[Editor’s note: the author has chosen to publish under an abbreviated version of her name in order to protect her livelihood and minimize stress while in acute withdrawal from benzos.]
I am an accidental addict. I am also a psychotherapist. I ran a busy private practice up until one month ago when I abruptly sent all of my patients texts and a letter regarding my medical leave.
It was as unexpected to me as it was to them. I was micro tapering a benzodiazepine after an accidental cold turkey withdrawal and an ignorant, misinformed fast taper that left me bruised with severe akathisia and full-body burning. It was nothing short of horrific. The only way I can describe those weeks is a feeling of being on acid and meth at the same time. But I dusted myself off and got some tough love from a recovery sponsor who said, “You aren’t a unique butterfly, people get off benzos all the time.”
Somehow I think my reactions are extreme and different. Who gets addicted to Ativan after taking it three times per week for four months after a bad reaction to a steroid shot? I did. Many, many, many people do. I was thinking “positively” on this slower taper, I was meditating, going to Buddhist based recovery meetings. It was rough but I finally felt like I was going to make it. And then one day I found myself being pinpricked all over my body, curled up in a fetal position with excruciating pain, akathisia and restlessness. In seconds, that positivity went out the window. I have been trying to regain stability and my sanity ever since.
Maybe this isn’t the best time to write this. I am writing this while I am in the thick of it. At the same time, this gives me the ability to access what coming off psych meds feels like in the moment as it’s happening in real time. When pain becomes too great, our brain protects us from it. Now there is no protection from this deep cavernous wound. I feel it 24 hours a day, 7 days per week and I pray that I will survive it.
I got slammed when I hit the 1mg Valium mark. It’s been ugly. I have kindled. This last month has felt like a decade. I look grey and haggard. I am sinking into deep agony and chemical terror on a daily basis. This fight feels relentless and unmanageable. Several weeks ago when I awoke in terror and full-body nerve pain and could barely make it to my bathroom, I had a very grave thought: I don’t know if I can do this. I know others have, but I don’t know if I can. I am still left wondering.
I must survive this.
Maybe this isn’t the kind of writing you are looking for. Maybe this needs to be written after I am a “success story,” when I have found the purpose and meaning in this dark suffering. Maybe this needs to be saved until after the dust has settled and I am back and bouncy in my life. I don’t know when that will be. I have lost so much in the last several months: my business and passion, the ability to be a wife and a mother and a friend, and my finances (as I am not eligible for disability because I worked for myself). I have lost a sense of safety in the world and in medical professionals whom I trusted to do no harm.
You see, Ativan was pushed on me. I don’t want to sound like a victim, but it simply was. I went to a well-meaning holistic doctor after a shocking reaction to steroids and antibiotics. I couldn’t sleep. That’s all I wanted. To sleep through the night. He pushed two prescriptions in my hand — .5 of Ativan and .5 of Klonopin — and convincingly said, “You are not an addict, you need to sleep; here, take these.” I actually told him I was scared of prescriptions but he again dismissed my concerns and told me not to worry, that it wasn’t a big deal.
I mean, .5 seems so small doesn’t it? Like a baby dose? Little did I know how deceptive that .5 is and how it’s the equivalent to 5-10mg of Valium!!! When I cold-turkeyed (I wasn’t instructed that I needed to taper and it never occurred to me since I didn’t take it daily) and arrived in his office trembling with a magnesium level of 0.2, he dismissed it once again as a “lab error” and said “I’d feel anxious too if I hadn’t slept for several days.”
For several weeks, in the midst of cold turkey withdrawal, I went to endocrinologists, neurologists, acupuncturists, cardiologists and psychiatrists who all thought I was a hypochondriac, or worse, poisoned. I tried mind over matter and pushed myself to walk on the beach. Doctors sat on my dangerously low magnesium levels for weeks and I could have died. I had blood tests, MRI’s, stool tests, you name it. Then it dawned on me. I was in severe withdrawal. Oh. My. God.
This wasn’t my first introduction to benzos, which is why I am likely having the extreme reaction that I am currently having. I was given Valium in my early twenties for a bladder condition called Interstitial Cystitis. It’s a standard therapy for IC, and the only thing that I thought helped me, but as I reflect back I realize I had many mini withdrawals in the past. I would go on/off these little 2mg pills with seemingly no issue. I never took them every day and I never had a problem stopping, likely because my dose was so low, until now.
I don’t want to be in the now. I know that resistance to “what is” brings about suffering. I know all this. But I still don’t want to be in the now. From the moment I wake up, despite the giggles of my little children and the warmth of my husband, I want to go back to sleep until this all goes away. All I feel is chemical terror from morning to night. I pray for better days and hang on to old-timers who say “We all heal” and “It gets better.” I pray that I too will get to the other side of this and help educate and heal others.
What I have learned is that benzos don’t discriminate. They don’t care that you have a master’s degree or that you are a good person in the community or that you were just doing what the doctors told you to do and you were woefully ignorant and misinformed of their dangers. No. Benzos are vicious and benzos are cruel. They will pick you up by the collar, strangle you and spit you across the room, and just when you think you can breathe again they will repeat this until you are left quivering in a pool of terror. Day after day. And worse. Until it stops. I know it will, one miraculous day.
I feel pretty stupid about getting into this mess and take full responsibility for it. After all, I worked with people in recovery, people with anxiety disorders and insomnia and trauma. I guided, listened and helped others for 16 years. I miss hearing their stories and following their dramas. Some clients felt abandoned and at a loss for what was wrong with me. I didn’t realize the impact I had in their lives and I yearn to get back to work, even at a reduced work load, as soon as possible.
Mostly, I miss being able to sit down and read a book to my children. I miss picking my children up from school or taking them to the park or for an ice cream. I am not well. This whole year I have not been well and now I am much much worse and at a standstill. What do I do? Which direction do I go? One doctor said to stay on for life because of my akathesia, and another wants to put me into a hospital. I cannot think straight, you see. I have never felt so much confusion in my life. How the hell did I get here, and more importantly how do I climb out of this? The doctors that assured me benzos were “no big deal” and used them to treat a bladder disorder and a minor sleep issue were just flat-out wrong. So very misinformed and wrong.
One thing I have realized is that I missed many of the issues of my patients who were on benzos. They complained of chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia, attempted suicide unexpectedly, and had severe GI distress. I never made the connection to what they all had in common: benzo use. I had one patient whose father was polydrugged and after a steroid shot he hung himself. It’s the meds, people. It’s always been the meds. And now, horrifically, I am on three meds to aid me in getting off this last sliver of Valium. I have never felt so far from myself as I do now. I am a fighter for sure, but this fight is the hardest one of my life, hands down.
I am comforted by the stories of others on the benzo forums and the wonderful friendships I have made. I have been introduced to an underworld, and my eyes have been opened very wide regarding the tragedy that is happening in psychiatry and in medicine in general. This isn’t just about benzos but the reckless overprescription of medication. Medication surely has a time and place, but I would have been much better off being offered a magnesium supplement than being handed a poison that has now eaten up two years of my life and my children’s lives.
I don’t know what is ahead for me. I hope for the best, and I know I am heading into battle. A battle that many before me have endured and come out of whole again.
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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Thank you for sharing your story. My thoughts are with you and wishing you strength.
I lived it too. I always thought the word addictive meant a drug had such wonderful effects that they caused some people to say screw everything else and just do the drug. Then I was prescribed benzodiazepines and discovered how addiction really works the first time I missed a doctors appointment and let the prescription run out. Withdrawal reactions drive addiction, not love of the drug effects besides the effect of making the horrible withdrawal sickness go away.
Like most people after I became dependent addicted what ever you want to call it the psychiatric industry did the usual blame the victim routine , you are an addict, you got a bad brain and DNA, it’s not our fault.
Why in detox do they always give the last taper pill in the morning so at night you rebound and can’t sleep ? The best way to detox is to endure the hell you must pay all day, then have a dose to sleep then when you can handle daytime without it work on the go to sleep without it part. There is no band-aid for benzo withdrawal hell but the way they do it to people is horrible.
Welcome to our world
I came through the same pathway and am still integrating why I became bamoozled by the med tale and how I live my life
There is shame embarrassment and guilt that I knew better and still I became a walking side effect of meds
I too missed out with my clients because I was unaware
The only way I can see through this is to use your voice loud and clear and to find others to speak out
Integrating myself has been hard
Who am I – by what names do I call myself and still be true to all the prisms of my life?
Step by step I guess
Good luck you are not alone
I hope you’ve started taking magnesium salts. Raising your Mg level may help reduce the number of anxiety episodes you’re having and may reduce their intensity when they do appear.
The correct term for some of us is ‘iatrogenically dependent’.
When getting treatment, the terms can be important.
I’m still climbing out of the hell 35 1/2 months later. I’m sure you’ve run into BenzoBuddies…sounds like you have.
But no–I’m *not* an ‘accidental addict’…and yes, physicians and psychiatrists need to take some responsibility for their ignorance about ID.
My heart goes out to you. I suffered similar experience myself with neuroleptic withdrawal. I was nearly driven mad.
I’d like to gloat. Really I would. Well, ok, just some stray little sick part of me wants to gloat. Welcome to the world of IATROGENIC NEUROLEPSIS. Trust me on this one, Danielle, I *DO* *KNOW* how you feel…. Welcome to the pseudoscience lies of the drug racket known as psychiatry. Got yourself a nice little SUBSTANCE USE DISORDER, doncha’?…. There’s lots of taxpayer $$$ going around for “SUD”, doncha’ know!?….
What’s most distressing, to me, is all you quacks and your pretty poison pills have *NO* medical “treatment” to offer, to ease the hell of withdrawing from the drug you gave us to ease the pain of whatever we were feeling the pain of….which is why we started taking the pills in the first place! I trusted doctors from the time I was a kid. That’s how I was raised. Trust authority. It’s only been in the last decade or 2, being sober & clean, (mostly), that I have come to see the LIES for what they are. LIES. You were lied to. I was lied to. We were ALL LIED TO. I’m just telling the truth. (You need a couple of 5 – 10lb. freeweights. Working with them a few minutes a day, several times a day, can help burn off some of the nervous, anxiety-laden physical energy.)
Danielle, seriously, I am SO GLAD you wrote this piece. Maybe *they* will listen to *you*. They won’t listen to me. I’m just a crazy guy. You know, a “mental patient”. A drug toilet. A CMHC drug zombie….
*Psychiatry is nothing more than 21st Century Phrenology, w/toxic drugs….and so-called “mental illnesses” are exactly as real as presents from Santa Claus. But not more real….
Thnx again, Danielle. Best wishes & best of luck. And thank-you. It’s been far too long since I’ve commented here….
You are right. I was like you. I trusted authority. I trusted psychology. Heck! I went to school and got a BA in Psychology. I still trust Psychology; but, not that kind of psychology that, in my mind, is inherently evil. I trust astrology, palmistry, numerology and even the church more than I would trust a psychiatrist or their sycophants. If there is any good in psychology, it is to be found in the millions of books available with various variations on “personality typing.” These and other books speak to our uniqueness, our unique giftedness and personalities, intelligences, etc. There is hope there and these books have helped through the withdrawal and detox in to the restoration and resurrection of my “real self” almost lost and dead to modern psychiatry. Modern psychiatry with the help of big pharma and others seeks to make us into a one size fits all zombies and seeks to make us dependent on medicine/psychiatry/the medical/psychiatry criminal complex forever. But, I say NO! The “physical and sometimes ’emotional’ hell” I have been through these past few years is so very worth it; because slowly and surely, I have regaining my human dignity, and restoring and revitalizing my true self. To all those who tried, I say, “You can not kill which does not die! Although, you may try, you will fail! It is the law of the universe; “Good Always Overcomes Evil!”
My heart goes out to you. You are brave, strong, and determined. I know that you have heard this before, but, you will get through this. You will not only survive, but, really thrive. After this is all over, your mind-brain and body will thank you. I know as I am in withdrawal and detox from about twenty years or so of these toxic “psychiatric/addictive drugs.” You are better off without this toxicity in your body, because, although it is very hard now, if you continued to take these toxins, they could kill you and probably would. I got my valium ripped right from under without the customary tapering off by the supposed knowledgeable caring doctors. They also took me off two SSRis, two antipsychotics, risperadal and one other and Cogentin. They kept me on lithium. I was in the hospital, because they could not wake me up after all those years on “drugs.” They lied and said I had “sleep apnea” when they knew it was the drugs. I moved. I not only had psychiatrists lying to me. I had others in other specialties lying to me. I moved to another town in this state. I tried again and this was for the last time. I stopped on my own taking all drugs after several months of “hell” I told the psychiatrist that I felt like I did when I stopped the alcohol after college. For the first time in years I felt clean inside, so I must be doing something right. I told the psychiatrist and she still prescribed me risperadal because she was “afraid” I would “relapse” That was in the Spring of last year. I am just find. I can no longer take any drugs and I can not even use alcohol in cooking anymore. If I have any pain, I can only use a “topical.” I go to no doctors. I do not trust them. My dad was right. They are “hacks.” I feel this way I am better off to live to be a hundred. I am studying more natural, old-fashioned ways to healing. When I have a bad day or strange symptom, I say it is the withdrawal and/or detox. I do not have my energy levels totally back up. I have to watch what I eat. Some days I have a better appetite than others. I do my thing in the community and the church. But, I tell no one about my experiences. I sometimes have problems with my skin. But, I trust my intuition/instinct and God. I live so others may live. It is not an easy journey. I have a necklace that says “what doesn’t kill me better run” On a good day, discover and learn what is important to you. On a bad day, treat yourself with gentle kindness as if you are the most important person in the universe, because you are. Love yourself for your courage. It is not easy, but, as they say, is anything really worthwhile easy. You will get better, because you mad the choice to better your life and stop putting the toxins in your body. I dream for your well-being. Having well-being is better than being healthy anytime. “Health” is something made up to keep us “medical and psychiatric prisoners.” I dream of your “well-being.” I dream of your joy, contentment, and happiness. Take care of yourself. You are definitely worth it, as you are a very worthwhile person. Just Be, that’s all you need. Just Be.
Thank you so much for your warm comments. They mean so much. I appreciate it.
My heart goes out to you.
As a psychologist I understand how hard it can be to discuss these issues. My own story is on MIA as well, Part I and Part II, and Part III I am currently working on now as I taper very very slowly off Prozac.
I have heard the horrors from others about how bad it can be coming off the benzos. As you can see from the many comments, you are not alone in your pain and anguish.
Do anything and everything you can to give your body the best chance to heal and be resilient.
Read Dr. David Perlmutters books Grain Brain and Brain Maker.
Ensure you are taking high strength Multi B vitamins, vitamin C, Omega 3 (600-800 EPA) per day as well as zinc and magnesium. Light exercise 2-3 times per week, dont push it too hard as that can only make it worse sometimes. Increase your protein intake – all of the above is to help your body create serotonin and dopamine natrually. You can also try taking Tyrosine and 5 HTP to assist in elevating your serotonin levels naturally.
All the very best. Never give up. Focus on anything at all that can make you feel even a little bit better each morning. Go there and find the good that surrounds you.
All good advice, David, with the exception of any supplements. As the OP likely knows by now, most people in benzo withdrawal don’t tolerate any supplements at all, vitamins and magnesium included. I can’t say why, but I experienced this several years ago while tapering off of Klonopin and high numbers of people in 2 different online benzo withdrawal groups have confirmed it. The best I could do for myself was to eat a healthy diet, exercise, and practice mindfulness. It was, as most will say, the most horrific experience of my life—and it lasted about a year. Easy to understand why the suicide rate is so high among people coming off of these drugs; the physical and mental pain can be unbearable. The good news is that we do heal, so it does get better.
“I couldn’t sleep. That’s all I wanted. To sleep through the night.”
Thats all I wanted too, to just get tired at night and fall asleep like everyone else.
I was given a drug called Zyprexa after my benzo detox and the withdrawal from that was a WORSE nightmare http://www.google.com/search?q=Zyprexa+withdrawal they also call that drug olanzapine. I think its manufacture and sale should be banned. Its evil.
Seroquel works for sleep, a small dose, 25mg the smallest pill or less. Less is more with that drug its weird like that. This explains it very well http://thelastpsychiatrist.com/2007/07/the_most_important_article_on.html
You get hungry, eat, and then feel like sleeping and actually can. You need sleep to heal. Trazadone IMO is total useless garbage. SSRI pills never helped me with anxiety at all but rehabs rehabs dish them out to like everyone. Seroquel is the only thing helped acute and post acute withdrawal insomnia. The doctors prescribe it but they usually prescribe way to much. Yes its ‘anti psychotic’ but that is just a classification, it is a unique drug and they just classified it. Maybe some other readers who have used it will post what they think of it.
It does “get better” I needed at least 8mg of Xanax, Clonopin or Ativan A day just to function at one time and was taking like 10-12mg all the time and I am off it and fine now. It was a long ride but its possible.
You are right. Zyprexa is evil and should be banned. When the psychiatrist tried me on Zyprexa because I could not sleep and had a 24 hour pounding heartbeat; he nervously checked my weight every time I saw him; but, that drug could not even get me to sleep. Early last year in about February, they tried me on Seroquel. I got terrific headaches, became both a zombie and psychotically paranoid as I thought any minute someone would come through my door and take my dear cat away. I stopped the drug and received a “tongue-lashing” from the psychiatrist’s nurse. The psychiatrist was too “scared” to talk to me. I was told all that was happening because I did not give it enough time and then my dosage got “upped.” Finally, within about two weeks or so, I said “no more” and through, to me. what was an evil drug into the trash. If it’s working for you, I am glad; but, I don’t want to sound like a “spoiled sport” or a “mother” but please be very careful. This is an extremely dangerous drug. I really hate to tell you this; but, the best way to get through this “withdrawal/detox” and the sleep problems is without any drugs. Some days, some months all you will want to do is sleep. Some days, some months, you can only pray for the blessing of sleep. My sleep is still erratic. Some days, I awake at night and want to sleep in the day. Sometimes, I can never predict. Mornings are usually the worst for me. I, probably, take more rest times than before and it takes me longer to do a job that requires “physical activity” and I must really afterward. I have learned when the energy is there, go with it and sometimes, I must force the energy to get the job done. I think if you can through this without any drugs, you will be better off. However, that is my opinion from my experience. In the end, it is you who knows what is the very best for you; so trust your intuition/instincts above other people’s opinions, thoughts, etc. even a “medical provider.”
Did you have any issues coming off the Seroquel? I have had some clients who struggled with anger on it.
Thank you Cat. I am so glad that you are doing better. That is AMAZING to hear!!!! Very hopeful.
I recommend looking into neurofeedback (brainwave biofeedback). Particularly a method called infralow neurofeedback. It can calm and stabilize your brain to help you get through withdrawal. You can find a practitioner and more info here: http://www.eeginfo.com. I provide this treatment in the Albany, NY area.
A better title for your article would be “The Prescription That Ruined My Life”.
I know the pain is horrible now and some days are so much worse than others, but, please hang in there; despite it all, it does get better and is so worth it. Although you think you are going to die, you will live!
And your life will be so much better since you are no longer taking the toxins into your system. Your whole body and mind will thank you and so will your family and friends and everyone; although some may never know why. My heart is on your side. Yes, a better title could be “the Prescription that ruined my life.” but I think it could be’ “the prescription that woke me up to real life (after I stopped taking them!”)
Yup, benzos definitely don’t discriminate. I have two masters degrees from MIT and had never touched an illicit drug in my life. But no, benzos were safe I was told, take as needed. And another life turned upside down by lies and misinformation. A low dose of Ativan (<1mg) taken much like you did was a gateway drug to other psych drugs that have effectively destroyed my life. Hope you are able to find some peace in the living nightmare that is benzo withdrawal.
David Cope — I hope you’ve gotten off benzos and recovered since your comment above. Mostly I hope that they didn’t destroy your life long term. I was forced to retire early because of them, but have since recovered most of my mental and physical functions. Sadly, though, my career is now over…
Cleve’s — you’re far from alone.
After reading everyone’s post, I’m happy to know that I’m not alone in this struggle.