The Early Days of Benzo Withdrawal

Part III of my account regarding my struggle to survive after weaning off clonazepam, a powerful anti-anxiety medication. To read Part I, click HERE.

• • •

When it became apparent that I couldn’t take care of my most basic needs, I called my parents and begged them to allow me to heal at their house, sixty miles away from my husband and son.

They agreed, none of us imagining the mess we were getting into.

On the ride to my parents’ house, I laid flat on the backseat, crying and shivering and praying. While they talked quietly in the front of the car, I felt every bump. Every swerve. Squeezing my eyes shut, I braced myself for the wreck.

My brain — off the anti-anxiety medication and in acute withdrawal — perceived everything as a threat. I was certain I was going to die on the ride to Syracuse, and I braced myself for the car accident that I knew would end my life.

I wept with relief when my father pulled into the familiar rectangular driveway. Returning to my childhood home, I saw little had changed since I’d left over 25 years earlier: the house was truly a time capsule. The exterior was still painted gray with white trim.  The bushes – always lumpy and overgrown – had fused together to become lumpier and more unkempt. Inside, the living room featured the same gold couch; in the kitchen, the same green carpet — now splitting at the seams — sprawled before me. Faded curtains covered the windows and dusty figurines stood at attention on the shelves.

During the first few days, my parents were happy to have me home. My mother ran to the store to buy me clothes, and she made me homemade chicken soup. My father rubbed my head, trying to get me to relax.

But I was jacked up.

Stuck in a fear state, my body shook uncontrollably all the time. Unable to sleep for more than an hour or two each day, I prowled around my parents’ house, like a crazed animal.

Historically, sleep deprivation has been used as a form of torture during times of war. Going without sleep is intensely stressful — with unpredictable short and long-term effects. When I got to my parents’ house, I was already suffering from visual and auditory hallucinations, but things quickly got worse. Deprived of sleep, I lost the ability to act and think coherently.

I developed new fears.

In the pink and green bedroom of my youth, I noticed tangled extension cords, into which my parents had plugged numerous gadgets — a clock, a fan, a cellphone, a television, a lamp, and stereo components — and I obsessed about dying in a fire that I was positive was going to occur as a result of the overtaxed electrical outlets.

I worried that I would be trapped in my bedroom over the garage. The windows painted shut, I worried how I would escape when the fire started.

My father tried to convince me I wasn’t going to die.

But fear isn’t rational.

One sleepless night, I roamed from room to room, upstairs to downstairs, until finally, I went outside to sit alone in the darkness. The air was thick and hot, and I was the only person outside. I wished for a forest or a desert – someplace I could disappear.

"Moon" on behance.com. To see other work by Gunel Gasanova, click HERE.

“Moon” on behance.com. To see other work by Gunel Gasanova, click HERE.

I looked up at the moon, full and round and white, and thought to myself: I know why crazy people stare at the moon.

Because the moon didn’t burn my skin or my eyes, not like the sun did.

I thought about how I’d always loved summer. How, as a teenager, I waited for the days to unfold like a fan. How, even just one summer prior – while my friends sat in folding chairs in the shade – I’d sprawled out on the newly blacktopped driveway like a weird heat-seeking lizard. I remembered how the asphalt felt hot on against the backs of my legs, how I loved to watch my winter-white skin turn golden brown.

I remembered the days when sleep came easily, how I loved to wake slowly, surrounded by the comfort of warm sheets.

In an effort to mute my despair, I pressed one hand over my mouth and sobbed on my parents’ front step in the middle of the night, in so much physical and emotional pain, I was certain I’d never sleep again. Or see another summer.

I actually can’t believe I survived the initial days of acute withdrawal. I really cannot.

I now know many people commit suicide during withdrawal.

I don’t know why I didn’t.

That’s not true.

Even in the most horrifying depths of acute withdrawal, I had a feeling that everything was happening the way it was supposed to happen. That G-d was with me. That the Universe was supporting me. That my suffering would one day make sense.

{I’m continuing to express appreciation to the people who carried me when I couldn’t walk. These people made me realize angels walk among us; they just happen to be disguised as humans. Today I am grateful for K.B. Owen, Jess Witkins, Rishi Hein & Blanche Fenster.}

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38 responses to “The Early Days of Benzo Withdrawal

  1. Reblogged this on cnyobserver and commented:
    An old friend going through some horrid moments is talking all about it. It is very eye opening.

  2. Your amazing voice is going to help so many people, Renee. I’m so glad you are with us to share your story.

    • Amber: I wish I knew how this story is going to end. I’m still in this mess. Better every day. I’m so excited to meet your new baby in a few months! Thank you for reading along, for your support, and for remaining my friend during this thing.

  3. Still praying for you, dear. :)

  4. I feel as if anything I say here is inadequate – so I’ll stick with this:

    I am glad you knew the Universe was supporting you even when all the evidence suggested otherwise.

    Much love to you, dear friend.

  5. Hugs, honey. So proud of you!

  6. Your story needs to be told–but it is so hard hearing what you went through–I am so glad you are on the other side now–(hugs)

  7. Even after going through full-fledged life suckitude, you’ve manage to keep your beautiful, descriptive writing voice. I’m so glad you didn’t succumb to your despair. Suffering blows, but it does manage to give us wisdom and make us stronger. You’re not only supported by the universe, but by so many people who care about you. :) Hugs to you!

  8. I continue to take my anxiety/bi polar/depression meds rest of my life but it did take experiment several medicines to find a combination that did not make me suffer from such drastic side effects. Once told dr psych I feel better and want to get off meds but she said stupid Carl reason you are better because you are ON meds. She is right. Depression chronic severe all my life but helps insight chemical imbalance and perceptions not real with condition and can get through the dreadful times knowing that(like those bad LSD trips of 45 years ago) wait it out with confidence). At least for me meds reduce level of up/down and frequency. You are not alone. I know my mental illness cannot be cured but is managed and am comfortable with that.

    • Carl, This too is the story of the depression that has accompanied all my life. I have spent a third of my life, working with physicians to come up with correct medications to ease the cloud of depression under which I lived. It is only during this past winter, when my depression was its worst ever, that I have come to grips with what I must do to lead a healthy life. It is not easy, but for the first time in my life, I feel like I will survive to the end of my days.

  9. My heart goes out to you- hang in there.

  10. Oh, Renee. I continue to pray to God for your healing. Thanks for writing so we can understand what we pray for. Love.

  11. UGH, Renee! It pains me to read about your misery! I cannot imagine. {{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{ }}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}} BIG HUGS!

  12. Naomi Hattaway

    Thankful for your words … hoping and praying they will help to heal you and speak to others that are experiencing this same hell.

  13. Thank you for sharing these intimate looks into your life, Renee. Each word of yours I read serves to increase my love, respect, and admiration for you.

  14. It pains me to hear each horrifying step you had to go through to finally reach the other side of this monster. But I am glad you are telling your story and as always, so very happy that you are not in that place any more. HUGS.

  15. I am still with you! Peace fill your heart <3

  16. Drawing enables us to really see what is in front of us–not my quote but one from one of the art educators at Memorial Art Gallery. My parallel statement is that writing reveals our life’s story. I do not believe that we are given burdens to have us learn lessons. I do believe that with G-d, a higher power, or the grounding of our being, we can learn from experience, so much so that the experiences we endure are transformed and redeemed so that they feel like a gift. Renee, I am glad you survived withdrawal, that you see progress made, and are gaining insight into your journey. This is the gift, the one you receive, and the one you give to those of us who love you.

  17. I thought of you often and still do. Sending healing vibes your way for continued rehabilitation. I’m so happy you’re writing again. Much love to you dear friend. *squeeeeeeze*

  18. Hilbert Maloff

    You have to be thankful for your parents support. I’m sure it was most difficult to see you in such a terrible situation. No one but a professional would know how best to help you but they certainly gave it their best efforts. But I know you know that.

  19. Oh, Renee. What those meds & those who prescribed them did to you! My heart aches when I read your nightmare.

    The one thing that struck me was your innate ability to recognize there was a big picture — a future — at the end of the misery.

  20. you. i’m so glad there’s you. keep on keepin’ on. this is gorgeous sharing.

  21. I’ve tried so many times to click your links, and just couldn’t. I knew something horrible sat behind the link. I knew that I’d been away while it happened. I wanted to know, but you know what? I feared it.

    Sounds pretty cowardly, when you were the one who had to experience it.

    I’m glad I finally set the cowardly ways aside tonight to read what you’ve been through. I’d lost touch, but never that spot in my heart. And I’m thankful for a world with you in it – and your ability to dwell such depths and retain just enough light to move you forward.

    I adore you.

  22. Beautiful and poignant, Renee–thank you for sharing with us. Hugs to you.

  23. Renee, I can’t imagine what you have been going through. It’s wonderful to read your lovely words again, even if they are full of pain. Hope you are climbing out of this hell.

  24. So powerfully told. Again, as your friend I’m so grateful you’re sharing and as a citizen of the world, I’m also grateful for how it can help others. I like the way you’re telling the story bit by bit and giving each period of this your full attention. It would be tempting to tell it all in one tidy post and your instinct not to is spot on.

  25. I am moved by your words. So powerful.

  26. Following your story, as I read my heart nearly beats out of the walls of my chest in fear for you. Though I know, since you are writing you are recovering, still my heart speeds up and I want to find a way to hold you close and comfort you.

    I can only say, your story is so poignant and your storytelling so strong. This will I hope reach others and help.

  27. Oh Renee, I can’t even imagine the horror of what you had to go through. Thank you for your bravery in sharing your story.

  28. Thank you for sharing your story, which horrifies. So glad that, albeit slowly, you’re finding the way up.

  29. I’m just catching up so first I’ll say, Welcome Back! Second, OMG! And lastly, you are one tough cookie. Take your time getting this sorted out and share what you feel the need to share so that we might know that you are making progress. {{{hugs!}}}

  30. Though it is difficult listening/reading about what you’ve been through Renee, undoubtedly it needs to be shared! I am so happy, we are so happy your back! :)

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