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It’s stunning what .25mg of a benzodiazepine can do to the body. Even less than that, I’ve found, can send the body spinning into the deep dark unmentionable, but I thought I had my withdrawal under control. I was systematic, dropping my dosage weekly, drinking Kava Kava tea by the gallon and reminding myself to look up. Look: sky, birds, sun. Things were going well. Until, I realized, they weren’t.

This is how it goes when you’re riding through relatively uncharted medical territory. I felt bad last week. Nausea, malaise, apathy, existential abyss. But, you know, both kids had the stomach flu and I’d been downstairs streaming the Jungle Book on my iMac, lurching with plastic bowls every 15 minutes or so to catch sick-baby jettisons.  I simply figured that my symptoms were merely a smaller version of theirs. And, when the littles are sick, I sublimate. You know… Mama Wolf rises up. The cubs are sick. It doesn’t matter if I’m bleeding from the eyes, I’ll take them and run them up a mountain if necessary.

So it was this week that I discovered that, no, it wasn’t a tiny bug that was causing me to feel nauseaus and jittery. I’d hit what can or can’t happen during withdrawal: A plateau.  My body said, “NO.” Every system in the body said no, can’t do it, can’t cut back again. For anyone else going through this, the signs are as follows:

1. Nausea and a lack of interest in eating coupled with belly sounds resembling that of a large aquarium.

2. A feeling of oppression, as if the sky were tightening its belt around you, growing dark.

3. Apathy

4. A walk into the Existential Cafe where you sit down and stay. You order a coffee. No cream. You stare at the scratches in the table.  You lay down on the floor. You curl into a ball and begin sobbing.

Number four was the kicker for me. The first thing I did (after sobbing briefly in the bathroom and crushing a wash rag into my face), was to call my brother. He’s a biotech guy, staring at petri dishes all day and working hard to develop new drugs for Pancreatic Cancer. He’s fighting the good, pharmaceutical fight. I asked him how one finds out more about what Benzos do in the brain and body. Hmmm, he said. Dunno. He sent me to PubMed.org, a site that operates as a database of medical research papers for the public. Great. Knowledge is power. I was on the hunt. My search on Benzodiazepine withdrawal turned up the following research papers:

Effect of GB-115 dipeptide on anxiety in rats with model benzodiazepine withdrawal.

Yeah. Um. No. Don’t think I’ll start there.

Recent developments in potential anxiolytic agents targeting GABA(A)/BzR complex or the translocator protein.. yada, yada, yada.

Uh… Nope. Not there either. In all, there were 20 articles, each requiring a scientific lexicon to decode. I needed Cliff Notes. I needed the science of the poetic. Sing me the song of the body in a way that my frazzled neurons can understand. I returned to Professor Heather Ashton’s website that details 30 years of research on benzo withdrawal. The woman knows her neurotransmitters. And for the record, I’m detailing all of this because these medications are distributed like candy, like cookies at a PTA meeting. And let me say, they are amazing hammers. When you need a hammer, they are your magic pharmaceutical tool. But the dark side of the pharmaceutical/medical industry is in the laxity of regulation. These little white pills are so addictive, so fast to seduce the body, it’s rare for people to take them for the few weeks for which they’re prescribed. They’re the modern opiate flower and once you’re in, you’re in. And if years pass and then more years, these little hammers will slowly disregulate your body until it cranks to a halt.

Here’s a metaphor to explain their operation in the body. You have receptors in the brain called GABA receptors. GABA receptors are the sweet grandmother neurotransmitters. GABA Grandmas say, Hush to the other neurotransmitters. Hush.  Be quiet babies, turn everything down a bit. GABA Grandmas are great and necessary to regulate all systems of the body. When the body needs to quiet down, GABA Grandmas are there to help them. Benzos turn the GABA Grandmas into screaming, hallucinating crack heads. Shut the f**k up everyone. And I mean NOW! 

This is a problem. Long term, it’s a problem. Everything gets dialed down: muscular tension, neural activity, digestive activity, cardiac rhythm, organ systems, you name it. Everything goes Shhhhh. Which, after years of use, can cause some serious problems. Not to mention setting up camp in the Existential Cafe which is just a bummer in general and the coffee sucks.

So, there you have it. The quickie medical description of what happens with long term (described as 6 months or longer) benzodiazepine use. This is my word of caution because it’s so, so hard to get off. So hard. If you need a hammer, know that you are using a hammer. Use it briefly. That’s my Mama Wolf talking.

So, I’ve plateaued. I had to go back up a bit and stand in the place that I was. Which is a bummer. But I’ll get there. Persephone does return from the underworld and she’s not carrying pills in her back pocket. Neither will I.