In December 2013, a producer from ABC World News with Diane Sawyer contacted me. “ABC wants to do a piece on the addictiveness of benzodiazepines,” she told me.
I’d been writing on the subject on the national website www.madinamerica.com
I’d talked a lot about benzodiazepines because they sent my life into a tailspin. ABC was interested.
As background, benzodiazepines are sedative hypnotics. They were introduced with great fanfare in the late 1960s by Hoffman LaRoche and since then have become more powerful, faster and stronger.
They’re the original mother’s little helper and are now used for everything from insomnia to muscle spasms to panic disorders.
For me, it was insomnia. My doctor was insistent.
In 2009, a second pregnancy had turned my adrenals upside down so when the sun dipped beneath the horizon, my body surged awake. I got an hour or two of sleep a night for months at a time. Nearly psychotic with sleep deprivation, my doctor had told me to take them. Every night. I was given nearly a year’s worth of prescriptions. Benzodiazepines were, as he said, “golden” and about as addictive as coffee.
Six months in, I found that benzodiazepines were, in fact, far more addictive than coffee. And I was having symptoms that mimicked neurological disorders, MS, Lupus, Crohn’s Disease, among others.
I was hooked and I was falling apart.
A producer at ABC had read my blogs on Mad in America. Another had heard that many benzodiazepines are more addictive than heroin.
“Would I agree to an interview?” the producer asked.
This was ABC.
This was **DIANE SAWYER**.
I’d worked hard to speak on a national level about the dangers of benzodiazepines but this was HUGE. Still, I felt profoundly vulnerable. This wasn’t a pretty story. This was a story that made my chest feel like it was torn open to the world.
Could I be this brave? Could I talk about something so tender in front of what could potentially be millions of people? It was a risk I decided to take. It’s a cliché, but one with truth: If one person can benefit, then it’s worth it. I said “yes.”
On Friday the crew arrived. They’d given me an infrared camera to record my insomnia, which is not very newsworthy. I recorded night diaries on my iPhone which were sleepy and, in my mind, only telling in their gritty, somnambulant tenor. There’s nothing interesting about only sleeping one hour a night. There’s nothing interesting unless you’ve slept this way for months and your doctor prescribes medication that, after a number of months, begins dismantling parts of your brain.
Two cameramen set up lights.
Cecilia Vega, the leggy Los Angeles correspondent, sat in a chair across from me.
“How in the world did you get off?” she’d asked. “Isn’t this stuff as addictive as heroin?”
Ned Berkowitz, the producer from New York, drank bottle after bottle of Diet Coke and chewed his pink nails. We shot footage of me putting glittery high-tops on my daughter’s feet. We shot footage of me typing on my computer and running down the street. This is how the media works.
She’s a mother, a writer, an athlete.
And then, the medicine cabinet: her doctor has given her prescription pills that can kill.
They cut over four hours of interview into two minutes. Two minutes to describe an ugly underbelly of the medical system. I wore blue, like the sky. My hope was that the two minutes would be that big. Big as the sky and with wings.
The segment was set to air on January 16, 2013.
The Olympics were in full swing. Putin was making comments that had everyone in an uproar. The segment didn’t air. Ned Berkowitz, producer and nail biter said to wait. Things get bumped all the time. I sat for a week after that, watching Diane Sawyer. I saw a piece about Katy Perry. I saw a piece about hamburgers. No blue sky. No wings.
Philip Seymour Hoffman died of an overdose on February 2, 2013. Benzodiazepines were among the drugs found in his apartment. My piece did not air. Instead, Diane Sawyer interviewed Cecilia Vega, the correspondent who’d interviewed me. Cecilia’s father had died of a heroin overdose when she was a little girl.
Now I understood why she’d asked me over and over again how I’d had the strength to get off. She’d shaken her head and said to me that people don’t just get off.
It’s too difficult. They cycle in and out but they never get off.
They become lifers.
Please check out the Kickstarter campaign that I’ve put together to support Dear Little Fish, the book that talks about all this and more. It’s set to run starting October 28th, 2014. It’s close to my heart and if you’re moved, please help give it legs.