Benzo Withdrawal

Night Time Horrors

I love children’s books. When my son was young, I delighted in introducing him to all my favorites, but I especially loved seeing his reaction to Maurice Sendak’s “In the Night Kitchen.”

The story features young, adventurous Mickey who stirs from his bed and embarks on a strange adventure. Young Mickey is thrown into cake batter, flies across the sky, and ends up right where he started — safe in his own bed.

I always thought fancied myself to be like Mickey: brave and curious, eager for new experiences and unafraid of where they might lead. But during acute withdrawal, the world was filled with monsters. Where I once appreciated Sendak’s idea of an ever-changing landscape over which one had no control, suddenly that lack of control wasn’t fun at all.

One of the monsters I battled was insomnia. Not only was I terrorized while I was awake, but I couldn’t escape my demons even when I closed my eyes. If I was lucky enough to fall asleep, I experienced horrifying vivid nightmares, causing me to jolt awake, my heart pounding in my chest.

Click HERE to see more amazing art by Morgan Huneycutt
Click HERE to see more amazing art by Morgan Huneycutt

One night, I journaled about my nightmares, detailing them in my black and white composition notebook. The next morning, I looked at my scribbles:

A fat, yellow caterpillar with a woman’s face writhes in a thick puddle of mucous in the middle of a dark room.  The creature wears a blonde wig perched crookedly on its head. I open my mouth to scream, but no sound comes out. I try to run, but the stuff on the floor is sticky, so I cannot move. The caterpillar-woman gurgles as she moves in my direction. Her mouth is no longer a mouth; it is a dark swirling cavity. I am surprised when she stabs me, since I hadn’t noticed her huge spiny bristle filled with some kind of clear fluid. Feeling my flesh burn, I realize I’ve been poisoned and, as my clothes melt into my skin, I can do nothing but wait for the creature to devour me.

You know how you feel when you wake up after having a single nightmare? That disoriented, terrified moment when all you want is to hold onto something solid. That moment where you look for reassurance from a person sleeping next to you?

That night, I recounted 9 separate nightmares.

I read about a man with pointy teeth whose fingers turned into knives. About dark, swirling water: the place my son drowned while buckled in his infant carrier. I read about fires and hurricanes and war and plagues and famines.

Each nightmare was darker and more catastrophic than the one that preceded it.

Even scarier? I barely remembered writing about them.

I spoke with my therapist many times while I stayed at my parents’ house, and she reassured me that I was on the path to healing, that my neural pathways had to learn basic things — even things like sleep — again after having been dulled for 7 years. That my healing would take time. She was encouraging, and I was prepared to wait it out.

But after nearly 3 weeks of little to no quality sleep, the exhaustion was killing me. Though I was terrified with the idea of taking any medication to help me rest, my parents convinced me to try some of the pills my doctor had prescribed.

I should have known better.

That night, I had a rare paradoxical experience. Much like the horror in many of my nightmares, I experienced a kind of “locked-in” syndrome, where I was completely awake and yet utterly unable to move or scream. On the outside, my body was still; on the inside, I writhed and buzzed with electricity.

When the effects of the medication wore off the next day, I wandered into the kitchen to find my parents. My father greeted my brightly. “Did you sleep last night?” he asked.

I looked at him with wide eyes. “No more pills!”

• • •

{This week, I express gratitude to Monica Cassani at Beyond Meds. If you or someone you know is hypersensitive to medications, check out her blog. You are not alone! I also need to thank Val Erde, who offered support from across The Pond, and to Marna Meltzer & Michelle Goldstein for offering me hope during my darkest hours.}

What monsters have you been battling recently?

tweet me @rasjacobson

44 thoughts on “Night Time Horrors

  1. Good lord, that is horrifying to just read about. I have a recurring nightmare but it pales in comparison. Thank you for (even though it may seem small) the amazing artwork you are featuring along with the telling of your story. It is providing a deeper way to connect.

    1. Naomi! As you know, when all this started last August, I was soooooo freaked out and disoriented– not mention disappointed that we were not able to get together as we’d planned. Do you think there’s a chance to get together the next time I’m in Florida? I’m doing so much better! I’ll let you know when our plans materialize! As you know, your cards have kept my spirits up during this disaster. I’ll be writing about all of THAT in a future post! 🙂

    1. Amber! I was JUST writing to Naomi, but I guess the same stuff could be said to you! When the 3 of us planned to get together last summer… well, hat’s when I started to experience the first symptoms. THAT’s why I couldn’t meet up with you guys! Hopefully, THIS will be the year that I get to finally meet you in person! Maybe even before the baby shows up! Thank you for being a blessing in my life! Loved today’s post about books and yesterday’s too! xo

      1. I wondered if that was the case. I missed not getting to see you, but I know we will get the chance to see each other soon enough – either with my big prego belly, or a new baby in arms. 🙂

        Much love to you!

        1. Yup. It was all happening right then… except I didn’t know what “it” was. Super scary. Do you know the blogger Kitt Crescendo? She came to visit me while I was in FL. I was so disoriented. She actually blogged about her experience regarding our meeting. The bottom fell out right after I got home. So. scary. Can’t wait to meet all of the West crew! xo

    1. Monica, as you know, you were the FIRST person I found who could offer me any information at all about benzo withdrawal. I am eternally grateful to you. There are so many people out there who are indebted to you. Your words of encouragement have helped me stay positive. It really does get better! The body is just incredible, the way that it can heal itself. xo

      1. yes, it’s incredible and what is more amazing is that we get to profoundly know just how incredible it is which is an incredible gift once we get far enough down the line…hang in there…I send love!

  2. I have never had withdrawal from meds (never taken any long enough), but I do know the nightmare cycle where they return again and again all night long and you start to fear falling asleep.

    I’m glad you’re sharing this journey.


    1. Kelly! Best lesson is to STAY AWAY FROM THE MEDS and figure out what’s going on emotionally thats making you feel anxious or depressed! Gotta deal with that stuff. Cannot avoid it. Thanks for your continued support. So glad I met you before the bottom fell out.

    1. I am going to add “I am brave” to my daily affirmations. People keep saying I’m brave. I guess because I’m in the throes of this shizz, I hardly feel brave. I just feel like I’m plodding along. Thank you for your words of encouragement, Val. I’m wounded, but I’m here.

      1. I wish I could show you a picture of a tattoo I had done recently, you deserve to be wearing it also.

        It says ‘victorious’. I think you need to add this word to your daily affirmations as well.

  3. I am so sorry to hear about the hell you’ve gone through. I am epileptic and have horrendous migraines. Among other meds I have been taking two 1mg clonazapam for over seven years. Miracle drug but now I’m worried.
    Be well Renee

    1. Dear Tony:

      If you were having seizures, clonazepam is probably a life saver. That’s NOT why it was prescribed to me. I couldn’t sleep. There were a million other options I could have tried including meditation, relaxation techniques, and actually addressing the real problem! Please don’t try to stop taking your medication as your body is used to taking it. If you Google “benzo withdrawal” you can find a lot of information from Also, your doctor may or may not know about the discontinuation syndrome associated with stopping benzos, so please inform yourself before just trusting what he/she might say.

  4. I am always speechless after reading your accounts. Sigh. I still cannot imagine.

    I take one medication for sleep & fibro (trazadone) that when I forget to take it, makes me flip out throughout the night. My skin gets prickly and I want to crawl out of it. I have this strange aggressiveness inside me and I begin to twitch. It’s so bizarre. If I multiply that feeling by infinity, that is probably not even half of what you have gone through!
    I am just getting over (hopefully) a nasty violent stomach virus where I honestly wanted to die.
    Keep healing my dear friend! xo

  5. This is just terrible, heartbreakingly terrible. I’m so thankful you’re on the journey forward and will continue praying for your recovery. 🙂

  6. That is horrifying. But your description of that dream is so vivid and real. It is frightening dark yet beautifully written. I’ve been having trouble sleeping lately, with vivid nightmares, but nothing to compare to the ones you experienced. I understand on a small level how it feels to be exhausted from not getting the much needed rest that your body and mind requires. As always, I am so sorry you had to go through that hell.

    1. Misty: Thank you so much for acknowledging the horrors of exhaustion. Whenever I reread my words, I think to myself: I’m not capturing it. I’m not capturing it well enough for people to get it. It’s very difficult to explain psychological warfare, especially when there is nothing to see from the outside — except, perhaps, a person who is curled up in fetal position and writhing on the floor. I’m so glad to be over that part of benzo withdrawal. Now, it’s all about keeping calm and carrying on as best I can. I still hope to meet you one day. I’d like to kiss those feet of yours. 😉

  7. My “like” is my way of showing you support. I can’t believe what you have been through. I wish you nothing but strength to continue to share it.

  8. My sweet friend Renee, I always read these posts with two reactions going on at once – hating to think you had to go through all this and loving that you’re able to share it with us. I long for the day you announce that this whole thing is totally behind you, but meanwhile I pray that each day will be a step toward that and that the ill effects will be a little diminished from the day before.

    I almost wish I lived in Florida when you talk about meeting with other writers there, because I wish so badly I could meet you. Not quite badly enough to move to Florida, though. Can’t leave my Texas. Maybe we’ll meet somehow someday anyway.

    1. David, I have a bunch of friends in Texas. Trust me, I’m going to get down there again – eventually. I wouldn’t dream of making you leave Texas. You are one man I’d really like to hug. I hope your wife won’t mind. It’s going to have to happen. As far as healing, I’m amazed at how G-d helps us heal. Our bodies know what they need to do. I’m trying to help it along by meditating, eating well, and exercising. I know G-d is carrying me along. How else would I have made it this far?

  9. Renee, you are not only brave, but you are strong, too. Add that to your daily affirmations! They would have had to lock me in a padded room if I’d gone through half of what you’ve been describing. SO glad you are beyond the worst of this horror, honey. Hugs!

    1. KB, I probably would have landed in a padded room (or worse), were it not for some amazing people I met along the way. I can’t wait to share more about the road I’ve been on for the past 8 months. It gets worse before it gets better. But it is getting better…

  10. Wow. Hopefully you are past this part of the withdrawal.
    I always thought that dreams mean something. I never read “In the Night Kitchen”, but from your description it reminded me of the Wizard of Oz. I guess “There’s no place like home” is a pretty clear meaning. Hopefully it means when this is over, you will be happy and safe at home with Dr. J., Little J., and the new kitty!

    I know it sounds strange, but while I was reading the description from your journal about the caterpillar, it reminded me of the giant caterpillar in Alice and Wonderland. From what I can remember that “children’s book” was a bit drug-related, so I tried to look up the meaning – I found that some view the caterpillar as sexual threat because of its phallic symbol (not sure how that relates), but it also said the caterpillar’s mushroom was psychedelic hallucinogen that compounds Alice’s surreal and distorted perception of Wonderland.

    OK. I’m done analyzing. Should I charge 5-cents like Lucy? 🙂

    Glad to see you back on the blog & hope you’re feeling better!

  11. Holy shit, Renee, those are some SCARY nightmares. And the having to deal with all that exhaustion is terrifying, too. That you continue to write so honestly (and beautifully too) about it is the gift you keep on giving. It is practically criminal that you were put in this position in the first place.

  12. I’m glad to see you back at the blog, writing again. It takes great fortitude to stand up to the battle you’ve been engaged in this last year.

    Huge hugs to you!

  13. Ditto what Jenny said, Renee. It takes great courage to face off with this nightmare (both withdrawal macro and nightmare micro).

    You’ve come so far, I’m sure you’ll battle your way to your happy place sans drugs.

    FWIW, at one of the meetings in those anonymous rooms, a recently sober attendee expressed the anxiety and feelings she now has to face. No wine to self-medicate. A long term alcoholic in recovery (we never get to say recovered) said: For the early stages of recovery — and at other challenging spots along our journey — the word sober is actually an acronym.

    Of a

    Learning to deal with emotions and feelings and moods on our own. No more chemical solutions. I made it to the other side and can work my way through to my happy place when I need it. I pray you’ll experience the same. Cyberhugs!!

  14. Wow, so glad you’re back. You’ve been missed. Sorry that you had to go through this but thank you for sharing your story. Sounds like a drug that should be taken off the market.

  15. Stumbled on your blog by chance… I can’t believe, it actually makes me speechless, that obviously from the beginning of all this sh.. no one suggested to take care of your basic, emotional problems?! To find a good therapist and talk about what happened after your son’s birth, and how to deal with the experience?! To my mind, that would have been the obvious, most important thing to do… Did it really not occur to anyone? Incredible. Good to hear you’re getting better – wishing you all the best!

  16. Wow. Just wow.
    Never having experienced nightmares of that intensity, I can’t imagine.
    When I was a kid, I apparently had some pretty awesome nightmares, but I rarely remembered them. However, my family knew I had them because I would SCREAM in the middle of the night, waking up everyone, except me.

    That ended in my teenage years, but not before my first summer camp in boy scouts. My mom warned the adult leaders that I scream in my sleep sometimes, but, of course, the leaders said nothing to my troop mates. Then…in the quiet of the woods…in the middle of the night…on what was, for some of us, a first time camping out in tents…AGGGGGRRRRHHHHH!!!!

    I helped make everyone’s summer camp experience complete.

    1. Night terrors are the worst! I have always had vivid dreams, but having all those awful dreams – one after the other – well, it made me afraid to go to sleep! I’m glad you’re resting easier these days.

  17. Dear Renée,

    I’ve been reading your posts. Should have commented before, just to let you know I’ve been wondering where you had gone, but wasn’t sure what to say.

    You’ve been through hell, to put it politely. I’m glad that things are getting better, if slowly. I hope they keep on getting better.

    You’ve got my prayers. Hugs and kisses.


  18. Your story is unbelievable (and horrific) and very important for people that could face and fix the same. All the best and thanks for sharing, Ron.

  19. Hey, Wondered where you disappeared to, then I saw all your #healing and #benzowithdrawal on Instagram, and got super concerned about you. And slowly your pictures got happier and happier, as did your hashtags, but you still weren’t back. And even though I liked a whole bunch of your pictures, I never said anything (I’m really shy).
    So happy to see you back blogging.

    Refuah Shelamah!

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