According to Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits for Highly Effective People, the 5th step to success is “seek first to understand, then to be understood”. Now, Covey is a really smart guy. He’s also obviously very successful. But in my experience in helping people who are dealing with the extreme circumstances that surround pharmaceutical induced injury and withdrawal, it’s seeking to be understood that often gets in the way of successful recovery. If you’re on the fast track toward setting goals and achieving the life you want, then by all means, follow Covey’s advice! But if you find yourself splattered all over the pavement from a fall off the medical bandwagon, then perhaps it’s time to take a different approach. Might I recommend reserving your energy for the long road to recovery that lies ahead, and allowing others to make their own journey, however they see fit, along the way?
When you’re broken, it’s too hard to carry both yourself and others. And by carrying I mean with your words, whether in explaining, pleading or arguing. One crucial part of us that is severely shattered is our energy. As researcher and professor emeritus Robert Raffa explains in our interview , benzodiazepine syndrome affects the production of ATP. Similarly, other researchers have discovered the same to be true for fluoroquinolone injuries, and I’m sure the same could be said for psychiatric medications in general. For anyone who forgot their high school biology, ATP is how your body creates ENERGY- ENERGY for every single metabolic process from breathing, to digestion, to walking up a flight of stairs. When you have a benzodiazepine induced injury, you lack the energy to do all the things you normally would. For some, (like me when I was in withdrawal and recovery) even speaking requires too much energy. It took me every last ounce of ATP I had to simply survive day by day as my body struggled to piece the bits of myself back together that had been blown apart by the pervasive injury to my brain and body.
More than this, due to my iatrogenic brain injury, I had great difficulty following a coherent thought through to its conclusion, much less stringing that thought together into a coherent sentence. So imagine me trying, not only to understand what was going on with my brain and body, but then trying to explain that to others…it was pretty pathetic! Now that I’m older and wiser, I advise others travelling down this road to save their energy for the journey. The destination is often farther than we think. Little detours off to the side to explain why we are where we are, why we aren’t where they are, and why we haven’t reached the finished line yet is exhausting, to say the least. And more often than not, it’s a waste of time.
Now that’s not to say we shouldn’t ever discuss our condition with anyone. Obviously, we need help from our doctors. We need people to accommodate us. We need financial, emotional and spiritual support. I know why people run themselves ragged explaining over and over again to others why they’re so sick and why they need help. Add to that the double whammy of stigma when it comes to withdrawing from a controlled substance that’s also a psych med, and you may find understanding in very short supply. But in my experience, either people get it or they don’t. No amount of explaining is going to change that. In fact, I’ve discovered that people who take notice of those traversing the rocky road to recovery do so for only one of 3 reasons.
- They want to travel with you for a little while
- You’re in their way
- They want to make you go faster
In my memoir I share an experience where I reached out for help in caring for my daughter for a few hours each day while my son was at school:
I spent the better part of an hour struggling to combine the
phone numbers of moms that I knew with young children in our
neighborhood into a group text. I then labored meticulously to craft
a brief message. I sent out the text and decided to take a walk around
the block to work off the shakiness that followed my exertions. As I
walked, I received a reply to my text:
“I can do Wednesdays, no need to pay. My daughters will enjoy
having her over to visit.”
A second later, I got another response:
“We can do Tuesdays and Thursdays. We love Lucy and could use
the extra income.”
A few minutes later:
“Mondays work for us, bring her over no charge.”
Finally, by the time I got home, I had my last reply:
“I’ll take Fridays, no need to pay, we love Lucy.”
I couldn’t believe it! Within an hour, I had a friend for Lucy to play
with every school day of the week in a home with people I knew and
trusted. The gratitude I felt was almost as painful as the despair I had
felt only a short time earlier at the thought of not being able to care for
my daughter. I was overwhelmed. I felt that, maybe, for the first time,
God really was watching over my family and me during this ordeal. To
this day, I can’t express how grateful I am to these women for what
they did for my family and me. I didn’t have a sufficient explanation at
the time as to why I was so incapacitated, and they didn’t ask for any
justifications from me. They just helped. They may not have known
exactly what I was going through, and because of that I don’t think
they’ll ever know how much what they did meant for me, but these
women do know what it is to be a mom. They know what it means to
serve day and night without any expectation of reward. They know
what it is to sacrifice and give and give to those who rarely give back.
In other words, they know how to love.
Seeds of Hope: A Journey Through Medication and Madness Toward Meaning © 2020
This is an example of what it looks like to encounter those who are wiling to slow down for a bit and walk alongside you on your arduous journey toward healing. They may not exactly understand why you need their help, but they’ll help you just the same. If you find yourself (as I often did) over explaining things to these people, know that it’s not them you’re trying to convince. It’s yourself.
I also had plenty of experiences (many with doctors) where someone was obligated to be a part of my life, but my situation was so unfathomable or created such a state of cognitive dissonance, that all they really wanted was to get as far away from me as possible. Have you ever tried to pin down a squirmy toddler who wants nothing more than to escape your grasp? That’s how much energy it takes to try to explain yourself to these people. And as any parent knows, the toddler usually wins. If for whatever reason you have to communicate with someone like that, keep it to the bare minimum. You don’t owe anyone anything. Sometimes I would tell these folks that I had a brain injury and needed help with, or am not able to, do such and such. If it was a doctor and they asked me about my symptoms or my taper, I would answer with a vague statement that all was going according to plan and then wait politely but expectantly for them to give me my refill.
The trickiest travelers are those who think they’re trying to help you by making you join the race. But withdrawal and recovery isn’t a sprint or even a marathon. It’s a slow, meticulous trek up steep cliffs and down deep ravines. It takes a level of focus, dedication and wary footwork that those on level roads can hardly begin to imagine. If someone wants to give you advice on how you should be doing things or starts making comparisons, kindly invite them to visit benzobrains.com, benzoreform.org, or any site you choose so they can learn more and perhaps understand why your situation is a bit different than theirs. Then politely request a break so you can rest. After all, severely ill and injured people should convalesce, right? Eventually, as you start to heal, these types will come around. As you get stronger, you will find you have more energy and more perspective to teach them what they didn’t know. Be patient. Broken relationships can heal just like broken bodies do.
I know how hard it is to wait and hope that these things will eventually work themselves out. I know you want to have the old relationships, the old body and the old life you once had. But some of these may have been the very things that contributed to your life as it is now. If you can believe that healing is possible, then believe that change is how we get there. And for your own sanity, please realize that some people in your life are ready to accept you’ve changed, and others aren’t. If someone isn’t willing to walk beside you and listen, don’t kill yourself doing a little song and dance around them hoping they’ll pay attention. Focus on putting one foot in front of the other. Wish them well. Then send them on their way. Who knows? Maybe one day they’ll find themselves unexpectedly traversing the same road you’re on, and you might be the very person they run to for support. Wouldn’t that be a lovely opportunity to pay forward the kindness others have shown you during your epic trek? Until then, that’s all the advice this old traveler has for you today.
May the road rise to meet you
May the wind be at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your face
May the rain fall softly on your fields
And until we meet again
May you keep safe