For the past month I’ve been circumscribed by a feeling that can only be described as follows: a handful of Dorothy Parker with a Muhammad Ali right hook and a shitful of raunchy Louis C.K.. That’s me. Oh, and add a little William Burroughs. Can’t forget him. He’s the part of me that reels and crouches into a shadow on certain days.
So, as you can imagine, there’s been a bit of sarcasm, some fights and of course, the hilarious, the black, the raunchy.
It’s been like this since I hit the wall. I’ve been detoxing off of benzodiazepines, one of Big Pharma’s golden eggs, for a year this September. An entire year of slowly tapering off pills that the U.S., Canada, Australia, European Union and the United Kingdom medical regulatory agencies have had a long and conflicted relationship with, one which allows for the dispensation of such drugs, but only with the explicit warning that they be used intermittently at best and continuously for no more than two weeks, tops.
These agencies have warned doctors that, due to the danger of dependence, benzodiazepines should never, ever, ever be proscribed for periods in excess of four weeks. In issue No 41, p. 166, of its advisory publication, The British National Formulary (akin to the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S.) states:
Benzodiazepines are indicated for the short-term relief (two to four weeks only) of anxiety that is severe, disabling or subjecting the individual to unacceptable distress, occurring alone or in association with insomnia or short-term psychosomatic, organic or psychotic illness.
Xanax has the potential to cause severe emotional and physical dependence in some patients and these patients may find it exceedingly difficult to terminate treatment….The following adverse events have been reported in association with the use of xanax: seizures, hallucinations, depersonalization, taste alterations, diplopia, elevated bilirubin, elevated hepatic enzymes, and jaundice.
So, a year ago, after noticing that I had dropped fifteen pounds, was more acutely anxious than I’d ever been in my life and had persistent sensations of vertigo, nausea, and lack of coordination that had me running into walls, I decided that it was time. I began working with Dr. Kate, a fantastic doctor of internal medicine who told me that the only thing she knew about benzo detox was that you had to go excruciatingly slow. Unlike other addictive drugs – alcohol, heroin, methamphetamine, oxycontin and etc. – benzos can be lethal if you go too fast. You risk brain damage at best, fatal seizure at worst. So, I went slow. I cut a .5mg pill into eight tiny pieces. I made the smallest cut possible and within two days I was so shaky I could barely stand.
INTERJECTION: I’ve had this post in my drafts for several days because I didn’t have the strength to continue writing. My intention is and has always been to get the information out there that these drugs are known to cause severe and debilitating addiction and potential brain injury with long-term use. Despite this, we live in a cultural fabric that weaves Big Pharma lies with the desire for a quick fix and what we get is pervasive dispensation and use. It’s a complex story, one that’s hard to get a grasp on.
Right now, it’s midnight. I’ve plateaued for the last month on 20 mg of Diazepam (Valium), because it became clear that my brain wasn’t getting up to speed. Benzos are the only drug – the ONLY drug – that cause a pruning of the brain’s ability to bring in GABA receptors. The GABA receptors are special neurotransmitters that act like the
brain operator – they tell who to do what and to what degree. With benzos, there’s what’s called a downregulation of GABA receptors. They have been shut down for so long, their little neurotransmitter mouths stuffed with rags, that they remain silent. And when you pull out the benzos, the GABA receptors that are still online begin screaming. This is what causes the constellation of symptoms. And the uncertainty of how long it will take to mitigate them.
Case in point: I just woke in a hallucinatory fugue state. Midnight. I was sweating. I had no idea where I where or who I was. Piercing nausea rips through me. I finally realize it’s night. I’m awake. I’m a human in a body that is racked with pain, the nausea more like an abdominal seizure. My identity seeps back in, as if from another realm. Human. Night. Me.
And it’s been like this. Night hallucinations, persistent nausea because there are tons of GABA receptors in the gut (or should be), the feeling of broken glass under the skin. The other day I saw a television with Mel Gibson sporting an epic hairdo and looking bloody and tortured on a horse – some kind of Mid Century narrative – and I simply couldn’t look at him. I couldn’t look at the television. I couldn’t look at him and the blood and his eyes. I can’t watch Fox News. I wake with a funky metal taste in my mouth and if a light shines too bright or someone issues an unfair cruelty (to me or anyone I know), I feel it physically. A punch to the gut and utter despair.
So, I’m hanging in there, but this road is getting rough. I hear that it goes like this. I can appear normal and this is almost harder. If I had cancer or a brain injury that required blood-soaked bandages or a shaving of my skull, there’d likely be more understanding. But this is chemical brain damage. And I’m okay until I’m not. I ride the bull until I can’t hold any longer and I’ve been falling off more often lately than not. And I keep trying to appear normal: for my husband, for my children. I still make pancakes even if I can’t eat them. I rock my daughter even when I know that I’ll get up and weave as I make our way to her crib.
Know this: There is enough evidence that benzodiazepines are highly addictive and cause enough harm to warrant a thorough investigation of their use. This is my aim. An investigation. Awareness. There are too many of you out there that may have no idea why you feel sick. You go to your doctor. They prescribe more meds. You trust them. You take the meds. It’s a desperate, unending cycle that doesn’t bring you back to the point of health. It’s worth asking the question. What’s the real causal agent of distress?
But you have to know, this shit ain’t easy. The underground circles of benzo information (underground, because what money is there to research pulling a money making drug off the market?) call it benzo hell. And trust me, there’s a mythic element to it: Persephone crawling through the underworld, stolen, bereft. I want more people to make it back. I want more people to have the tools to do so.
And personally, I want to make it back. I’m sick being rode hard and put away wet. No fair. I’m calling it like it is. I know there are billions of dollars at stake, but people….really… no fair. What kind of world do we want to live in?