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I’ve been making jokes lately about my experience with detoxing off benzodiazepines. Friends who haven’t seen me for a while startle at how much weight I’ve lost. My body mass index, recently checked by a worried clinician, is eight percent below normal. This was not always the case.

“Benzo diet,” I joke. “You lose weight and get screwed every day.” The humor is crude. With something so potentially deadly, so unknown by the general populace, there’s little to do but make slightly inappropriate jokes. My filters have been removed. It’s part of the process. All human emotion gets anesthetized by these drugs. When you begin the process of removing their claws from your brain, emotion can be pyrotechnic, hyper-inflamed, dirty.

I explained this to a friend the other day by describing a series of fantasies. First, the withdrawal symptoms begin. There’s a burn under the skin, as if multiple layers of bees are trapped in the dermis and are furiously trying to get out. This is the first sign that I’m in trouble. When the bees gain in intensity, the benzo dogs in my brain come out. And the dogs I’m metaphorically speaking of, are like the dogs that were trained by Michael Vick, quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles.  He played for the Atlanta Falcons for six seasons before serving time in prison for his involvement in an illegal dog fighting ring. The dogs he raised were benzo dogs: abused, taught to rip one another to shreds, devoid of anything but fury. When the benzo dogs come out in me, the only thing I can do is walk. Hard and fast. Best not to talk, best not to interact. The dogs are out and they want to rip anyone and anything to shreds.

The first fantasy came while I was walking the dogs up to Neff’s Canyon. I kept my glasses on, head down. I walked as fast as I could, despite the muscle cramps beginning in my legs. At the trailhead was a police vehicle stationed, waiting to give citations to people who didn’t have their kind and joyous dogs on leash. The vehicle was running – just sitting there, waiting to protect the citizenry by carving its carbon footprint by the minute and let people know the dangers of letting the dogs out. There’s irony here. The dogs in the canyon were joyous, ecstatic, jumping and running and not causing harm. The dogs in me approached the vehicle. I got inches away from pounding furiously on the window of the vehicle to unleash a rant about the idiocy of wasting taxpayer money while running a vehicle for what… hours?… at the trailhead to a beautiful canyon. Inches. I was inches.

I pulled the dogs away.

The second fantasy bears some resemblance to the first. It was a hot day. My normal filters are off because my brain has been screwed by some of the most dangerous drugs promoted and distributed by the medical community. I imagine taking my shirt off. I imagine the police vehicle humming at the trailhead. I imagine an altercation, with me being arrested for indecent exposure (wearing a tattered, but sufficiently modest bra), and hoisted into a police car. I imagine being booked and thrown into a cell and beginning a rant that howls through the police station and out into the streets. I imagine my voice being heard and all the benzo dogs out there howling until there is nothing for them to do but release me.

This is how I contain myself. I walk and the benzo dogs roar in safe fantasy. I walk harder and endorphins begin to make that sweet float between the neurotransmitters and the dogs calm, they stop snapping, they feel the light hurt the remains which will fade and be slept off later.

I’m lucky. I know what to expect now. I know that benzodiazepines lose their effectiveness within two weeks. I know that despite the warnings not to use them for more than 7-10 days because of their severe addictive qualities,  they’re prescribed for months, years, decades. I know that benzodiazepines begin a numbing process that shuts down the brain’s ability to regulate 75 percent of the body processes. I know that people often begin to suffer muscle and joint aches, digestive issues, fatigue, cognitive fog. They become limp flowers of who they once were. They go to the same doctors who offer more pills, diagnoses of fibromyalgia, neurological disorders, chronic fatigue, lupis, autoimmune disorders. The list goes on.

I didn’t want this. I don’t want this. So I walk the benzo dogs. I try to contain them. They shimmer and fade, they roar and then collapse with the heat of their wounds. I know them now. I walk them daily. It will go like this. Shimmer and fade, roar and collapse as the brain begins to oust the chemicals that have shut down their joyous romp, their health, their very life force.

So, I joke. And I walk. I’m a model patient. I research and find little and know that the lack of research is likely because the pharmaceutical industry does not want their cash cows disappearing. And the medical system at large is somehow blinded to the true debilitation of their long-term use. I aim to change that perspective. The information is there. It’s in my body and in the body of millions. And so few know. They go to naturopaths, osteopaths, NP’s, PA’s, chiropractors, massage therapists, family practitioners, and the information is often skewed, relegated to their realm of research and lacking in any understanding of the drug that is America’s golden egg.

I will do everything I can to change this.

Until then, I joke. I try not to lose any more weight. I walk the dogs. I feel the brain winking awake slowly, slowly, slowly. This process will take months, over ten times longer than even the most illegal and addictive drugs. That fact alone should cast a shadow large enough to look at: A drug that shimmers and then fades the body to black. The proposed golden egg, in the way it’s distributed, is not benign. It has gone rancid. Know this.