It has been two years since the beginning of my recovery journey beginning with treatment in Costa Mesa where I was helped to abstain from the use of benzodiazepine tranquilizers, specifically Klonopin (Clonazepam).
The first thirty days were probably the hardest as there was question as to whether I would survive the ordeal. Many visits to the emergency room proved fruitless as the ER doctors injected me with the same “poison” that I had been ingesting for almost 15 years.
I liken it to giving a heroin addict a shot of heroin when he goes to the ER for help. In the ER in Costa Mesa, I met Dr. Fernandez who, bless his heart, explained the dilemma I was facing. Either I had to stop taking benzo’s and go through the arduous journey of Post-Acute Withdrawal (PAWS), or continue in my addiction leading to possible psychosis or death.
I chose that day to stop taking benzo’s and for three days, back in treatment, I “kicked” in the treatment centers’ small cabin with two beds.
Going through this type of experience was very difficult. I remember doing dexterity exercises using my fingers on both hands as a way of keeping my left and right brain talking to each other. It seemed at the time that I was unable to articulate and rationalize my thoughts. I was afraid and overwhelmed with anxiety. My body would shake beyond control, my teeth gnashed and chattered. I had the chills in the throes of summer. I felt extremely uncomfortable around other people but was afraid to be alone.
I think what really through me for a loop was when I was three months clean and feeling like I should be getting well, this is when the worse of the PAWS symptoms began. I did not understand that the brain heals in cycles and at certain milestones, I would feel really well or really bad. I called these “windows” or “waves”. I liked the windows and hated the waves.
What I noticed after several months was that although the waves were very painful, they were getting better. The windows were lasting longer and the waves were reducing in intensity and severity.
In the beginning I needed to take Hydroxyzine to take the edge off the anxiety and Zofran for the nausea. As the months went by, I needed them less and less.
It was about 18 months into recovery that I no longer needed any medications for anxiety or nausea. In fact, I no longer needed any medications at all, including high blood pressure medication.
At 24 months, the remaining noticeable symptom other than the usual reluctance to accept anxious situations and the tendency to avoid them, was the morning “jitters”. I’d wake about 5:30 each morning unable to sleep any more. Racing thoughts and adrenaline flooding my body. Occasional twitches and jaw chattering. More often than not, the solution was found in an early morning walk. About 3 to 5 miles to break down the anxiety.
Twenty four months later and I have enough of my natural faculties back that through trustable discernment, I am able to challenge my anxieties and move through them one day and occurrence at a time.
The last two years I spent many hours learning about the twelve steps and how they might help me learn how to deal with life in a more productive way, stepping out of myself, leaning on God for direction, and giving to others the gift I was given, being of service and helping my fellows.
After two years
I am still experiencing morning anxiety with some shaking. Mostly after 06:00 am. I am able to get at least 6 hours of sleep each night.
The solution is to get up and go for a walk. So far this year, I have walked over 1,280 miles and by all accounts, I am benefiting from it. My anxiety levels remain controlled and my weight and other previous physical anomalies are kept in check.
I find that one method of dealing with fear and anxiety is to challenge myself to do things that are uncomfortable – to “do it afraid.” The results are encouraging as I am able to see that even though challenges are uncomfortable, by practice, they become easier to do and actually make me stronger as a result, increasing confidence where there once was none.
I teach a 12 Step class on Wednesday evenings and am a team member of our church’s leadership at Road 2 Recovery.