I was born during the Vietnam conflict, when everybody was tuning in, turning on, and dropping out… engaging in free love and women’s liberation… when little yellow pills were passed around like candy. The Rolling Stones called them “Mother’s little helpers,” and businessmen called them “executive Excedrin.” Everybody was taking them, including my mother.
I was born addicted to Valium, a benzodiazepine drug.
I remember how withdrawal felt but I didn’t know what it was, and so I spent the next 48 years of my life trying to figure it out. I can’t adequately express what my benzo withdrawal experience felt like because it’s like nothing else on earth.
If I had to use words I would start with evil feeding on my soul, my spirit being tortured, not being able to feel love, constantly feeling like I was falling in a dark tunnel, and wanting to get out of my body.
It was obvious that there was something wrong from the start, because I was born with a huge lump between my eyes that’s still there today.
As a toddler, I got out of bed in the middle of the night, hallucinating and terrified night after night. I even remember the teddy-bear-printed pillow that I clutched as I climbed into bed with my sisters.
As a child, I always experienced fear to a degree that can neither be explained nor compared to anything else. I felt evil in its purest form. I saw people laughing all around me as I fell in darkness, but I couldn’t connect with them.
When I was four, my parents placed me in a special school for children with disabilities because of the lump between my eyes. I was quiet and sensitive, with a withdrawn personality.
And yet Mom told me that when I would put my toys away, I would raise them above my head and drop them into my toybox, making loud crashing sounds. I still like loud crashing sounds, and now I innerstand why.
My hallucinations continued throughout my childhood, lasting for hours, and were so terrifying that while it was happening I would cling on to my parents or siblings with a death grip. I couldn’t handle them so much as walking away from me for any amount of time. I remember going with them to the bathroom, terrified because we had to break contact so they could use the toilet.
I had learning problems; the kids in school were more advanced than me. They knew how things worked, and I didn’t understand what they were talking about. They knew about things that I had never heard of. For example, I didn’t know what a freeway was or that there were laws that we had to follow, and I didn’t know how to take care of myself. I was intimidated beyond words.
I had accidents in my pants and in the bed up until my teenage years.
As early as age 12, I can remember my mother giving me her “nerve pills” because I had episodes where I laughed and cried uncontrollably at the same time, a disorder I later learned is called pseudobulbar affect.
I started going to the doctor for stomach ulcers around age 10. When I entered high school, my ulcers started bleeding. I was terrified of everything, and each day at school felt like impending doom. I would have given anything to be able to jump out of my skin.
As I got older, I asked my family about what I was feeling and whether they experienced the same things. Since I didn’t know what the hallucinations were, I called them “reoccurring nightmares” or “having dreams while I was awake.” Mom said that she didn’t know what they were either, and that I should try to be strong. My sisters never admitted to having had any experiences like mine, but they did remember having to be quiet around me when I was a baby and letting me sleep in their beds.
Trying to Fix Myself
I wanted to know what was wrong with me so I could fix it. So in early adulthood, I set out to find answers and began asking other people about reoccurring nightmares, restlessness, insomnia, and being afraid of everything all the time.
A lot of people told me that they had the same “symptoms,” but they didn’t have any answers, either. Frustration can’t begin to explain how I felt. I kept being patient, I read books, I listened to the gurus. I kept searching within, kept doing the right things, looked at my part, stayed positive, went to self-help programs, went to therapy, participated in a sweat lodge and talking circles… and found the same suggestions everywhere. Nothing about my childhood made sense.
When I was 21, I had my first and only child and after I gave birth, my hallucinations stopped. I don’t know why.
I supported myself with the basic skills that I had: A friendly smile and the ability to read, write, add, subtract, multiply, and divide. I was lucky just to keep a roof over my head and food in my belly. I spent time couch-surfing, too. I’ve gone without things that a lot of people take for granted. I shopped at thrift stores and got food from churches and federal and state food-assistance programs.
My physical health continued to be poor. At age 29, I had a large lump removed from my left breast, which turned out to be non-cancerous. I have lived with back pain all my life. Numerous medical tests always came back negative. No medical professional had any answers that could explain the pain.
So I practiced meditation, exercise, therapy, and yoga. I underwent various styles of chiropractic and massage and I practiced new ways of thinking, but my suffering continued no matter what I did. I kept wondering, What the hell is wrong with me? Why can’t I just be happy and relax? Why am I so different from other people? Why am I so restless?
I just couldn’t wear myself out. I squirmed in my seat, I’m a knee bouncer and a pen tapper and I couldn’t stand being indoors without constantly wanting to go outside and be free.
It didn’t matter how much I worked on myself. Nothing brought me inner peace. Financial insecurity never left me, but there was a lot more than money lacking in my life. I had a bad case of something unexplainable and no amount of therapy, self-evaluation, self-realization, understanding, forgiving, letting go, or positive affirmations could tame the screaming inside of me.
It wouldn’t go away no matter who I talked to or how deeply I investigated myself.
I thought that I wasn’t disciplined enough, or I was doing something wrong. I knew that I wasn’t lazy or crazy. So I decided to try school again because I didn’t like being broke all the time. I took accounting classes and did well in the first class.
The second class got more complicated and I was blown out of the water, completely lost. I tried language classes and the same thing happened. The basics I aced, but any subject requiring more complicated thought processes was impossible. I had tutors, went to study groups, used my self-help tools and meditation, but nothing helped. I just couldn’t grasp anything that wasn’t simple.
Enter Psychiatric Drugs…
When 9/11 happened, my symptoms amplified. I couldn’t sleep at all for weeks, so I went to employee health at my job at a VA medical center and asked for something to help me sleep. I was given Ambien. That was interesting. I woke up seeing what I had done the night before without having any memory of what had taken place.
Not long after that, I had to have another lumpectomy on the other breast. By age 33, my uterus had mysteriously corroded, and I had to undergo a total hysterectomy.
After eight years, Ambien wasn’t working as well for my sleep problems and my symptoms were getting worse, so I started going to counseling. I asked for a different sleep medication and was told that for him to prescribe a new medication, I would need to have a diagnosis. So he diagnosed me with bipolar disorder and prescribed Seroquel for sleep. Right after that, I started having grand mal seizures.
I was hospitalized several times for things that were never explained to me. The paperwork simply said that I was being treated for “symptoms.” Symptoms of what?
Well, my “symptoms” got worse and worse with time. Eventually, I was placed on blood-pressure meds, antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and benzodiazepines on top of the opiates, muscle relaxers, and other meds that I was already taking for a work injury. The only thing that seemed to be working was the Seroquel, which kept me asleep at night.
Within three years on this cocktail of meds, all my teeth disintegrated. My dentist told me that the drugs were to blame and warned me about my health, but I was in too much pain and too out of touch with myself to hear what he was saying.
At this point, I was no longer the deep-thinking, nature-loving, wise lady I once was—I wasn’t even a shadow of her. It was as if a dark cloud had parked itself over my head.
By the time I’d been on meds for about 15 years, I was wearing adult diapers and had to use a walker because I kept passing out. I never took more psych meds than I was prescribed; I didn’t have to. At this point, I lost hope and wanted to finish my sentence here on earth and go home. I had no plans to suicide, but I would have welcomed death with open arms if it came to my door.
Discovering My Truth
Then I started hearing that psych meds were harmful to the brain and wondered if that was what was wrong with me. So I searched the drug manufacturers’ websites for information. I looked at the lists of side effects and the black-box warnings and realized that most of the health problems that I’d been having were likely caused by the meds I was on. Everything that I had been hospitalized for was listed as a possible drug side effect!
I wanted to get those drugs out of me as soon as possible. I was able to arrange a two-week taper off of Seroquel that was extended to six months, but the nurse practitioner I was seeing cut off everything else cold turkey—including the benzos. My pain doctor had had me on Fentanyl and Soma; he cut both of those off cold turkey at the same time as the psych meds.
Withdrawal turned my world right-side-up, but I had to go through what felt like eternal hell to get there. The foundation of who I am was tested beyond the limits of imagination.
Words can’t come close to describing what I was experiencing during withdrawal, but if I did use words, I’d use: evil feeding on my soul, my spirit being tortured, not being able to feel love, constantly feeling like I was falling in a dark tunnel, and wanting to get out of my body. Everything was the same as in my childhood!
I realized that I had finally found the answer I had spent my entire life searching for.
I finally understood what was wrong with me: I’d been born addicted to the Valium my mother took while she was pregnant with me. The experience was the same and everything made sense.
I read the drug manufacturers’ online patient drug information about Valium and other benzos, devoured studies and findings published by doctors, brain experts, psychopharmacologists, and a wealth of other information on the subject of how psych meds damage the body and brain. As I buried myself in this research over the next months and years, revelations about my life came flooding in. Among other things, I learned that:
- Benzos and other psych drugs can cause brain damage, or a biochemical imbalance*, as well as learning disabilities. That’s why I couldn’t learn in school. That’s why I’ve lived in poverty all my life.
- A biochemical imbalance means that the brain is flooded with stress hormones. That’s why I was afraid of everything and had symptoms of bipolar disorder.
- Benzos can cause movement disorders including akathisia and tardive dyskinesia. That’s why I lived with inner restlessness.
- Benzos can cause a decrease in dopamine. That’s why I have an addictive personality.
- Benzos can destroy the reproductive system. That’s why my uterus corroded at age 33, that’s why I had to have lumps cut out of both of my breasts.
- Benzos can cause neurodegeneration. That’s why I have pain in my back, and why I can’t stand or walk for more than 10 or 15 minutes.
Once my research had confirmed I was born addicted to Valium, I embraced the healing process by utilizing every self-help tool and trick I knew and also learned how to use ancient energy- and frequency-healing techniques. I got rid of the things and people in my life that didn’t serve me, and I didn’t look back. I soon found that I was doing better than others at my stage of recovery, so I decided to share what works with anybody wanting to heal by writing a book and creating a website featuring my story, book, videos, and techniques.
It’s been three years since I went cold turkey off all the meds I was on, and I don’t fear the world anymore. I know what a biochemical imbalance is, where it comes from, and what I can do about it. With that information, I live a happy life that’s full of music and creativity. I sleep and dream at night, I can regulate my emotions, and I can feel love again. My blood pressure is normal, and I haven’t had any seizures or hallucinations for quite a while. Having the ability to support my brain health naturally helps me to regulate my addictive personality. If I had any words of wisdom to share they would be: Find healing in the little things that make you happy, like music, and know that you were the healer all along.
*In Dr Peter Breggin’s video, this is discussed at 3:35.
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.