I’ve been trying to get off benzodiazepines now for approximately five months. I was on them for just under 2 years and probably could have ridden the benzo train for many more. I was initially prescribed Ativan due to a persistent and unexplained insomnia that began with the pregnancy of my second child. The small print says that taking Ativan, or any kind of benzo, for more than 10 days isn’t recommended. Benzos are that seductive. They’re that good. But the medical system in the states is big, beautiful and broken. I had doctors willing to keep me knee deep in pills for as long as I desired. And for someone who’s suddenly being hammered with insomnia, benzos are the Holy Grail.
For those of you who have read my earlier Junk Confessionals, you’ll know that my withdrawal attempts haven’t been pretty. I’ve had to get a lot of my information from the UK because little research has been done on benzo withdrawal in the states. And why would there be? Benzos are a golden egg for Big Pharma. They sedate like a dream and they hook you within weeks, even days. And the withdrawals? Yeah, they’re big screen junky withdrawals. Hunched in a corner and shivering withdrawals. And there’s no Betty Ford rehab, no month long bit of gritting your teeth and you’re off. With benzos, you’re on your own, out in the cold. And getting off takes not just months. It can take years.
So, a month ago I hit a plateau in my withdrawal plan. This means that I dropped my tiny, tiny little dose and my body went junky. Every system in the body – junky, seizing.
Here’s what it looks like:
7 a.m.: I’m okay. Feed the kids. Crawl on all fours playing Tiger. Patiently explain to Jonquille that poking Cassius in his eye is not okay. Discuss love. Feel love. Feel the buzzing start in the body, like a hive has moved in under the skin. Try to observe. Try to be a little junky Buddha.
10 a.m.: The digestive tract starts cramping. No more eating today. Feels like someone has sucker punched me and my stomach is in a vice. Great. Try to drink water. Juice. Anything.
2 p.m.: The clumsiness starts. I drop things, run into walls. I’m like a drunk with no depth perception. Can I carry the laundry downstairs or will I fall and suffer the tragic indignity of breaking my neck with my head shoved into a load of dirty baby socks and skivvies?
Mama, Mama, Mama…where you go mama? Where you go? Jonquille follows me around the house. She looks up at me, holds her arms up. Mama, hold you. Hold you. I pick her up. She squeezes my face between her hands. Mama, play Tiger! Cassius laughs hysterically from the other room. He’s filled the tub again and gotten in with his clothes on. Where have I been? I usually shut the bathroom door. Mama, mama. No Cassius! Play Tiger. I burst into tears. There’s a burn in my arms and legs. Mama, play Tiger!
4 p.m.: The heart is running a marathon in my chest. I lean against a wall in the kitchen. I start to hyperventilate. I feel kicked over. Nausea. Vice grip. Blurred vision. I bend. I try and try to ride the wave of sensation, but it breaks me. I bend.
And the drug companies that make Ativan and its generic equivalents? In 2011 they
gave over 7 million dollars to physicians and other health care practitioners in Utah. 7 million dollars. For, you know, speaking engagements. And, uh, research. And, oh heck, just for being them.
Makes me angry. More than angry. Because benzos have been called America’s Most Dangerous Pill by Christopher Byron, a prize-winning investigative journalist and New York Times best-selling author. Benzos are killing people. And I’m going to keep yelling this on my street corner, because America’s war on drugs is a farce. We’re killing people in doctors’ offices slowly, invisibly, and with a smile that says Hush. Hush, baby. Go to sleep. Everything will be better after you take your little white pill.
And for now, I’m in the rabbit hole. I’ve got my little white pills in my hand because if I don’t take them I’ll have a seizure.
Just a little bit longer.