Cracked Open


This is the first of a series of excerpts from Cracked Open, a book whose unintentional beginning came after I became addicted to Ativan in 2010. After a year of following my doctor’s orders for daily use to treat insomnia, my body began to fall apart. My story is much like the stories I’ve read on MIA.

I was a new mother. I was not sleeping. My doctor was confident in his prescribing, confident even when doubling and tripling my dose and waving off my complaints of increased insomnia, anxiety, vertigo and malaise that had me convinced I was sliding into the realm of crazy.

Robert Whitaker’s Anatomy of an Epidemic led me to MIA. Both became a headlamp and a community as I made my way out of the hell realm of iatrogenic illness. I found refuge here and in writing about my experience. Only in writing did I feel I could give voice to injustice. Only in writing did I feel hope. 

This book had the original title Dear Little Fish, but I’ve been encouraged to make the title more obvious. “Cracked open” is how I felt. It’s how I still feel and why I keep writing. The book covers a span of about five years. This excerpt starts at detoxing off of my daily 6mg of Ativan. I had two infants, and a husband who was shut inside a box of terror. 

Before I open the book to the world, I want your feedback. You are my community. This story is mine but my hope is that it will illuminate the story that is ours – the one that isn’t being told loudly enough. The one of iatrogenic illness and its prevalence. 

Many thanks to all of you. What luck that I found you.

* * * * *

January, 2012

Her howl rose up through the house and I shot off the bed, arms flailing against the dark. In the hall, I ferreted for the walls. At the railing, I stumbled and slid down the stairs. It was so black in her room. I didn’t remember it being so black.

Wasn’t there a nightlight? I thought. The one with little fishes that glow green and blue against the wall? The one with fingers of color? 

I skipped a step in the dark and lurched forward.

Where is she? The wailing one? 

My fingers connected with the railing of her Espresso colored crib, the one I’d picked off of Amazon when she was nearly a year old. I leaned in, stirring for her body. I knew her little form so well – the soft loaf of belly, the delicate length of her fingers – like a piano player I’d said when she was born, a jazz player, the feel of smoke and shadows. I slid my hands under her back and she relaxed into me, quieting at my touch. And then, out of nowhere, a strike of heat and then a rushing, like being on a subway platform with a train approaching and the walls rumbling with the oncoming air.

My hands slipped from under her back. My legs gave. A drifting plunge to the carpet. On the floor, my mouth crushed into beige and chocolate fibers, the new carpet that had been tacked down just before we moved in. “Lipstick on a pig, Sean had commented, but we hadn’t pulled it up hadn’t changed a thing, had only put the cribs together and I’d pressed stencils on the walls – vinyl monkey on a branch, buzzing dragonflies and cherry blossoms.

Everything in my head was hot and it kept coming. The room had become a shimmering halo of heat and electricity. Something inside flickered on and off. I couldn’t feel my arms or legs. I couldn’t move.

Is this the fatal seizure that they warned against?

But I was so careful. I was a good patient.

Consciousness shut like a door. Silence. Then, a boom. Heat again, so much heat.

Where is Sean? My God, can’t he hear her wailing? 

How many pills did I take? Did I miscount?

I was aware of a tremor and of the feeling that I was alone in this room in the middle of the night with my daughter crying.

Is this what dying feels like? I wondered. Will Sean find me in the morning, cold to the touch, a milky froth slipping out of my mouth? 

The roar rose and faded. Consciousness shut again, a velveteen black. Silence.

I lay there, listening for sound. She’d stopped crying. When did she stop crying? At some point, I realized that I could move my arms, though the feeling was like dragging them through mud. I reached forward and hoisted a leg underneath my body. I listed to the side. After a moment, I pulled myself towards the door.

A night ago, I shaved a tiny granule off of one of my pills. Dr. Jarvik had warned me to slice the smallest amount possible to avoid the most severe withdrawals but even he didn’t know. The following morning I’d fallen several times while trying to accomplish the most basic of domestic duties. Make the kids pancakes. Wipe Cassius’s bum. Sing Pippa Wren’s favorite Little Birds song. And when they’d wanted me to hold them, their tiny arms outstretched, I couldn’t. My breath came in short gasps. I dropped the milk. And the bruises continued to appear – green and brown smears mottling my arms and legs.

At the foot of the stairs, I looked up at nothing, not even a shadow. It was still so dark. I felt for a stair and willed my knee up.  It was as if I was at the base of a mineshaft, looking for some promise of light. I lifted a hand, then a knee. Slight listing now. Up, up.

Crawling through the kitchen, my hands stuck to the tile. Shallow breaths pumped my chest. In the bedroom, I clutched at the duvet and then slumped, head on the carpet. Finally, I pulled a leg under me and lifted my torso, throwing my chest onto the bed.  I breathed in the duvet. Was this the red one? The cotton one with little horizontal ridges?  I could feel it in my mouth, the faint lines of fabric. After a few minutes, I rolled over. I lifted my arm and dropped it onto Sean’s leg.

I can’t believe he’s still asleep. He can’t be asleep.

Wake up. Please, please wake up.

Nothing. I waited, unable to talk. Words were queued in some waiting room, unable to travel the distance from my brain to my throat. Long breaths before I summoned all my energy and jettisoned a word like a pitched ball.

Something … 

Sean’s body shifted slightly. He was in dreamland. It felt that he’d be in dreamland forever. I gathered my words again. The effort was monumental.


My question hung and stilled in the air. It was impossible to harness any more words. I lay on my back, too tired to move or speak. Sometime later, I fell into a shadowed, murky sleep.


Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.


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  1. You are such an amazing writer, Melissa. Going through my own benzo w/d, I can relate to everything you write.

    However, your use of terminology is just confusing, as you say…

    “…a book whose unintentional beginning came after I became addicted to Ativan in 2010. After a year of following my doctor’s orders for daily use to treat insomnia, my body began to fall apart.”

    And then you say… “You are my community. This story is mine but my hope is that it will illuminate the story that is ours – the one that isn’t being told loudly enough. The one of iatrogenic illness and its prevalence. ”

    If you state that you followed your doctors orders and you’re then calling it iatrogenic illness, please stop saying you “became addicted” to Ativan. You developed a physiological dependence. It’s not the same thing. They are very clearly defined in medical literature as being very different.

    If your intention is to tell your story to draw attention to the struggles of a community of people, don’t do them the disservice of being written off as “addicts”. I think one of the MOST important things we can do when we tell our stories is to portray this accurately so that EVERYONE reading knows this can happen to them or their family members, most ESPECIALLY the people taking their “medications” as directed by their doctors.

    When I read another person’s story back in 2010, right when I discovered the drugs were making me sick, I remember thinking to myself, “he’s so sick because he was addicted to the drugs, so he must have abused them, I have not. I took them as I was supposed to, so I can probably stop them and be fine”. You know what came next…I was not fine and was left in a brutal state of cold-turkey withdrawal.

    Good writing and journalism tells the truth and paints an accurate story. I know you point out multiple times that this is a story of iatrogenic illness and that you took the drugs as directed by your doctor, so I don’t see why there’s a problem with taking the final leap and using “dependence” or “physiological dependence” over “addicted” and “addict”? Sure, “addicted” appeals to a larger audience, but it’s not accurate. The UK, I’ve noticed, will use “involuntary addict”. That’s better. But, still incorrect. I just think the accuracy of language here is important, b/c if you’ve ever been called a “drug addict” or been accused by someone of abusing this stuff as a way to write off your story and blame the victim, you’ll know how bad that feels.

    Thank you for sharing this excerpt with us. I am looking forward to your book. All the best to you.

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  2. I agree completely with elocin. Your story hits home. But I’m not an addict. I don’t want anyone thinking of me as an addict. I don’t hunt down, sell my body,lie, cheat, steal money or many of the myriad of avenues addicts use to attain there drug of choice. Nope. I followed Dr’s orders. Picked up my script and took 1mg of Klonopin a day “as needed”.

    You are a wonderful writer, extremely vivid as I can see and feel exactly what you are explaining, especially parts I have not experienced myself. I would love to write my story. And someday I will. But I will never call myself an addict, nor put that label on anyone else I know who has or is going through withdrawal due to an iatrogenic illness.


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  3. Elocin

    We have had this discussion before. Dependency and addiction are interchangeable and do not have separate distinct meanings as you so strongly advocate.

    The implication from your argument is that addiction is somehow bad and/or self imposed and dependency is neutral and without personal responsibility. Drug use or abuse in our society has to be viewed from the broadest perspective as it relates to its ultimate causes and the degrees of suffering that often precipitate the use of these substances. The more oppressive the society is, the more people who will seek out various escapes from it.

    People use various mind altering substances for many reasons. Some are influenced by their culture and social environment to test them out, and some may be encouraged to do so by an authority (possibly promoting bogus science) such as a doctor. More often than not these substances are used as some type of coping mechanism to better tolerate one’s reality. They are often quite effective, and even helpful in the short term, but usually they have increasingly negative consequences in the long run, sometimes leading to dependency/addiction.

    Several years ago someone wrote a book called “Addiction is a Choice.” It was a very good critical analysis of the disease concept of addiction with good advice for breaking addictions. I loved the content but hated the title. NO ONE CHOOSES TO BECOME AN ADDICT. They don’t wake up one day and say “I think I’ll go get addicted to crack cocaine.”

    Addiction/dependency is a process that can sometimes occur rather quickly for certain people, and for others it may be a long process that will slowly creep up on them. Most people do not realize they have an addiction until they actually attempt to cut down or stop the use of the substance, and then they discover just how physically AND psychologically dependent they are on using the substance.

    Elocin, I don’t believe you can say that people trying to stop psychiatric drugs are only physiologically addicted to them. The mind and body are connected and there is a psychological component connected to the use of all mind altering substances, no matter what the reason was for the person to start taking them. A person dependent on Benzos is unfortunately a Benzo addict no matter who is responsible for their original use of the substance. In this oppressive society we live in (that is filled with so much trauma and stress) our understanding and compassion for ALL people suffering from addiction should be coming from a similar place within our humanity.

    Elocin, I understand the reasoning and anger behind your argument given your desire to target the oppressive role of Biological Psychiatry in creating the epidemic of psychiatric drug iatrogenic damage. But I don’t think the content of your argument holds up and I believe your criticism of Melissa is misguided.

    Melissa , great writing and powerful narrative; I await the rest of your story.


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    • You are incorrect.

      “Addiction—or compulsive drug use despite harmful consequences—is characterized by an inability to stop using a drug; failure to meet work, social, or family obligations; and, sometimes (depending on the drug), tolerance and withdrawal. The latter reflect physical dependence in which the body adapts to the drug, requiring more of it to achieve a certain effect (tolerance) and eliciting drug-specific physical or mental symptoms if drug use is abruptly ceased (withdrawal). Physical dependence can happen with the chronic use of many drugs—including many prescription drugs, even if taken as instructed. Thus, physical dependence in and of itself does not constitute addiction, but it often accompanies addiction. This distinction can be dificult to discern, particularly with prescribed pain medications, for which the need for increasing dosages can represent tolerance or a worsening underlying problem, as opposed to the beginning of abuse or addiction.”

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      • I can guarantee you (b/c I was one of them at one point) people taking prescribed psych meds as directed by their doctor aren’t walking around thinking they’re “addicted” or “addicts”. I’ve never met someone taking an SSRI who said “I’m addicted to my Lexapro”. If you want your story to educate that this can happen to people who are just taking the medication like they were told, they aren’t going to relate to the “addict” terminology b/c they’re not abusing it, nor were they ever told it could cause dependence and severe withdrawal syndromes.

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          • yep….my personal experience exactly!

            And knowing that I had unwittingly become an addict by following doctors’ orders and was experiencing drug withdrawal which those same doctors denied, helped me become both more compassionate towards myself (and others) AND more determined to get off the drugs.

            I tend to believe we need not to use language gently here – the drugs are clearly addictive, and people need to be warned of ALL the dangers before they start taking them.

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  4. Mr. Lewis,

    I do not see how the two are interchangeable when they have distinct meanings. An addict seeks their drug. Someone who is dependent does not. I understand and agree that no one wakes up thinking they might be an addict, and that goes for dependency as well. I never expected to become dependent on klonopin. But I don’t seek it. And I dont crave it. If I could stop today and only go through a week or two of withdrawal, I would have done it a year ago. In fact I had stopped taking Klonopin cold turkey and 3 weeks later ended up in the hospital.
    There IS a difference. I don’t know your story, Mr. Lewis, but this is part of mine. And I have never been an addict.

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    • Elocin and MissLindsay

      “I’ve never met someone taking an SSRI who said “I’m addicted to my Lexapro”. (Elocin)

      “An addict seeks their drug. Someone who is dependent does not.”(MissLindsay)

      Take away someone’s SSRI, Benzo, or opiate (prescribed pain drug) and then deny them the ability to access it legally and I bet most people will find another way to procure it, even if it requires illegal purchases in the street. This is especially true if that person is acutely aware that they feel so horrible because they lack that drug in their system.

      I have treated many (street naïve) opiate addicts that were led into addiction, including the illegal use of heroin, by the prolonged use of pain “medications” inappropriately prescribed by a doctor. Many of these same doctors were themselves duped by the pharmaceutical industry and their highly promoted Fifth Vital Sign campaign in the mid to late 1990’s.

      Psychiatric drugs are addictive drugs even though they do not fit all the exact characteristics of other commonly known addictive substances, or have the same addictive process relative to how a person develops a dependency/addiction to them.

      Nicotine is a highly addictive drug. People do not generally fail to meet their work, family, or other social responsibilities from regularly smoking cigarettes. Nor does a cigarette smoker develop a state of tolerance where they must have increasing amounts of nicotine to sustain themselves or function in life appropriately. People generally fall into a pattern of daily smoking a certain number of cigarettes. Is anyone here going to deny that nicotine is an addictive substance?

      I believe it helps our cause to continue to promote a “drug centered analysis” (as opposed to calling them medications) related to use of psychiatric drugs in society. Psychiatric drugs can and do become addictive for some people in certain situations, and the results are often horrible just like addictions to other substances.

      MissLinsay, my particular”story” is not necessarily pertinent to this discussion. I am trying to understand and figure out what is going on in our society just as you are. I am also very angry and aroused to be part of a movement fighting against all this SHIT. If it matters, I am 67 years old and have been a political activist since my early 20’s. I have also been a counselor in the community mental health system for over 22 years with a specialty in treating addictions. My feelings regarding the takeover of Biological Psychiatry register rather high on the “hatred” scale.


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      • Nicotine is an addictive drug. People seek out cigarettes. No one’s doctor tells them “you NEED nicotine because you have a nicotine imbalance in your brain”. People CRAVE nictotine and yes, tolerance develops and they increase the amount they smoke over time. Dependence is present in addiction. Addiction isn’t present in dependence alone.

        People become dependent on beta blockers. Do we try to force them to say they’re “addicted” to their beta blocker? Or a beta blocker addict? NO. But when they try to stop abruplty, they get withdrawal b/c of a physiological dependence to it after long term use.

        People who are burn victims and hooked up on morphine drips for long periods to tolerate the pain aren’t called addicts when their doctors have to wean them slowly off the opiate. Their body has become dependent on it though over time and they can get withdrawal if they stop abruplty, hence the weaning to get them off over time. But they weren’t abusing the drug or ordering opiates online or taking more than they were supposed to. They had no choice but to take the opiates long term for pain control.

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  5. I’m deeply appreciative of this discussion. This is one of the most difficult arenas in writing about dependency. The language. I too was furious at being labeled an addict – something I viewed as having its origin in recreation, escape and abuse. I have, however, come to believe that it’s too easy to make black and white terms – blame versus no blame.

    My intention in the book is to very clearly show, through the laying out of the story, that no abuse occurred. I was following doctor’s orders as were so many. Still, my body was indeed addicted/dependent. I use the terms interchangeably precisely because I want to debunk the idea that addiction only comes with abuse. The anvil of shame is so heavy, I want to lighten it – to create greater understanding that dependency/addiction can come when one is not simply acting as an “addict” – the word that so many of us push away from.

    I want to create an opening of discussion for those who see dependency as only addiction. Cultural blame was my shame and my intention is to unravel it slowly. That’s the purpose of the book.

    Thanks everyone for your comments. It’s a hard line to walk. I’m keeping this particular discussion close, especially as I do my rewrites.

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  6. Melissa,

    I’ve contacted you about this before. These words have very specific meanings. Not only do they have specific definitions that are being used incorrectly here, but they also illicit specific feelings (because all words–even seemingly harmless words from the DSM come with a frame-work and idealogy and sometimes often are linked directly to the idea of medication). Maybe the most important part of a word is the protocol that it enlists.

    When doctors think that people are “addicted” to a benzodiazepine they think about using the protocol of addiction: Which is this person needs to start retraining the part of the brain that has a compulsion to take this medication (a totally valid and painful experience)– This person needs to start ridding this poison from their body. It does not however make doctors think of the medication as temporarily essential to the body… almost as if one was having an organ taken out. (you know all this because you’ve lived it).

    As a person who is apart of our community I find it incredibly triggering that you don’t think better of using specific language that is not only inaccurate, but groups iatrogenic sufferers in with an entirely different illness. Addiction and dependence are absolutely not inter-changeable words. At it’s most basic level I never craved nor abused this drug. (the essential building blocks of addiction are not apart of my story). I am a firm believer you don’t bring down the master’s house with the master’s vocabulary. (unless an entire group of sufferer’s has decided to re-appropriate word like “queer” for lgbt people.) That’s not what’s happening here. Addiction being used here is pejorative (not inherently) but because it’s the word that ignorant doctors have applied falsely to our story, and thusly have cold-turkey withdrawal to many people.

    I adore you as a writer. I sent one of your stories to 1 in several psychiatrists I saw begging for help with disability for PAWS (27 months in hell and counting). I think Matt and you are the keynote speakers for our struggle. This puts a lot of responsibility on you to make the necessary adjustments to the language you use so that other people are accurately represented.

    I hope in time you will come to see why this word is problematic. You are not just speaking for yourself. Our community need leaders. We have enough people following.

    It’s like I said to a guy on youtube: “I was no more “addicted” to a benzo than I would be addicted to a tree-branch falling on me. Accept in this case, a doctor prescribed my the tree-branch.”

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    • I agree with this; on the BenzoBuddies board these two terms (addiction vs dependence) have inspired a few threads that upset me with folks taking positions on both sides.

      I never felt a compulsion to take Klonopin. I took it as ordered. I never in 10 years increased my dosage, even tho I experienced obvious (to me now, but never to the health care provider) tolerance withdrawal. I don’t miss it—but after 15 months of PAWS my brain sure does. Still. I am still majorly impaired. My brain is damaged and I don’t know if I will ever get myself back again.

      Living in a very rural area with little support and meager finances I tried going to NA meetings but it just never felt right. I am NOT an addict. I may have problems with drugs but I was only following (stupidly) doctor’s orders…there’s no craving, there’s no drug-seeking. While I found the folks who attend these meetings to be warm and welcoming, the ‘program’ rubbed me the wrong way.

      I wish there was a way to explain to my family and friends what has happened to me (and so many others) in a way where the immediate image of our characters and sanity wasn’t in question. Going thru this alone is beyond difficult.

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      • You’re talking about physical dependence (some call it physical addiction) which has nothing to do with “craving” the drug on a psychological level but with your body biochemically getting used to the drug (iatrogenic imbalance if you like). But some psych drugs cause both physical dependence and psychological addiction – for me benzos made me “high” (a prime reason why after taking this drug for the first time I thought it’s a really bad idea to be on something which makes you feel that way). It’s not the case for everyone but I’m sure if I was more trusting to the so-called doctors and wanted escape rather than solution to my problems I’d be suffering from both physical and psychological dependence. Luckily for me I knew better.

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        • Btw, I understand why some people don’t like the phrase “physical addiction” because the word addiction has a connotation with something you got yourself into by abusing a substance. Nonetheless it only means that your body chemically needs the substance to function, no more, no less.

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    • Ally

      I am sorry to hear about your struggle with benzodiazepine drugs. You have raised some important points here. I hope you will not be offended that I am supporting the approach of calling psychiatric drugs addictive.

      I don’t believe that Biological Psychiatry will treat you or others who are in the same (benzo)withdrawal predicament with either the appropriate type of treatment, or the level of compassion needed, because you choose to use the word “dependency” instead of addiction to describe your experience.

      Modern psychiatry knows all too well how to get people dependent on psychiatric drugs but knows virtually nothing about how to get people off of them. In fact, it is not in their interests as a professional guild to question the efficacy of these drugs or to learn about appropriate withdrawal protocols and much needed supports for those that want and/or need to get off of them. And we know that Big Pharma has deliberately lied about these drugs for years and spent billions marketing them.

      What is most insidious and dangerous about this category of mind altering substance is the fact that there is growing evidence that the iatrogenic damage and related withdrawal patterns appear to be potentially far more destructive and difficult to endure than the more commonly known addictive substances.

      Over the years of my treating addictions as a counselor I have worked with many people who have struggled mightily during recovery, but nothing at the level that people here at MIA and other survivor websites describe in such eloquent, yet heartbreaking detail.

      Benzodiazepines are wonderful drugs when used in a controlled medical setting. Outside of a hospital setting they may be the most dangerous category of addictive drugs in the world. Psychiatrists and other regular doctors who recklessly prescribe them (with no true informed consent) are no better, and in some ways much worse, than your corner drug dealer.

      Ally, I wish you the best. Respectfully, Richard

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      • I would add the following point: I would NEVER encourage someone addicted to psychiatric drugs to use the word “addict” to describe themselves or others without FIRST saying or prefacing the term with who CAUSED and is RESPONSIBLE for the addiction. It may be best or more accurate to say something to the effect that “Biological Psychiatry through its negligence caused me to become addicted to these drugs (and you name the particular drugs) and expose how they did it.

        I realize I am only speaking as a non-survivor here, though I do work with people trying to withdraw and become less dependent on all categories of drugs.

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      • My story includes “addiction counselors” like you and in the grand scheme, they did me FAR more harm than good trying to convince me I was an “addict”.

        I was RIPPED off of 3 benzos, adderall CT and left in a severe state of psychosis until I ultimately became so suicidal that I had a very serious suicide attempt. I needed to be reinstated on the benzo ASAP to stop this (I also had a seizure) but b/c the rehab center and addiction counselors put in my file that I was an “addict”, I was left in this state by the ER until my father could get me out of there and find a psychiatrist with a brain that was willing to reinstate me so that I didn’t lose my life. Even then I was so terrified of the drugs b/c of what they’d done to me that it took me FOUR long months of extreme suffering and psychosis to agree to go back on them to save my life.

        They also LOAD people up on psych drugs in addiction facilities and try to force people in to NA and AA which do absolutely nothing for something in severe CT withdrawal from psych meds who are in such severe states.

        When i was on them and tolerant to them but didn’t know, I was just told I was “mentally ill” and believed that narrative. But had someone presented me a story about someone calling themselves a benzo addict, I would’ve written it off and said “that doesn’t apply to me b/c I take these medications as directed by my doctor who INSISTS I need to be on them for life”. Psych med users don’t identify with it and that’s b/c they’re not addicts.

        Perhaps people who aren’t victims of this themselves and who haven’t lived it firsthand and experienced the abuse in the rehab facilities and addiction-driven groups or known what it feels like to take a prescribed drug and want NOTHING MORE than to GET OFF OF IT, but can’t without a slow methodical taper, b/c the body revolts every time you try to stop it abruptly, shouldn’t try to chime in and define what kind of language we choose to describe our experience.

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        • Not to mention, Ally and myself are 27 months off of this stuff. We’re not addicted to it, our body hasn’t seen it in over 2 years. At this point, it’s DAMAGE. It’s a physiology that can’t work because the body became dependent on it’s presence to funtion and now it’s no longer there and has to recover from the downregulation. How can you be “addicted” to something you haven’t even ingested in well over 2 years time? Makes no sense.

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        • Elocin

          I am sorry you received such poor treatment at the hands of today’s mental health and addiction services (who have adopted the same destructive paradigm of Biological Psychiatry).

          If you look at some of my blogs here at MIA you will see that I have fought against this type of “treatment ” for over twenty years. I would like to believe that I was offering people something completely different.

          I will listen and learn as others join in this vitally important discussion.

          Elocin, I do respect your opinion and the passion in which you articulate it.


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      • “Benzodiazepines are wonderful drugs when used in a controlled medical setting.”
        What do you mean by that? I was given benzos against my will in a “controlled medical setting.” The morons there (because using the word doctor to describe these people is insulting to any half-decent doctor out there and even a few poor ones) didn’t know anything about how this drugs works, what it can do and simply prescribed it as a chemical restraint. They failed to notice for 5 days straight that I had almost complete anterograde amnesia although I have supposedly received legal council and extensive psychological counselling. I wonder how can you observe someone closely for 5 days and don’t see they turned into patient H.M. ( These drugs also cause aggression, suicidal thinking, heart and blood pressure problems and make people high (just to mention a few of awesome side effects). I don’t know what hospital settings you have in mind but as far as my experience with psychiatry goes I’d not grant these people right to prescribe vitamin C, lest benzos.

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        • B

          When I said “medical setting” I was referring to a regular hospital. I would prefer to leave the word “medical” out of my description of a psychiatric hospital.

          I have zero trust in psychiatry and their so-called hospital forms of “treatment.” So I am in agreement with your assessment.


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  7. Ally, humanbeing et all –

    Such great feedback. This is why I’m posting. I NEED these discussions to make sure I approach and discuss this issue as wisely as possible.

    And it’s always been my interest to investigate and redefine language when I see that it’s proscribed meaning that’s so beget with cultural connotation that people become blind.

    Still, I take your point. It may not be the time or place to try and reconfigure the language that oppresses. Especially since so many of us have experienced overwhelming judgement in the face of such language.

    Thanks for the incredible discussion.

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  8. As a matter of fact, I think I need to write this type of discussion INTO the book. I had a horrible experience in a grocery store when I ran into a yoga teacher of mine. It was during the time of my most intense w/d and I was posting a lot. She’d taken a cursory glance at my posts and had simply decided that I was talking about being an “addict” in the most damaging way. I was, in her mind, someone who abused, who craved, who was a junky of sorts.

    She looked at me with this yoga like demeanor and asked if I was “getting help with the cravings.” It was a perfect example of someone riding the horse of the cultural lexicon and dismissing me. Incredible.

    So, you’ve given me much thought. Much, much thought. Thanks to all of you.

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  9. As someone who is in the process of a slow but often excruciating taper off clonazepam, and as someone who has a keen interest in language (that is, before my benzo brain had its way with my vocabulary), this thread has given me much to think about. I can see both sides, but ultimately feel that the language of benzo withdrawal and the iatrogenic illness it causes is a language that belongs to the sufferers.

    That’s not to say that I don’t see both sides. I fully understand what you mean, Melissa, when you say:
    “I want to create an opening of discussion for those who see dependency as only addiction. Cultural blame was my shame and my intention is to unravel it slowly. That’s the purpose of the book.”

    But in a world where psych drug withdrawal is virtually invisible to all but those who endure it, where the prescribing doctors are in some kind of surreal denial, and the general public (hell, probably most of our friends and family) keep a judgmental or embarrassed distance, I don’t think we’re quite there yet. I don’t think those who will read Melissa’s story–those who don’t have a similar story or a political stake in it–will read the word “addicted” and quickly make the leap to: “oh, she’s not ADDICTED addicted–I get it.” No matter how many times you might explain the why’s and how’s of how you got there.

    The reason I don’t think this will happen is because if I wasn’t in the middle of this hellish experience myself, I wouldn’t make that leap either. I would suspect that there was “something else” going on.

    There’s also the unfortunate fact that the words “addict” and “addicted” have a dual connotation–not just the pejorative one that conjures up images of wasted recreational drug users on street corners, but also the trivializing one that has folded into everyday usage: “I’m addicted to chocolate”; “I’m addicted to Dancing with the Stars.”

    Melissa, I have to say that your posts have been a kind of lifeline to me. Your metaphor about “gaba grandmas” made me weep (when I couldn’t cry), and has been one of the most profound images I’ve managed to hold onto as I try to make sense of what is happening to my brain and body. You have the power to make vividly real what is almost impossible to describe (and I thank you for taking notes during that whole dark time!).

    I think if I were writing a book about my experiences with benzo withdrawal, on this very verge of cultural awareness, I might choose to use the terminology favored by the drug makers and the doctors: “physically dependent / physical dependence.” And then I would pair that terminology with the kind of brutal descriptions you present here, to make it inescapably clear that THAT’s what this seemingly benign language means. I wouldn’t give readers the opportunity to pass judgment, I’d want every single one of them to imagine that it could be them on the other side of the looking glass.

    And having said all that, I think that an introduction or preface might be a place that allows a discussion of just how loaded this language is, how much it obscures understanding, and how much it all has to change. I feel we’re on the cusp, and that as more and more of us tell our stories, that change has got to happen.

    In any case, thank you, Melissa, for the opportunity to weigh in on your book in progress. I look forward to more glimpses of what is to come.

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  10. Brighid –

    Absolutely beautifully said. You made ME cry. And I’ve been convinced. Much as I want to erase or clarify the cultural connotations that are handed down with the word “addicted,” I think that, as you say, the reader will fall to her or his common understanding and not look further.

    Thank you so much for your incredibly beautiful and articulate words. And may the gaba grandmother’s come in to heal. May your suffering be eased more and more every day.

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