe my doctors and doubt myself. Your website helped me to keep focus and I can’t say enough about your book. I read it every day. Thank you Baylissa. You are an angel.

I was on Valium for over a decade and Xanax for seven. How I feel now is amazing. I still get emotional when I think that I suffered for so many years. When I think about it, I was in tolerance withdrawal for years and post-benzo withdrawal for over 5 years. Don’t be discouraged if you read this. I met many people along the way who healed long before me. Some took months, some took 1 or 2 years. My situation is different. I was taken off quickly – almost a cold turkey and I was on the drugs for a long time.

Do not give up hope. Benzo withdrawal is not a pleasant experience but we do heal. I will be honest and say that many times I doubted whether I would or not. I have lost many years of my life – all spent in a tiny apartment. I had no money and life was a struggle. But life comes in cycles. When you get down the way I was, the only way is UP. When I first read about affirmations on your site I thought it was a lot of new age nonsense – sorry, but I did! LOL  Now I am an expert affirmer. I used them to keep me company when I was stuck on my own. They made a difference and helped me to cope. Thanks again, Baylissa.

My life is wonderful now. Having survived the benzo nightmare, I feel confident about my ability to handle difficulties.  I met a handsome, kind, gentle guy and we are very happy and in love. Benzo withdrawal was tough but it taught me a lot about life and what is of real value. I used to take so much for granted. Love your family, be thankful for everything – the food you eat, the clothes you wear, the roof over your head. Most of all, Love yourself. Treat your body and mind as if they are precious because they are the most precious gifts of live. Stay strong. Rachel xxxxx

Annie’s Story

Although each recovery process is unique, it is good to hear when someone in protracted withdrawal has had a breakthrough. Annie had terrible burning sensations, obsessive thoughts and insomnia which all surfaced  during her taper more than three years ago. She never had a ‘window’ of clarity and all these symptoms had been relentless. I recently received an email from her. Here is what she wrote (shared with kind permission):

I gave up on ever being able to sleep properly again. Never had more than 2 hrs since coming off Klonopin 3 ½ years ago. I was always agitated. I had two awful thoughts that stayed with me the whole time. I felt I would have them forever. The burning was so intense all I could do sometimes was lie in the tub in cool water. It would make it bearable for a while. I cried every day. Monday I noticed the thoughts were gone, now the burning is gone and last night I slept for more than 7 hours.

I am crying now but this time it is not because I am scared or sad. I feel like this is a rebirth. It is taking time to sink in. This is a miracle. I refused psychiatric treatment because I knew it had to be withdrawal. I was taking Klonopin for anxiety and they told me the anxiety came back and this is why I was having the thoughts. When my doctor said maybe I have OCD I was scared. Now my mind is quiet for the first time in years. I am in shock. This is awesome.”

This is wonderful news for all of us! Thank you Annie. If, like Annie, you have been waiting perhaps with no ‘windows’ or signs that your recovery is progressing, I hope this has helped to allay your fears.  The nervous system needs time to recover and I guess for us, it’s all about patience.  Sometimes I swear that those of us who have been ‘given’ the withdrawal challenge have signed up for extreme lessons in patience!

Tim’s Breakthrough

Tim is now in his third year of withdrawal. One of his symptoms was a constant buzz in his head. He described it as feeling like two drill bits on either side of his head were drilling into his temples. He felt as if his nerves were ‘jumping’ inside his head. Like Annie, he has had a remarkable breakthrough. This is what he wrote (shared with kind permission):

…my head was quiet and it continued to be quiet until this morning. If I were to characterize it, I would say something like “usually the benzo symptoms feel like they are in the driver’s seat of the car and I’m in the back seat. For perhaps the first time in a long, long time, I was in the driver’s seat and the benzo symptoms were in the back seat”…”

This is welcome and wonderful news — more reassurance for anyone who has had bizarre symptoms for a prolonged period. Pardon the cliché but there really is a light at the end of the tunnel!

As his symptoms persisted, Tim devised a wise, effective coping strategy which he has permitted me to pass on.

I’ve learned recently to not bring my expectations to the table regarding recovery. And I will continue with the steady focus of being the champion, despite whatever life may bring to me. But I am encouraged and find I’m watching with great interest to see what comes next. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a window, rather than a wave. But I’m hoping that I see a door opening before me — and that I can walk right through it to the other side! Whatever happens, God will give strength to deal with the situation.”

Tim has poignantly articulated how just a change in approach and attitude can make a positive difference to the way in which one copes with the recovery process. Thank you Tim, for this profound insight.

Charlotta’s Story

Charlotta was put on 0.5 mg Xanax three times (tid) daily. It was prescribed for bereavement-related anxiety. She quickly developed a tolerance (when more of the drug is needed to be effective) and the dosage was increased. This kept happening over a period of 6 years until she was taking 8 mg daily. Her withdrawal problems began during these periods of tolerance and she thought she had developed a serious psychological problem.

When her doctor stopped increasing the dose and tolerance withdrawal once again set in, she got her husband to check her into a mental health institution. They stopped her medication without tapering. What Charlotte experienced during the cold-turkey detox would be too disturbing for me to write here. As you can imagine, it was extremely traumatic for her. She was faced with every conceivable symptom and more. It was only after her discharge when her husband found the Ashton Manual online, that they realised the source of her all problems.

When Charlotta first started writing to me, she was 2 and ½ years off. She was experiencing nausea, blurred vision, severe head pressure, head pain, confusion, dizziness, fatigue, restless legs at night, tinnitus, constant muscle spasms in her leg, constipation, benzo belly, burning pains in her leg that would come and go, stiff and painful neck with a burning spine, memory problems, repetitive thoughts, understanding conversations, itchy rash and withdrawal induced depression.

Most of these symptoms came in waves but some were constant. Around 34 months off she noticed that some were beginning to lessen in intensity. This was short-lived, however, and she was hit with a very intense wave of severe symptoms. She described it as worse than any of the previous waves had been.

I was relieved to have received another email soon after the 3-year mark saying that the restless legs, repetitive thoughts and muscle spasms had stopped suddenly. She was, at last, able to sleep for more than two hours each night. Other symptoms persisted but she was beginning to feel much better. At 38 months off more symptoms disappeared and she was left with just blurred vision, dizziness and the itchy rash.

A few months later, at approx. 41 months off, Charlotta emailed to say that apart from the odd symptom surfacing for very short periods, she felt completely healed. Although she was thrown and very discouraged by the severe wave, she kept telling herself that her healing was taking place. This was difficult with the withdrawal induced depression but she could not allow herself to give up hope. She kept telling herself that she had already been through so much, her situation could only improve.

Charlotta’s final email brought tears to my eyes. She sounded so ecstatic. After more than three years of terrible insomnia she was enjoying many hours of sound, refreshing sleep. The silence after the tinnitus was, according to her, “like heaven”. Being symptom free and back in charge of her life was a joy for her. She even joked about her husband not being able to stop celebrating the return of his beloved wife. The best thing for Charlotta was knowing that she did not have permanent damage which was her greatest fear during the whole journey.

I love Charlotta’s story. At the time of our email exchanges I was still having waves of symptoms and so found her last few emails very encouraging. Like me, she and her husband absolutely adore Professor Ashton. They strongly believe Charlotta would have been misdiagnosed and given inappropriate treatment had her husband not found the Ashton Manual.

I hope that you, too, will find this story reassuring in some way. As you know, the recovery process is unique and Charlotte’s unfolded according to her schedule. But just being reminded that we do heal should bring new moments of hope. As Charlotta said in her final email, “There is no way that I have permanent brain damage! My life after benzos is the coolest ever – nothing sucks and everything is great. I deserve a special medal!”

Seren’s Story

Seren was nineteen when she was first prescribed lorazepam (Ativan) for panic attacks. She quickly developed tolerance and the dosage was periodically increased until she was on 10 mg daily.

After eleven years on the drug, Seren began to feel much worse than when she initially took it. She experienced cognitive and other problems and, as she said, “was in a total mess.” Her doctor was reluctant to help her discontinue the drug and she decided to taper off without his assistance. She tapered off over a two month period. She was worried about missing work, was not aware of the Ashton or any other method, and just wanted to be benzo free.

Seren had a very intense withdrawal with just about every symptom conceivable. She refers to is as ‘true benzo hell’. When she wrote to the Helpline she was on her third year off and was very frustrated and quite depressed at what she felt was slow progress. She was still experiencing terrible brain fog, muscle pain with burning, insomnia, high anxiety, mood swings and a host of other problems. She felt that her worst symptom was the terrible feeling of impending doom.

Most of her family and friends were no longer interested in her ‘drama’ which they felt was self-inflicted. Seren said that on many occasions she felt like giving up and was worried that she would sink into a deep depression or give in to the suicidal repetitive thoughts she was having at the time.

Thankfully, in early 2008 she stumbled upon the old “Lights In My Windows” website and for the first time in years, began to feel encouraged. She started doing the diaphragmatic breathing technique and kept taking to herself positively. She wasn’t keen on affirmations but found that positively talking herself through the symptoms had stirred something deep inside her. A will to survive her nightmare was ignited.

A few months later, Seren experienced her first ‘window’ of clarity. She was overjoyed but also quite tentative and still unsure of her recovery. It was a brief window and another wave soon came crashing. This setback threw her off-course; she said it almost broke her completely.

It was also at that time that Seren became more determined than ever to survive. She felt that letting go of the process was important and made the decision to totally surrender. That way, she would be allowing her recovery to unfold in its own time. She started to observe her symptoms without becoming upset. Though they persisted for a few more months, this new attitude made the experience a lot less unpleasant that it had  previously been.

By late 2008 Seren’s symptoms started disappearing. She wrote that she had not wanted to say anything in case they returned. After being four months symptom-free she felt ready to celebrate her recovery.  She still has the occasional re-emergence of the odd symptom but nothing worthy of concern.

Seren is now in her mid-thirties. She lost a lot of her prime years to Ativan but is relieved that that chapter of her life is over. She is happy to be given another change and is carving a new life for herself. What has been her biggest blessing is that since her recovery, she has had no panic episodes or any return of the pre-existing anxiety. She has been using all the coping techniques she learned during withdrawal to cope with her underlying condition and has no intentions of ever again taking medication for anxiety.

This is truly a success story. Thank you Seren, you are a remarkable woman and an inspiration. Like all benzo survivors, you deserve a medal!

To read the Recovery Road founder’s success story, please CLICK HERE  and remember, if you have a success story that you’d like to share, please email it to stories@recovery-road.org. For a Word document with a suggested format see our request for stories by CLICKING HERE