Benzo Withdrawal Memoir

On Solitary Confinement: A Post-Divorce Update About Apartment Life

The first night in my apartment building, the upstairs’ neighbor’s toilet clogged and overflowed. Bilgy water rained down from the ceiling, soaking my new bathroom mat. I’m not a squeamish person. I can touch spiders and snakes. I don’t mind getting dirty. But I was completely unprepared for brown water dripping on my head. I didn’t know what to do or who to call.

At the time, I didn’t even own a mop.

That night, I stayed up very late with a dear friend who’d come over to help me unpack. Together, Sara and I furiously unboxed my housewares, strategically placing what few pots and pans we could find all over the bathroom.

After Sara went home, I climbed into bed and wept.

For hours.

The next day, I packed until dinnertime. After I’d washed the dishes, I decided to hang up some artwork. It was early, and, outside my windows, the sky was still light. If I had to guess, I’d say I hung up three paintings.

So maybe 15 whacks with a hammer.

Maybe 20.

The next morning, I found a handwritten note that someone had slid under my door.

“Too loud!!!” the note read in cursive. “Do not make noise after 5PM!!!”

I stewed for a little while, wondering which neighbor had left me the note. Eventually, I tossed the note in the trash and decided to venture out. The wait for the elevator took forever. When the doors opened, I stepped into the lobby area. It’s a formal space, and even after two years, it feels more like a hotel than anywhere I’d ever call home.

The doorman pointed at me. “You’re the new girl everyone is complaining about,” he said. “The loud one.” 

It. Was. Awesome.

(And by awesome, I mean it sucked.)

It took me a year to get brave enough to buy a stereo speaker and actually play some music. Because, seriously, screw them. I’m not going to bed at 8PM.

Since my first day, I’ve received more notes. Apparently, I don’t empty the lint trap in the dryer well enough. And while I enjoy having a diverse group of friends, it seems some folks don’t like “the colored girls” coming round.

Another year has passed, and I’m still rebuilding. Apartment living for me is a lot like solitary confinement. The nature of the work I do (writing and painting) is isolating. I spend a lot of time in other people’s backyards, gardening, helping to decorate their patios. I’m still looking for a house, a community, people with whom to share a heart connection. I have Sara, thank goodness, and my parents, and the reality is that very few people check in on me with any regularity. When I need a ride to the airport, I call a taxi.

What does my life look like now? I get up, shower, make my bed, eat a little breakfast, lunch and dinner. Somewhere in there, I paint, write, do some yoga. I take long walks and learn something new every single day. (Thank goodness for NPR podcasts.) I help one person in benzo withdrawal every day. I clean, do my laundry, and try to connect with another human being in real life.

Weekends are hard.

Click on the blue jar to see this sticker, available at RedBubble!

I spend time going to garage sales in search of abandoned picture frames and Mason jars. I never had a thing for glass before I moved into an apartment, but I especially like the ones with rusty metal lids. I relate to their weatheredness, their fragility.

So here I am. It’s early, and I’ve run thru my entire bag of tricks. I’ve painted and shopped. Walked and cleaned. Visited with friends. Got a carwash. Made dinner.

I don’t cry every night anymore, but I’m still not smiling as much as I’d like.

I’m on mission to find a new home. My son will graduate from high school next Saturday. He’s ready to fly, and I’m so excited for him. Unlike my son, I don’t feel quite ready to launch. I need to do a bit more research, poke around and decide where I want to start the next chapter of my life.

A triangular girl, all I know is that living in a rectangle is not for me.

If you were starting over, where would you go and why? Got any suggestions?



17 thoughts on “On Solitary Confinement: A Post-Divorce Update About Apartment Life

  1. I spent a year in a bedroom darkened with black paper on the windows and completely isolated while I healed from benzo damage. We had lived in that home and attended our church for almost 20 years when I got sick and felt abandoned by the church, and imprisoned by the house.

    Once I healed and realized every encounter with an “old friend” meant PTSD, my husband retired early, we sold the family house and bought the most wonderful home in a mountain town of West Virginia next to a ski mountain.

    You should look up Thomas/Davis/Canaan Valley. This is an artist enclave with galleries, shows, music. It is paradise.

    1. Benzo withdrawal is the absolutely worst. It is truly hell on earth. I remember reading about Jesus and the leper colony, and I remember thinking to myself, at least they had each other! 🙂 Glad you’ve healed too!

  2. I had to sell my beautiful, walking-distance-to-the-beach house because of benzodiazepine sickness. I moved around a bunch from family member to family member, and when I couldn’t take that anymore (and they couldn’t take having a sick psychotic person in their house anymore), I got put in the cheapest, dumpiest apartment in town. Turns out you can’t afford much when a prescribed drug destroys your life and you are on disability. I lived there for years – mold, roaches, a kitchen sink that clogged repeatedly, a leaking AC from upstairs, the pipes in the walls leaked repeatedly, and they had to replace the pipes in the walls and ceiling TWICE (did it wrong the first time) which required tenting the entire apartment with plastic and cutting a million giant holes in the walls, patching them, painting them – and I tried to navigate it all while I was agoraphobic and terribly, terribly sick. I hated it there. HATED IT. What had my life come to? Eventually, my dad this last summer came across a good deal on a condo in town and bought it and now he’s my landlord in a much, much nicer place. I am grateful, but I am still sick. I don’t want to live here forever either. I miss having a house with a little yard I can work in. I miss a lot of things that benzodiazepines stole. Weekends are hard. I wonder what life post-withdrawal will be like with no friends, no job, etc – after having lost it all and laid in bed suffering for a decade. I guess it could always be worse… (not much lol, but yeah – it could). Wish we all had our own little village 🙂 We get each other.

    I am going to be starting over and I really don’t have any ties to anything at this point. That seems to happen when you get sick and your entire life is erased. The upside is: I can, essentially, go anywhere I want to when I’m well! Although there’s the element of leaving family if I do, which is all I’ve had this whole time (my dad). I don’t know how it will all turn out, but if you’ve survived benzodiazepine withdrawal – nothing is that bad, nothing. You’ll find your niche. 🙂 Good luck.

    1. Nick, boy am I with you. Now I understand why, in the Bible, there was a leper colony. At least they had each other. Benzo withdrawal is soooo isolating. Maybe we can move to the Carolinas and hang out with Bobbi and Heather. We can get a little land and put some tiny houses all together in a row, maybe around a pond or something. We should make that happen!

  3. Oh, hunny, that sounds awful. I am so sorry. HUGS.

    MIserable living situations…I had a string of them. The first was right after grad school, when I had no idea what I was doing next with my life and got a sucky admin job for $6.25/hr and rented a bedroom suite in someone’s house. They never fixed anything, or would come in unannounced when I was gone and let their little girl loose in my apt to go through everything, the husband & wife argued bitterly in the middle of the night until the wife moved out with the little girl, leaving the husband and his creepy teenage son as my only house companions…shudder.

    After I moved out of there, I rented a basement apt with a room mate who had her own issues, usually taking them out on me passive-aggressively…and she was kind of a slob. Then we were broken into, twice, because no one else in the building cared about keeping the outer door locked and our inner door was a crummy 1/4″ panel style door. On New Year’s Eve, a guy tried to come through it with a knife and splintered the door. He only stopped trying when he heard my room mate on the phone with the police (I was at a neighbors’ party two floors up at the time). The cop had to help us move the refrigerator in front of the door so we’d feel somewhat safe that night (New Years’ Eve, and couldn’t reach the landlord).

    It was only after moving to another apartment, top floor, with great neighbors and less crime, and changing jobs that things started to turn around for me. I connected better with friends, I discovered a new direction in vocation, and I met the love of my life. It’s funny how events – good and bad – come in clumps like that. I hope that this move will signify all sorts of good things for you, Renee!

  4. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; you are beautiful,
    Smart, funny, strong, creative, resourceful and I love ya!
    Keep doing what you are doing- it’s all an adventure and I’m along with you for the ride! Oh, and when you move , if you leave Rochester, please have a guest room for me!!! I’ll always be there to bail you out of the (literally) shit!

    1. I will absolutely always have room for you to visit, no matter where I go…but didn’t we establish that I’m going with you wherever you decide to go? I thought that was a thing. 🙂

  5. When my first wife and I split, I wound up in an efficiency in a bad neighborhood. It was all I could afford, given that I was still paying the mortgage on our house. I had drug dealers for neighbors, and while I lived there police broke up a prostitution ring running out of the back of the place.

    What a lonely place that was. At least the apartments were like bank vaults — no noise complaints from the neighbors.

    I think first post-split homes are just meant to be transitional while we figure some hard things out. And then, with those things figured out, we can move on to a better home. A happy benefit of this is that the figuring-it-out memories and the less-than-happy home remain linked, and you can place them in a box and call them “that time.”

      1. How weird is that?! I’m guessing he must have subscribed a zillion years ago – before i got sick – and I probably met him thru you!

    1. I’m glad that, at least, you feel you got one wonderful gift. It’s always nice when you receive something and you feel like the other person really gets you.

      I will not ruin this feel good moment by suggesting that she really only got the lawnmower because she wanted you to continue making the house look good. Ooops, I guess I just did. 😉

  6. Renee – better to be known as noisy, than nosey. It seems that some folks have more time to be worried about stuff which isn’t important… hang in there, you’ve made it through much worse. I saw this yesterday when I was writing my Five Minute Journal – “The most important work you will do is the work you do on yourself.” UJ Ramdas… We are all in some state of transition whether we are willing to admit or not. Moving from one place to the next….continue to write and paint. Peace.

  7. The main thing I learned after divorce was that I wasn’t happy being single. It’s supposed to be glorious fun with lots of dates and all that, but I never found it to be. I lived in some nice places and some not-so-nice places, but wherever I went, I was there. Couldn’t escape myself.

    My only good times when I was single were when my daughter came for visits and then moved in with me her last 2 years of high school. She went to college 3 hours away, but I was still home base, and she came home fairly frequently.

    I guess I’m just not one of those people who do well living alone. Never liked it. Since meeting Sharon 27 years ago, that’s all changed. We celebrate our 24th anniversary Wednesday, and I’ve been much happier all those years.

  8. Your situation sounds really difficult, but you’re clearly strong to make it through so much and find the painting. You can get through this, too.

    I lived in a condo for awhile, which was basically a converted apartment. I had an upstairs place. The woman who lived underneath me complained often to the management that I was too noisy. When I got a puppy, he was too noisy. The office would call me up and ask me to tiptoe when she was home. Of course, when she wasn’t, her teenage daughter played loud heavy metal. Goes to show you that even owning your own place is no insulation from awful neighbors.

    RIght now, I’m living with my father, which is okay but awkward, while I wait for the house I co-own with my ex to go on the market. I’ve been waiting for ten months as we’ve gone back and forth on it. Finally, it looks like it will be up for sale within a week or two, although I was just over there and he still has crap everywhere which has to be picked up. Who knows where I’ll live after the house sells; hopefully not in an apartment like the one you’re living in. Wish me luck! And good luck to you, finding a lovely home.

  9. Apartments were never my favorite place. The last one I was in, when the neighbor came pounding on my door at 2 a.m., luckily I was still awake playing my guitar. (Just kidding!)

    I hope your search for a house turns up a place that you can call home, where you can do your own thing and not have your door be a post-it note depository.

    1. Hi Brian. Yeah, apartments stink. I liked mine in graduate school but…well, they’re just not home. AT least this one isn’t. I would like to have a little patch of grass somewhere. I’m sure it’ll turn up eventually. Hell, I’ve got every realtor in Rochester working on it. 🙂

  10. Hello
    I’m sorry to read this, it must be tough. So many humans on the planet but so little connection. I love your art! Glad you have that as an outlet. I’m suffering from antidepressant withdrawal, very very similar to benzo, so I know where you’re at. No one can possibly know how hard we work just to get through the day. All we can hope is that we get better, and we will. I look forwards to reading more. X

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    Your Cart
    Your cart is emptyReturn to Shop