What began as an innocent prescription for xanax became the nemesis of my sanity and my survival. I thought that I was going through an anxious time when I asked the doctor for a tranquilizer. I know now that before I took this drug, I didn’t even know what anxiety was. Nothing in my life had ever prepared me for use and withdrawal from benzodiazepines.
Within two days of taking my first xanax, I was already worried about my stash running out for the weekend. I reasoned that I wasn’t slurring my speech or falling down, so it must therefore be safe to take. Hope abounded, peace of mind was my constant ally, and I got to enjoy a cozy place inside of myself where no one, or nothing could bring me down. I was immune to any force that could shake my self confidence.
This euphoric feeling went on for two weeks until my doctor called me in and asked me if things were “getting better”. For the first time I became aware that this new chemical friend of mine was not going to be with me forever. I felt slightly threatened and I convinced him that yes, things were improving but I still wasn’t quite there yet in terms of handling my stress. He extended my prescription for another week and then said he would check back with me. This scenario repeated itself for at least a month and a half. Finally, I knew it was time to not expect any more and I agreed to stop taking it so that I wouldn’t “become addicted. ”
Everything fell apart. After two days of deprivation I started hearing music and voices as though a radio had been left on in my head. I was carrying on intense, inner conversations with these voices and becoming hurt or angry at the things they said. I defended myself vehemently every time they accused me of things, such as being selfish, duplicitous, conniving or just plain mean. They seemed to know all the dreaded traits which I most feared and loathed in myself. I had to concentrate so that no one saw my lips moving frantically as I fought with these demons while I rode on the bus.
The reactions became more unpredictable. I could not hold a facial expression of my choosing. I was so tight inside, in my muscles, my arteries, my brain, that a contorted grimace soon took over as my default presentation to the world. I couldn’t sit down. I couldn’t hold still. I couldn’t bear the physical sensation of any environment. Everything was either too big or too loud or too cramped or too overwhelmingly busy. I could not land on anything long enough to focus on it and become involved with it.
Tears streamed down my face to the point where I didn’t even try to conceal them. I was at the very core of raw, human misery and that took precedence over any kind of appearance I may have been expected to project. My physical functions felt as though they had been smeared over like a smudge. Nothing was clear. Nothing was manageable. Everything hurt.
Finally one morning I was asked to leave my job after I bolted for the door and went out into the parking lot in an effort to make the voices stop torturing me. When I came back to the office the door was locked. Security had been notified with the warning that a “schizophrenic was wandering around the building” and they should alert everyone because she could be capable of ANYTHING. ” I was so relieved to be released from the strain of keeping up a daily pretense that I did not even feel embarrassed. I just wanted to go home. The trouble is, there was no “home” to go to because I could no longer find the warm mental sanctuary of my former self.
It took about a year, begging for prescriptions off and on for various reasons, for me to finally recover temporarily from my xanax addiction. I felt terror and total inadequacy for months while looking for a job, and even though the voices were not as intense as they were that first time, they never actually went away. I assumed it was a condition I would have to live with for the rest of my life. I tried lorazapam and I tried ativan, cousins of the same class of drug, hoping maybe they would be less debilitating. The symptoms I complained about were the very ones that were produced by drug withdrawal in the first place. I knew that, but still I could not resist asking for more.
Three years later I discovered I could buy xanax online. Voila!! I forgot about the pain they had caused me and all I seemed to remember is that my doctor had cut me off. That was the only problem. Sure, it was addicting, but since I now had an unlimited supply, why should I care?
The first packet I got in the mail contained 100 pills. I eagerly popped a few just before bedtime, tucked myself in and smiled. This new routine was going to be great.
I woke up a week later in the hospital from a coma. I had arrived by ambulance when my co-workers missed me at work. They had found me unconscious, lying on the floor by my bed. Since it was the weekend, I had been that way for two nights and two days. I was dehydrated, my organs had shut down, and I was nearly gone. In my quasi alpha state even weeks later I remembered telling a nurse that I had taken 100 xanax, but I still didn’t know if I had actually said that or if I had dreamed it. For three weeks I could not separate reality from my dreams.
How did I end up with 100 xanax in my bloodstream when I knew for sure I had gone to bed the night before with only 2? To this day I will never know. That is another thing I discovered about benzodiazapines, is that they cause blackouts. For instance, years later I got a prescription for ativan and the last thing I remember is taking two of them after I got off work. I am told that I showed up for work the following two days, got sent home for being “impaired” and somehow managed to come back to work each new day. Was I dressed properly or even dressed at all? I hope so. I will never be able to figure out where I was or what I did in those two days. I only remember coming to my senses on Saturday just long enough to dial 911. I don’t even remember the ambulance coming to get me.
I have more episodes I could tell you about, but I won’t. I think I have presented I have been benzodiazapine free now for years, ever since I was released from the psych ward after my 911 call. I finally have it through my head that this drug is not a good thing for me. One could conclude that I was out to destroy myself by continuing to suffer from it, but I honestly did think that each time would be different. Such is the disease of addiction. I no longer want this drug. My brain has mercifully regenerated itself to the point where I can focus on things again and I can relax, I can be happy. I may create conversations in my head because I am a writer. They come knowingly from my conscious thought, and not from a cosmic radio, not from the vast reservoir of psychic soup. Nothing speaks inside of my brain that is unbidden.
I just want to make sure that everyone out there is aware of the pitfalls of benzodiazapine use, and does not get fooled into thinking they are simply tranquilizers for dealing with mildly stressful situations. Trust me, they are more than that. They are killers.
Olga Moe is a writer who lives on a small island in the Puget Sound. She is known mostly for her short story contributions to literary e-zines. Recently she has begun producing non fiction pieces as well.