Benzo Withdrawal

My Own Yellow Brick Road

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When Dorothy Gale of The Wizard of Oz started her journey down The Yellow Brick Road, she was terrified and, with the exception of Toto, completely alone. A girl whose life was turned upside down after an event that was completely out of her control, she didn’t yet know that the cyclone would bring unexpected gifts to her life. She didn’t know she’d make new friends and learn valuable lessons along the way; she was simply trying to survive. It was only later, when she felt safe and whole, that Dorothy was able to express gratitude to everyone who helped her as she limped along down life’s path.

As I tap out this post, I’m far from feeling whole, but I’m feeling well enough so that I’m able to look back at the events of last 9 months with the tiniest bit of ever-emerging perspective.

During the weeks I spent recuperating at my parents’ house last August, I paced the hall, occasionally stopping to look outside to the large picture window in their family room. It was summer – normally the season I love most – but during benzodiazepine withdrawal, I was unable to step outside to enjoy the sunshine for even a moment.

One particularly difficult afternoon, my parents’ footsteps seemed especially loud. My father had the television on full blast, and when I tried to calm myself by taking a hot bath, my mother barged in on me as I laid naked in the tub.

A few hours earlier, my mother and I had an uncomfortable exchange. She’d gone to the grocery store to buy a whole chicken and had made some homemade broth for me, which I tearfully refused. It wasn’t that I didn’t want what she had made – I did! I was starving! – but I simply couldn’t put anything in my mouth. I was sure that anything I ate was going to make my symptoms worse. When I tried to explain that I couldn’t eat the soup she’d made, my mother crossed her arms over her chest and gritted her teeth at me.

“Well,” she growled, “You can make your own food if you don’t like what I make for you.” Yanking open the refrigerator door, she pushed me toward the open compartment. I stood weeping, trying to decide which foods wouldn’t taste like poison. Everything seemed dangerous.

Standing in my mother’s kitchen, I panicked. Having already left my husband and son in hopes of finding a better place to heal, suddenly I felt I’d made a terrible mistake in coming to Syracuse. My parents did the best they could, but I needed more than they could give.

Something inside me understood I needed more than a house with a roof over it in which to heal. I needed love and patience and kindness. I needed someone to murmur encouraging words and tell me I was going to be okay.

Stepping into sweatpants, I put on my sunglasses and dared to walk across the street. As my bare feet touched the hot asphalt, I prayed to G-d the entire way, begging Him to let Gina be home.

I’m pretty sure Gina could tell something was wrong with me right away, but maybe she couldn’t. I certainly believed that anyone who felt as crazy as I did simply had to look the part on the outside.

Ever gracious, Gina pushed open the screen door and offered me a cup of tea. At that point, I was having weird fears and I confessed I was scared of tea. Without batting an eyelash, Gina offered hot water with lemon.

My hand shook the entire time we talked. I told her what was going on, that I’d stopped taking an anti-anxiety medication and that I was afraid I was losing my mind. I told her about my crippling insomnia and scary dreams.

Gina listened, remaining calm and reassuring. “Do you like massages?” she asked.

Nodding, I looked at the lemon floating inside my teacup.

Gina stood up, went into her kitchen, and opened a drawer. She copied a phone number on a tiny scrap of paper, which she handed to me.

“This place offers acupuncture and therapeutic massage and a bunch of other services,” Gina said, returning to her chair. “I think they even have a juice bar and a cafe with organic food.”

I stayed at Gina’s house for several hours that day and, again, the following day. Sitting in the safety of my old friend’s screen porch, the two of us beaded bracelets and talked quietly. Occasionally, we were joined by one of her cats or one of her children – but mostly, it was just the two of us.

Eventually, despite the fact that I was inexplicably terrified of talking on the telephone, I screwed up enough courage to dial the number on the scrap of paper and make an appointment for a massage.

Looking back now, I realize that asking my parents for help set me on a path: my old personal Yellow Brick Road, if you will. Making the difficult decision to leave my immediate family to take care of myself brought me to Syracuse, which brought me to Gina, which ultimately brought me to the next part of my journey, where I made another decision which saved my life.

At the time, I didn’t know I was on a journey.

I simply thought I was alone in Hell.

What I see now is that I  was never alone, for when we ask for help, the Universe always delivers a response.

What is a difficult personal challenge you’ve survived?

• • •

{Today, I thank my parents – Phil & Joan Schuls – for offering all they could to help me during some of my darkest hours. And I thank Regina Barnello Wright for answering the door when I came knocking.}

tweet me @rasjacobson

48 thoughts on “My Own Yellow Brick Road

  1. I’ve had two significant challenges in my life: Hurricane Katrina and my husband’s deployment to the Middle East. Both times I felt alone and terrified. So many people expected me to just pull myself up like I had other times. To remain cheerful and optimistic. But all I felt was loneliness and fear. Like you, I was grateful for those who tried to help. And with the clarity of hindsight I realized that even the things I thought weren’t important at the time were necessary steps on my journey.

    I arrived at a new place because of that journey, and I believe I am stronger, wiser, and more resilient because of it. And I believe that you are, too. Much love. <3

    1. Lisha, you know that throughout this ordeal you have been a blessing to me. I cannot tell you how your kind, compassionate words have helped to carry me through some of the worst times. I know that you have survived deployments and hurricanes — and more, which you so humbly fail to mention here. For the first time in my life, I am having to concentrate almost completely on myself. It feels incredibly selfish at times, but it is all I can do. I believe G-d wants me to learn something about surrender during this process. All I know is that my faith is very strong right now.

    1. Hi Kathy! Thank you for the encouraging cards and gifts that you have sent me along the way. You likely have NO idea how much these tokens have helped to lift my spirits and make me feel loved on my darkest days. Thank you for being you. Really.

  2. Renee
    Hang in there! it gets SO much better. It just takes time. Often a lot of time. You capture the fear and fragility we feel in benzo withdrawal so well. I was captivated reading your story. I remember standing in front of my fridge terrified to eat because I was afraid everything would poison me. Totally irrational. But… that’s benzo withdrawal.

    Feel free to drop me a line at again. I’ll get back to you. Let’s chat via skype if you are up to it.

    Keep healing. Keep spreading the good word. You are doing a good work.

    1. Dear Dr. Jenn:

      I’m so glad I took a chance and hit REPLY when I received your post this morning. You may not know it, but I have been following your blog since the beginning of my nightmare. I’m so glad to know that you are feeling so much better at 35 months. That sounds so far away, and there is nothing to do but surrender to this thing and bide my time. At nearly 10 months out, I’m able to get out and do more than I was in acute withdrawal but I still feel so terribly impaired. I’d love the opportunity to chat with you at some point. I haven’t done any Skype calls, but I’d be willing to give it a whirl to speak with you. Thank you for following me here and on Twitter.

    1. Hi Susie! When I grew up, I was taught that G-d’s name is so holy that it was not proper to write His name on paper because that paper could be destroyed. And while I no longer believe in such things, I guess some habits are hard to break. I DO believe in G-d’s power! Now I understand that He doesn’t care how we write His name – as long as we sing His praises. Make sense?

  3. Actually, I just wrote about my most difficult personal challenge yesterday. I’m not usually a link in comments type person, but I think the post does it better justice than me trying to sum up in a sentence. Hope that’s ok.

    I continue to remain awed at your strength and determination. And the hell you had to go through to get where you are now. I am very proud of you and thankful for the people you encountered along the way.

    1. Coming over to read now. As you know, I’ve had to become rather self-centered these days when it comes to doing too much. That said, I have to come read your words. I’m wondering if your “difficult struggle” is one I think you might be alluding to. I’ll leave a comment there. xo

      1. I know you’ve had to focus on your healing and haven’t been reading blogs. That’s why I posted. Not to lure you over to my site, but because I knew you wouldn’t have gotten there on your own, and I felt it answered your question, and would also make you realize that you have not been alone in the darkness. In a very different, but alike enough to understand, way . . . I’ve felt some of your pain.

        1. Misty! I had NO idea. When did this happen? How long ago? I’m so glad you are writing about your experience. It’s weird, isn’t it, to read from others who say that your words are healing? But they really are. I am here for you.

          1. It was a year and a half ago. Seems like an eternity, now. And it’s actually not that weird. I talked about this when it happened to a few close friends that I knew had gone through similar experiences, and it was amazing how much it helped to talk to them about it and have that support from people who understood how I was feeling. I knew in some way, despite how difficult it was to write and revisit it, that it would probably touch some others as well, and it has. Only by sharing our own struggles can we and others not feel so alone.

          2. Thank you for sharing your story, Misty. It’s amazing how many people are walking around in invisible pain. I had no idea before my experience. Truly. No. Idea. Now I see evidence of people’s suffering everywhere I turn. Why do we insist that everything is “fine”? We could connect so much more deeply if we just admitted our struggles with each other.

  4. I sit here reading this and I am simply in awe, you are inspiring. While my heart breaks for how horrifying this was for you I am also so glad you found people along the way who could help and who could bring you back.

    I can only continually thank you for writing this, for opening the door.

    1. Val: People keep saying that I’m inspiring. I don’t completely understand it. I’m simply writing about my experience, which has been a freaking nightmare. Writing has always helped me to figure things out. I don’t think I would have made it thru the worst if I didn’t keep a journal. I didn’t write every day, but I sure am glad that I wrote when I could. It’s weird to go back to my writings now. I hardly remember writing the things that I did.

      And yes, I am so grateful for all the people who have showed up on my journey. It’s wild. I had no idea how many people would disappear from my life and how many new people would appear. Feeling abandoned by everyone has been tough for me, but I’m realizing folks aren’t really gone. They are just waiting for me to come back. Many people don’t know how to respond to this thing that I’m going through. Hell, I hardly know how to handle it. I have confidence that as I continue to heal, I’ll be able to reestablish some of those old friendships while staying open to meeting new people, too.

      1. I understand the disappearing act believe me. I also understand the confusion. You inspire through your survival and your willingness to share the darkness, you give hope.

  5. I’m sending you hugs and you’re still on my prayer list! You are healing, every day, bit by bit. I think of you on my morning walk, as the sun is coming up, and that’s when I send prayers over. 🙂

    1. Hi DMS! Thank you for keeping me on your prayer list! I’ll be heading out on my daily walk in a little while. Now that Spring has arrived, I’m enjoying my walks so much more. I’ll be thinking of you this morning.

  6. Renée, your strength and courage have come through in every post you have written … even on those days that you struggled and probably thought you sounded weak and lost. You weren’t. We could hear you. It’s so good to see you coming back bit by bit. We are all here waiting for you.

    1. Patricia! You have nailed my feelings on the head. People keep saying I sound courageous, but I DO feel incredibly weak and lost at times. Okay, most of the time. I’m definitely coming back little by little. It isn’t easy. I’m still in the throes of this thing, but I continue to have faith that my body knows what it needs to heal. It’s in G-d’s hands now.

  7. I am so glad you had a home and roof over your head and a listening ear to help you heal. It’s tough because in today’s society everybody wants instant. Instant meals, instant day to night outfits, instant healing. But healing takes time. And you need supportive and patient people around you during that whole time – good days and bad. I can’t make hot water and lemon for you from Wisconsin, Renee, but I think of you often and say healing words and I wish you the best new year possible. I know this is a year of great growth and achievement for you. I’m honored to call you friend. Hang in there, Love. We’re all rooting for you. (hugs)

    1. Jess, I found many different homes in which to heal during this crazy journey. (But you’re a Facebook friend, so I know that you know a bit more about where I’ve been over the last year.) And you’re so right: we Americans want everything RIGHT NOW. One of the hardest things I’ve had to learn during this mess is patience. I can’t lie, I’m not there yet: I absolutely get furious that this healing is taking so long – but I’m learning to surrender to it. G-d has got me, and I have to have faith that one day, I’ll be on the other side of this thing, in some way shape or form. I’m definitely hanging in there. Hat else can I do, right? Thank you, Jess, for continuing to stick with me. I’m grateful for you!

  8. Those friends that open the door. SO important and treasured. Hot water with lemon or tea (or even chicken broth). Love to you.

    1. Your emails have been like cyber-doors, held open. Namoi, I know that we met right before all this went down – but please know, I’m so grateful to have you in my life. And I still hope to meet you one day.

  9. Hi Renee, I am still baffled by what happened to you and what is still happening. Good to hear you are on the road to recovery 😉

  10. Expect the unexpected. There’s always people walking, running, jumping, or strolling down the same path. Power’s within, and energy always feed from outside as much as you wanted.

  11. I love this story because even through all of your difficulties, you were able to see how everything does fit into a perfect plan. Just by recognizing that the hard and painful choices you were making during those early weeks was what led you to Gina, you are healing – and in turn, helping others to heal as well. I am pulling for you!!!!!

  12. Everyday is a new gift and I am glad you are taking it as such. Thank Goodness for Gina! I continue to pray for you and am always happy to see your gravatar pic show up on my feed! Mucho amor! 🙂 🙂

  13. Beautiful and honest writing , Renee. My daughter-in-law Liz McFarlane Mansfield directed me to your post. I write about grief and loss. I was diagnosed with Meniere’s Disease–hearing loss, tinnitus, nausea, and vertigo. Vertigo stopped me in my tracks–pulled over in the night at the side of the road, waiting for hours for it to subside. Valium worked most of the time and it was a gift because it kept me on my feet rather than crawling. But it was also depleting and depressive. I eliminated it, bit by bit, and resonate with your descriptions of everything too loud, nothing right, nerves on edge, catastrophic thinking. Acupuncture and adrenal support helped me get rid of Valium, and I’m grateful. Thank you for sharing your powerful story.
    I wish you well,

  14. Renee, I can’t say anything that hasn’t already been said: you’re brave, you’re healing, and sharing your journey may be a gift you’re passing along to someone else wanting instant chicken noodle soup and, instead, being handed a chicken, veggies, and a pot.

    I’m in my own sort of dark days at the moment. Nothing as life altering and scary bad as yours. Reading your honest and brave words about your struggle helps me know I’m not alone. Just as you know you aren’t.

    I remember my Doctor (G-d Bless Her!) once gifted me with The Purpose Driven Life during one of my visits. I was there to discuss my anxiety and why medications weren’t filling the hole in my soul. When I got home, I looked at the book. Forty days? It takes Forty days — one chapter at a time? NO WAY! I want to feel better. Now! Today! This instant! I gave that book away.

    It cost me. I purchased and partnered with my sister to work The Purpose Driven Life one chapter per day during the first forty days of sobriety.

    Yes, He and I have regular chats about The Next Right Thing in my journey. Getting close to my Higher Power is the reason I feel blessed to be an alcoholic (in recovery).

    I’m SO grateful that you’re sharing. Thanks. Be good to yourself.

  15. I can think of several events that knocked me for a loop.

    My Dad dying. We knew it was going to happen. It was complicated because Dad and I’d been fighting for years. It didn’t matter what I did, he was never happy about it. But in his last year, the two of us finally managed to start talking, and patched up our differences. I came to love him more than ever, and understand him finally. Because of this, it really hurt loosing him. I wish we’d been able to get past the conflict years earlier. My Dad’s siblings told me after he passed on that patching things up had meant a lot to him as well, and that he might have been sick, but his last year was one of the happiest of his life.

    We lost a baby at six months. That knocked both me and my wife totally off-balance. A lot of people came forward and shared their experiences, because they too had lost children before birth, and that helped us get past the experience. We weren’t alone.

    Hugs and kisses.


  16. Glad to hear you’re still making progress down your yellow brick road. I won’t say I know what you’re going through – I don’t. All I can offer is my genuine sympathy and prayers for your continued recovery.

    Also, one piece of advice: watch out for the flying monkeys.

  17. What a powerful mental image of that road . . . how we collect what we need along the way to get to our destination. I know you’re still working hard all the time to get there. And that Regina was there right when you needed her to be with her hot water and lemon and continued to be there is a good reminder for the rest of us that we sometimes have more to offer others than we think.

  18. Renee, I have missed your insights. Welcome back (a belated welcome back) and prayers to you – courage – kindness (to yourself). I am still on my yellow brick road, and like many others, will be for all of my life. The death of a child has given permanent membership to a club I never wanted to be part of. Thank you for sharing your yellow brick road.

  19. I had heard about the side effects caused by taking certain drugs over an extended period, but this is the first time I have heard a personal account. The little package inserts that come with drugs (and they are often removed by the pharmacist – I don’t understand why) list vague symptoms but your story has brought it to life. It is a terrifying story, all the more so because the drugs you were taking were prescribed for you by a doctor, who should have known better!
    Thank you for sharing your story. You are a brave woman and I hope that your healing continues.

    1. Dear L. Rolyat: I’m so sorry that I’m just seeing this now, but truthfully, I haven’t been able to respond much until recently. It’s very hard to understand how severe symptoms can be from those inserts. Like INSOMNIA means “you will not sleep for months” or ANXIETY means “you will not be able to leave your house”! Not everyone experiences this severe kind of withdrawal, but thousands of people do, perhaps even more because many people decide they simply cannot make it through. And others kill themselves. It’s THAT awful. And, of course, I had no idea because i trusted my doctor to prescribe something safe. I have to believe he had no idea what he is doing and, hopefully, he is much more informed now. If you want to read more Google BENZO WITHDRAWAL. It’s a horror.

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