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For those tortured by PAWS (Post Acute Withdrawal Symptoms) and who fear they might go mad


For those tortured by PAWS (Post Acute Withdrawal Symptoms) and who fear they might go mad

Old 05-11-2016, 08:29 PM
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Location: Kyoto
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For those tortured by PAWS (Post Acute Withdrawal Symptoms) and who fear they might go mad

Recently, I've felt compelled to leave something for the people on this website who are just beginning their journey into sobriety. It's something that I found was lacking in most of the alcohol recovery websites, and that is a very frank discussion about PAWS for the people who are being absolutely tortured by it. It's without any offense or hard feelings that I write this, but I found that very few people had symptoms that matched my own, in either scope or degree. This website was woefully inadequate for me in this regard.

This website has provided people the advice, companionship, and sounding board they need when they are debating taking that drink, but that wasn't me. I didn't want a drink and I had zero issue not picking up a bottle. But I had trouble finding other people who were going through hell in recovery with a litany of symptoms that almost send you careening over the precipice of insanity. For anybody dealing with that, this is for you.

I drank for 20 years. From the age of 16 heavily every day until 24, then 4-5 times a week for ten years, then a gradual taper to 3-4 times a week for the last few years. I would average 10 drinks, sometimes more, but never less. In my teens and early 20s, I did plenty of drugs, and I occasionally used benzodiazepines for hangovers in my thirties, but never recreationally and never more than once or twice a week.

I quit on a dime on September 4th, 2014. My insides were pirouetting and my anxiety was off the charts. I didn't seize, but was close, and had to leave work on a few occasions. Over the next year, the following symptoms were usually present, or alternately intruding in and out of my life:

-food intolerance (onions, hot sauces, green peppers, cinnamon, and many kinds of greenery)

-crippling nausea (I had to lay down after every meal, would dry heave once or twice a week in the mornings)

-Fevers that would sprout up without sickness, and then disappear

-Urinary frequency that would last a day and leave me 3-4kg lighter

-delusions that somebody was poisoning me, that somebody had slipped Chinese research chemicals into vending machine drinks, that I would be whisked away into the sky by a sudden reversal of gravity

-terrible photophobia that actually hurt (mostly on overcast days with white clouds, not as bad with blue skies)

-crying jags that occurred with no rhyme or reason (eyes leaking saline while looking at coupons with no sadness/grief)

-A feeling of abdominal fullness despite hunger

-oral sensitivity to anything minty or hot


-coordination problems\dizziness

-extremely sensitive olfactory senses

-stroke-like symptoms of being unable to speak

-hundreds of heart palpitations a day

-blood sugar problems where I felt like I would collapse and die

-exercise intolerance (went from biking 20km and lifting 150kg to being unable to do much of either without feeling like dying)

-fear of heights, being unable to look into the distance due to discomfort

-other standard and less mentionable symptoms like depression, emptiness, anger, frustration, insomnia, etc.

I should also make clear that I had always sought medical assistance, and have had very thorough examinations for any possible physical cause of these problems. Every test has, and continues, to come back negative.

I'm now 20 months sober and my body is about 80% of what I estimate its efficiency and fitness to be for a 40-year-old. My resting heart rate is now 56 beats a minute, I've lost 25kg, I can ride 20km in under an hour, I can work a full day on my feet then bike home and take care of my kids. My blood pressure is normal and my liver values and cholesterol are enviable. All in all, I'm the picture of health. But the attacks do come occasionally, rarely as bad and usually forgivingly short. I can sense PAWS on the horizon and I know it hasn't finished with me yet. But I can live through it, and keep putting my feet one after the other deliberately until my body picks up the rhythm. This has carried me through many days.

It has been a hell that I will never forget. And having so few people be able to relate, or doubt that it was indeed PAWS, left me feeling more isolated and frightened. So I leave this trail of breadcrumbs for you so you can see that somebody has already walked the very same path you're on.

Find reasons to continue fighting with the same desperation that you searched for reasons to continue drinking. There is nothing more noble than what you're doing right now.

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Old 05-11-2016, 09:00 PM
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Glad to see this as a topic. I never hear about it in meetings, probably because it's not in the literature. My experience coming off alcohol and benzodiazepines were bad in a way that's hard to explain. I didn't feel the world around me was real, or that anything was supposed to be here. A sort of derealization. My depression worsened and I had to change meds for the first year and a half after being on them for years, they didn't work like they used to. Oh yeah, and now I have migraines. They used to me once every 2 weeks but thankfully have not gotten much less frequent. I've only met one other person who said they began having migraines once getting sober. I'm a little over 4 yrs sober.
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Old 05-11-2016, 09:18 PM
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Hi Ttamelbon

My own experience with Paws was nothing like that, and so really the only advice I can reasonably give anyone who presents here with stuff like that is see your Doctor.

Not because I don't believe people, or because I think you're imagining it but because they sound like pretty debilitating symptoms to try and deal with on your own.

I'm sorry if you felt you were not understood here.

It's pretty easy to set up a forum yourself these days or an FB group for support - have you thought about doing that?

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Old 05-11-2016, 09:25 PM
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Hi Dee,

I tried to construct my post so that it wouldn't be misunderstood, but I fear that I have been anyway.

I was only trying to post something for people like myself who found the site wanting for a niche problem: extreme PAWS. My intent was in no way to air any grievance (there isn't one at all), or to say anything bad about this site.

My logic was that this place has a tremendous amount of traffic, and is established as (I think *the*) most frequented recovery site catering to North America. I just wanted to piggyback on that and leave something for those like myself who haven't the time, means, or desire to compete alongside this site.

I hope that I've been clear that nothing I wrote was intended to indict Sober Recovery in any way, shape, or form.

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Old 05-11-2016, 09:30 PM
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I felt 'woefully inadequate' was a bit unfair, to be honest.

If you don't want to be misunderstood, less emotive phrases might serve you better.

My point was - we can only share our experience.

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Old 05-11-2016, 10:29 PM
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[QUOTE=Dee74;5948805]I felt 'woefully inadequate' was a bit unfair, to be honest.

It's easier to be misunderstood when the quote is truncated. I said it was "woefully inadequate *for me*", which indicates pure subjectivity.

I've not been ambiguous that my PAWS was more severe than most, and others like myself might not find what they're looking for. Not by fault of the website or its users, but by happenstance. I tried to fill that void with a contribution.

Now, instead of seeing past that, you're taking this very personally, and it shows.

Now my post, which I intended to help others is marred by this petty exchange.
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Old 05-11-2016, 10:34 PM
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I had a really rough time with PAWS too. At over 3 years sober, I’m still not entirely symptom-free, although I’m getting closer all the time.

Fairly early on, I recognized that I was way out on the end of the curve as far as severity and duration of symptoms, so there wasn’t much point in expecting a lot of identification or sympathy even from so rich a resource for recovering alcoholics as Sober Recovery. The incidence is just too rare.

I also found that although I couldn't control my symptoms directly, I could control how I reacted to them emotionally. Part of the PAWS symptom suite often seems to include both a tendency to hyper-focus and obsess on symptoms, and a overriding sense of despair that they’ll never go away. Eventually I was able to train myself to detach better from the emotional reactivity and remain mindful that no matter how demoralizing and debilitating the symptoms might seem in the moment, eventually they would ease — as long as I remained sober. The action of detaching had the added benefit of actually helping the symptoms to abate.

Hang in there!
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Old 05-11-2016, 10:37 PM
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Not sure how this got to be about me - but I'll gladly ban myself from the thread

Hope you find like minded souls, if not a solution ttamelbon.

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Old 05-11-2016, 11:10 PM
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PAWS Sucks, no doubt about it, but wow, those are interesting incarnations for sure. I had some unique ones as well. I kinda chime in when I see folks who seem to be experiencing paws but I try not to say "your life's gonna utterly suck for 2 or 3 years". Because just cuz mine did doesn't guarantee theirs will too. It's a sneaky little bugger and probably a top reason people "go back out" but unfortunately that is no solution. They say "time heals all wounds", and with paws, my opinion is there are things that can help but patience is #1.
I'm glad I'm on the other side, sounds like you are about there too. To everyone else, it gets better, but it's slow, so you just gotta keep at it!
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Old 05-11-2016, 11:25 PM
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Wow, I can really relate to a lot of the symptoms you described. I've never explained it to anybody because it's hard to explain. I'm about seven and a half months sober and was starting to question if these things would ever go away. Only time will tell with that, but dealing with these things is still a lot better than the daily hangovers! I appreciate the thread, insight, and encouragement : ) keep on keepin on!!
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Old 05-12-2016, 12:55 AM
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Just over 1 year clean and I still deal w some of the symptoms u listed.

Rx drug free.

It gets better every day.

I still have periodic anxiety now. It goes away very fast with a few breathing exercises usually. Ever heard of the 478 breathing technique? Google it.

I haven't felt like this since I started drinking 46 years ago.

It is a great thing.

But, still get craves. But, they quell quickly.

Proudly sober man here.
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Old 05-12-2016, 06:20 AM
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So glad for this thread. I too cant explain to people that although sober i have bouts of weirdness. Mine are both phisical and mental. Still periods of shakiness which gets worse the more i focus on the shakes...drives me mad. Also depersonalization, almost like im on the outside looking in. Phisically i can go from normal to aching joints e.t.c literally being unable to move. Ive had tests also for arthritis e.t.c, blood tests. They say there is nothing Phisically wrong, my liver is back to normal range, bloods fine, bloody pressure fine. So it must be a mental thing. Then i wake up the next day totally fine.

As already has been said though, better than the hangovers. Still bloody irritating though.
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Old 05-12-2016, 10:28 AM
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Thanks so much for this post. I saw it at the perfect time. I have been abstinent 7 months today. It has been a hellish rollercoaster ride. I was painfully naive about dependence and knew nothing at all about withdrawal, never mind PAWS. It never occurred to me that I was at risk for this. When I went into withdrawal I had no idea what was happening. I thought I was having panic attacks and it took me some time to figure things out. The first 2 to 3 months were terrible. Someone, in a previous thread on the topic described it as living at the bottom of an aquarium and that strikes me as about right. After that things got much better, and I thought I was coming into the open. But over the last few weeks they have gotten bad again. I can relate to many of the things you describe: brain fog, intense bouts of anxiety, dizziness, feelings that I have gone mad, that I have destroyed myself, etc etc etc. The posts on PAWS here have been a lifeline because they have given me as sense that others have gone through this and come out the other side and that I can do the same. I am doing all the right things in terms of exercise, nutrition, rest, etc. I try to stay positive and take it one day at a time. But after 7 months of this you do get awfully sick and tired of being off. Thanks again for the post. It caught me at a low moment and helped to level me out.
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Old 05-12-2016, 11:50 AM
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Agree. SR saved my life.

The PAWS has motivated me to stay sober. Don't want this to ever escalate.

Minus the bewildering long term issues I suffer, which are not bad compared to 11 months ago, I feel pretty amazing and confident.

Plus, my issues are going away as we speak.

Basically, I think I feel normal, I just don't know what normal really is.

I forgot or never really knew.
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Old 05-14-2016, 06:10 PM
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Join Date: Mar 2016
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THANK YOU! I don't feel so alone anymore. I was starting to think I was the only one going through PAWS at this severity. It really freaks you out when you think you are unique in your problems. I had no desire for alcohol after I quit nor did my symptoms quickly lift like every one else seemed to experience.

Being in AA, I don't understand why old-timers shy away from having these conversations with the new comers, it would really help give hope that everything is going to be alright. I even read where Bill recognized the physiological problems that caused people to relapse including depression and anxiety.

Anyway, thanks again! I wish more people would candidly share their experiences to help others.
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Old 05-14-2016, 08:56 PM
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Join Date: Apr 2016
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Mercy! I was in bad shape! My story's kind of long, but it was a nightmare for several months, and I never want to go through it again.
I lost my 24 year old daughter to suicide in 2011. I guess I drank my way through it. In rehab it hit me smack in the face. I would wake up EVERY morning with horrible anxiety. And then the tears would start. I sobbed over everything and it lasted for months. I have NEVER been through a depression like this. I couldn't go anywhere or do any thing.
I'm 16 months sober and doing pretty ok. I will always grieve for my daughter. But I have it under control😊
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Old 05-15-2016, 12:27 AM
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This was my experience with PAWS.

Quick history. I drank for about nine years in total. The last six I drank heavily, every night, about 100 units a week. Never in the morning. 5 pm to passout/blackout/go to sleep, whichever happened that night. Never barfed but my hands started to tremble every day the last few years. High blood pressure from drinking, acid reflux, bad liver numbers on blood work the last year. I was a physically damaged alcoholic. I was "only" 32 years old. My body felt like I was 100 years old.

Okay, back to my experience with PAWS.

I stopped drinking on my own. My symptoms were insomnia, noticeably high blood pressure, high heart rate, nervousness, restlessness, depression, terrible brain fog, feeling hyped up yet incredibly lethargic at the same time. Moments of hope and relief that I was stopping mixed with feelings of despair and anger that I was stopping. I never felt like I needed medical attention. In fact, the way I felt the first few days was exactly how I felt every day from waking to 5 pm so I considered myself a pro at this point. Just my experience.

Okay, so finally to the PAWS. I'll start at day 7 of no alcohol.

I would wake feeling almost hungover. I say "almost" because it certainly wasn't like the acute, eating-glass feeling of an actual hangover. I would wake up relieved that I was actually not hungover. I had no woken up without a hangover in probably 4 years so it was very new and strange to not wake up in physical pain.

I was groggy as heck when I'd wake up. I had a headache on and off during the day. My energy was gone but if I was out in public I could do normal things and felt pretty good. At home though? On the couch for hours on end, drifting in and out of sleep. Very lethargic all the time.

During normal drinking time, 5 pm to midnight, I felt physically agitated, up and pacing around. It was hard to find any peace. I would walk the neighborhood at crazy hours. There were more than a dozen nights where the insomnia was so bad I would watch the sun rise. I was off for the summer so I found my sleep schedule was to go to sleep around 7 am and wake up at about 3 pm. Strange, I know but I was just happy that I was getting eight hours.

My body felt like it had been sleep deprived for 8 years and was catching up, day by day. That's how tired I felt most of the time.

One very memorable PAWS moment was when I returned to work a few weeks later. I found myself anxious and clammy and sweating profusely, just as I had when I was hungover every day at work. It was a very specific kind of sweating, again, the type you have when you are detoxing from drinking the night before.

A few months in the PAWS were getting much better. I was sleeping normally and really enjoying that. I still felt very anxious around 5 pm. It was shocking to see how trained I was that 5 pm was the time to start consuming a "downer"/alcohol.

Mostly my PAWS were this:

Feeling tired yet hyped up at the same time.
Moods up and down. Sometimes elated that I was sober and sometimes very depressed. Like physically depressed/sleeping a lot.
For the first year I would wake up wondering "Why do I feel hungover?" Again though, it was actually nothing like an eating-glass real hangover.

I have been sober almost two years. I am pretty sure all my healing is done.
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Old 05-15-2016, 05:08 AM
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The brain fog and aphasia (not finding words I knew) were worst for me.

Also lots of insomnia, but had that anyway while drinking.
Paranoia / panic got better gradually, and I was also tired all the time.

It was worse after my relapse a few years ago, and I think the progressive aspect is true.
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Old 05-15-2016, 09:03 AM
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I actually thought I was going mad a few times. At one point I thought about drinking just so I could get back to where "things made sense". I wasn't craving alcohol or anything I was just so sick of the feeling of constantly spinning. Of course, they didn't make sense as a drunk I was just used to living in that world. I started to lose touch with reality a few times and felt like I would be carried away. I figured out a way to ground myself and made it but DAMN that was intense.
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Old 05-15-2016, 11:48 AM
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AWESOME thread. I felt like i was going insane as well. tho that started prior to my quiting and carried on for many many many months after and I still have issues at almost 5 years!@!! tho at this point I feel i have a handle on whats truely going on and I'm ok more often then not.

I can see how someone might feel this site could be inadequate. For example I could come in at 1 year sober and complain of this or that and be told try this or trhy that get therapy or this or that and get frustrated with those options as they dont seem to explain what i'm dealing with. LIKEWISE however someone could say hey it sounds like PAWS and I might think BS at 1 year later? you kidding me? it aint PAWS blah blah when ya know in reality it was!@!*(@*(#@ or some form of it.

I complained to a doctor about my issues at like 8 months sober he told me it sounds like I"m still having withdrawels. I thought WTF does he know !!!

here i am at almost 5 years going yeah PAWS is very real and it lasts a VERY long time for some of us in varying degrees.
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