I want to share some tips for withdrawal, what helps me. But first I need to say–some withdrawals are dangerous.
Sadly, people can die from withdrawal, and also people can miscarry. So tapering is a good thing–alcohol and opioids especially. Please consider talking to someone with alcohol or opioids experience, if you need to quit those.
Please don’t think it’s as simple as just quitting. If you haven’t experienced withdrawal and feel judgmental, please realize you don’t know what you’re talking about. You might think it’s just a matter of will and making a better choice. Choices can be part of the way addiction starts and things we do during it, but once the reward pathways are involved, it’s a biological process way bigger than making a better choice.
Please understand that you don’t understand, and have compassion for suffering people who didn’t choose the trauma we’re running from. Usually people aren’t getting addicted because we’re happy, well, and getting our needs met, now or back through time to when we were little kids. Very bad things were done to us, and we’re suffering for choices that other people made that harmed us. The emotional cleanup work takes so many years!
If you need to, please have compassion from far, far away. But don’t think you’re better than addicts. If things had been slightly different, that might have been you. Or maybe you’ve been addicted to things and pretending you weren’t, or it wasn’t drugs, so you think it doesn’t count.
My friend told me Gabor Mate says 99% of people have been addicted to something, and the other one percent are lying. Addiction is part of the human experience.
things you might need to withdrawal from
- smoking cigarettes
- street drugs
- addictive relationship process
- domestic violence cycle
- psych meds
- anything you’re doing that affects reward pathways, hurting you more than it’s helping, and you know rationally that you need to stop, but it seems impossible
Personally I’ve needed to quit smoking, psych meds, addictive relationship process, and domestic violence cycle.
Harm reduction is an option, which is a middle ground. The two extremes of destructive, obsessive using on one hand, or completely non-using on the other hand, can be easier than a middle place, as it’s black and white. Extremes are definable and comprehensible. Quitting entirely is standard advice. Many agencies and people believe abstinence is the only good way to handle addiction, especially drug addiction.
But other choices are possible. Harm reduction is about being honest that some people will continue to use, and helping us do so in the safest way possible.
I love harm reduction because it’s about facing reality and admitting nuance. People are messy. Not everyone will do all or nothing. Facing reality is my favorite.
I’m saying all this about harm reduction because it’s not like I think quitting is the only way. The world is full of shades of gray. But sometimes I do need to quit.
Recently, I needed to leave part of my life behind related to addictive relationship process and something like a domestic violence cycle. I knew it was going to be extremely difficult to put myself through withdrawal. I needed to endure short-term suffering for a greater good. Two weeks is what I knew I would need, for the difficult first part.
So I went to my zine functionally ill 30, which includes most of my wellness document. Thanks, Laura-Marie of the past! And I saw the lists of what helps me feel well. There’s a part where I list general wellness practices, and then a part when I break it down by feeling state.
Withdrawal / detox is closer to overly sad than too up or paranoid. So I paid special attention to the list if what helps when I’m depressed.
I read ideas in the zine, then made a list in my notebook of which of these practices seemed most important, as the person I am now, in the current situation. Felt good to choose some favorite practices to focus on, not overwhelmed by a big list.
Also it felt good to make a plan. That was a way of showing myself I can take care of myself, and change is possible. Here are the tips for withdrawal.
make a plan
Consider what support you’ll need, so behaviors you do for yourself independently, or behaviors in your family or community. You can think about what you needed before, when you were in withdrawal, or what helps when you’re sick or very sad.
Making a plan, even just writing down five things you’re going to do more of or do less of, could help you feel more safe.
If you lack community, you could try a few months seeking community, before you begin your withdrawal. Some places to try would be mutual aid or volunteer work like Food Not Bombs, a community garden, a temple or synagogue or other place of worship, if you have religious tendencies, or a Unitarian Universalist church. You might try a support group or 12 step if you like that, or an infoshop or other community space where people gather and are there for one another.
Craft classes, art meetups, some series at a museum, activism like working for peace with a group in your area. Radical mental health is always an option! If you like pets, then something with a local animal shelter. Or wildlife work, or creek cleanups.
Everyone needs community, whether you’re doing withdrawal or not. Capitalism wants to keep us isolated and making money, as we believe in scarcity and the false ideas that hoarding wealth will keep us safe. But we can choose a better way of sharing and letting people in.
reduce your stress
I quit smoking during spring break, one year of grad school. There’s no way I could have done that while teaching and studenting. So withdrawal during a vacation from work, if you’re employed, is a smart idea. I like to turn my expectations of myself very low, down to a 1 out of 10.
Every day I need to take a shower, brush my teeth, eat three meals, and sleep. I can turn my expectations down that low. It’s better to exercise and get sun every day also, but some very difficult days, if I miss that, so be it.
Just keep breathing. Feel your heart beat, and make it through to the next moment. Puking is ok. However you feel is ok. Just see yourself through these next few moments, hours, days.
No way I’m going to meetings, a difficult appointment, attending a party, or anything social where others need something from me and I give it to them.
“I need to care for myself right now,” is a good sentence for withdrawal. “I have nothing to give right now,” is another sentence I use when I’m in withdrawal.
ask for help from family and friends
If I need to detox from something, Ming knows about the situation intimately already, and he will agree to help me. So he’ll cook for me, understand I have very low resources, and adjust his plans also to have more time for me. We can be extra clear with one another about what we’re needing, and I’ll feel empowered to ask for special things.
For example, if Ming is planning to go out and paint ofrendas, I’ll feel extra empowered to ask him, “Will you call me after one hour to see how I’m doing?” Or I’ll ask him to start some rice cooking before he goes.
Definitely he needs to keep getting out, doing things other than caring for me. But I need to be extra upfront with him about my needs, and trust him to let me know if he needs something different.
“Please let me know if you need something different,” is a common sentence we speak in our family.
I might send a mass email asking for help, or ask a certain friend for help with something they have expertise with. Recently I asked a friend to check in me every week for a set period of time, through my birthday. Looking forward to his weekly signal message was a joy.
That whole experience helped me feel like many people care about me and are willing to be there for me. I’m not alone or dangerously single-sourcing on Ming.
schedule something therapeutic
I like to do peer counseling sometimes, which can help: someone to talk to for an hour, and they listen supportively, but it’s not part of a give and take social relationship that needs to be balanced. Some people if they have the resources could get massage, do qigong, or just a trip to nature.
Mother Earth can take anything I give. I can sing, pray, and talk to her for hours; I can’t overwhelm her. She’s solid and totally ok with me. I can’t shock her, hurt her feelings, or annoy her.
The sky is like that also. Clouds are ok with me staring at them, and the sky is always there for me. No one can take that away from me. Even if I was imprisoned with no sky view, the sky would still be there for me always, night and day, loving me as I am.
A creek can be healing to be near. Yes, to walk by a creek or sit. I like to take off my shoes and stand on a big huge rock. The wind in trees is a sound that I can’t get enough of. Snow smells so exciting. Flowers are so cheerful, I feel like they’re healing my spirit.
expect changes in your body
Addiction is bodily, and our bodies respond to withdrawal. If you need more sleep, different foods, more warmth than usual, tons of rest–it’s good to know those needs might come up, and be kind to yourself.
It’s normal to gain weight during withdrawal, like when people quit smoking. It’s not shameful and doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. The reward pathways in your body need other ways to make the reward chemicals, and food is a standard, normal method to get those chemical needs met.
Gentleness and kindness to your own body can help. I like to talk to my body, say thank you for the things it’s doing all the time to keep me going, ask it how it feels, ask it what it needs. I like to tell my body, “I love you,” and “I’ll always be here for you.” Yes, I sound like a hippie right now, huh. Well, that’s ok. It works.
Asking for extra touch is nice, if you have someone to ask. I also like self-touch, extra stimming, soft blankets, softest clothes, extra time in bed, and other physically helpful comforts.
Probably that sounds bizarre, to enjoy the intense suffering of withdrawal. But the way I look at it, withdrawal is an extreme state for free. Some people pay money for these things! I mean like silent retreats and spirit quests. The anguish in my body, the need to howl at times, the abject stark suffering is different from the norm.
It’s like taking a vacation to hell. I would not go to hell for fun, but if I’m going, I’d like to enjoy it somehow and send a few postcards.
Like a mystic might fast for some time and have a helpful hallucination, or a yogi might lie on a bed of nails? Something about the torture of it. You could ask God for a message. You could see what you learn, face to face with death.
Withdrawal has something in common with death. There’s transformation, suffering, and needed change. Almost dying is special. When I almost died two years ago of an ulcer bleed, I went to the brink and was lucky to come back, thanks to Jaguar, having learned some things I would not have learned any other way.
Some people take LSD or another substance like peyote or mushrooms, to go on a difficult trip to learn something. I’ve never taken those substances, but when I can see my own suffering in the context of a journey and a path to learning, that helps.
You could grit your teeth, close your eyes, and try denial, but fighting reality is hard work. So you might consider letting yourself get swept up in the suffering. I like being open to how it’s changing me. Thank you, Mother God, that I’m brilliant and strong enough to see there’s something different I need to do, and doing it.
What tips for withdrawal would you suggest? A few ideas I didn’t talk about…
- Journaling to help you track your feelings and progress.
- Talking about withdrawal, to let people know what’s going on for you, if you feel safe sharing.
- Planning a treat for the two week mark could be helpful or other milestones.
- Making art that encourages me is something I like to do. The art can depict my goal and include sentences I can repeat to myself to help me stay on track.
- Reminding yourself often of what’s motivating you and what you hope to get out of quitting.
- Avoiding places and people who you associate with the harmful behavior you’re leaving behind.
- Finding new things to do, to replace the time and energy spent on the harmful thing.
I make a point to reach out to friends who are low-drama, kind, and supportive, when I’m leaving behind a painful addictive relationship process. You could take up a new activity you always wanted to try, like making pottery or playing guitar, with your newfound energy and time.
Love to your well-being. Your needs are valid, and I hope you get the support you need, to care for yourself in the ways you deserve.