My first experience with the benzodiazepine I am currently taking, was back in 2011. A doctor – whom I trusted, and still trust – prescribed it to help me with the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, anxiety, and onset insomnia. He told me this low dose would help, and was very safe. He specifically told me it was a very low dose and I could take it for years with no ill effects.
I took the medicine, with some misgivings. It was primarily this faith in the doctor that kept me willing to dose myself with a nightly sleep aid – although I couldn’t deny it was very helpful. Even so, I worried. As I got, and stayed sober, my avocational work in a treatment center taught me a fear of pills that was perhaps overblown. I was brought alongside many, many people who were addicted to pill medications (those still using, and those who had successfully stopped). I heard story after story of the various medications people took in good faith – only to became addicted to. Some quickly, some slowly. Some ended up on heroin, some smoking pills all day long, some dumping almost anything into their system in any way – through needle, ingestion, snorting, smoking. Many people afflicted with prescription addiction end up doctor-shopping, or embroiled in even more unsafe activities – buying pills off the street, stealing, or hustling. One man I know would in goodnatured fashion offer to help older women with chores or yardwork – then tell a sad story about being cut off by a doctor who didn’t understand, so he could get what he needed. In the hundreds (thousands?) of addicts’ stories I have heard, the natural fear of self-poisoning and the desire to be good citizens was inevitably overcome by their body’s need for balance – to feel good, to sleep, to work, to feel okay, to feel normal.
On the one hand these stories scared me; on the other, my medication worked as intended, and I was conscientious. I took my medication exactly as prescribed by this good doctor. I discussed my medication with trusted friends in Recovery, who had experience with such matters. I met with my doctor every few months and brought up the medication, and my concerns at taking a medicine long-term. He assured me each time that this medicine was safe to take for years, and that I could quit any time without ill effects. He told me I was trustworthy.
After about a year, I stopped taking the medicine – cold turkey. I had some trouble sleeping at first (as I read in my journal), and then life continued on.
I didn’t take medication for almost two years.
But in late April this year I visited my doctor and told him my sleep problems had kept up these last two years, and seemed to be worsening. He prescribed the same medicine, and the same dosage.
Back to sleep. Night-anxiety – solved. Instantly. No more waking up after only moments asleep, with a feeling of panic almost impossible to describe. Relief – finally.
But my newfound regimen was to be short-lived. On June 1st I read an illuminating article on the use of benzodiazepines – an article that said, to wit, that many doctors are prescribing a powerful medicine for the long term, and that this is not wise. (The article is worth reading carefully; many people you care about – perhaps even yourself – are affected!) Even though I’d only been taking the medicine for five weeks when I read the article, I was already ready to re-investigate continuing this treatment. I looked further into this particular drug, and testimonies from those who took it long-term (by this I mean, any regular use over two weeks in duration). I became curious that perhaps some of my two years’ of sleep problems might be related to my original abrupt cessation of dosage – since I hadn’t known any better than to stop abruptly.
I have been tapering the medicine, in a conservative and responsible fashion, and with my doctor’s help, since June 1st.
It took about a week for drug withdrawal symptoms to set in. They are mild (especially compared to some!); nevertheless, they are unpleasant.
But – drug dependence is easier the second time around. Or it has been, for me. I know healing is possible, and I am patient. I am very grateful for this. I am not angry my doctor prescribed a medicine, and a course of medicine, that wasn’t right for me. He was not trying to harm me. He was trying to do the right thing.
One quibble. The article above is a good one, and may perhaps prepare people to be wary of these particular drugs, or be in a position to support those who decide to stop taking them. However I dislike the concept, or the phrase, “accidental addict”. I dislike the term “addict” anyway, unless self-applied (people first language, please!). And anyway – what bollocks! No one ever sets their sights on becoming an addict. We all use medicine. We seek alleviation from symptoms. We have a drink to relax. We start smoking to take the edge off our stressful day. And we use our medicine – “recreational”, “alternative”, self-prescribed or prescribed by a doctor, socially-supported or illicit – because we seek relief. One day we begin to know we might be overdoing it. But by then we aren’t in great shape. And the next day, overnight it seems, we find ourselves in a predicament. Our bodies are deranged; disabled. Healing – should we embark on the journey, should we even believe it possible – takes time.
My family and friends support me. My doctor supports me, and I support myself. I write here not because I think anyone in particular is owed an explanation. I write here because I write to be honest, and to be myself – and I tell my story, as long as I don’t harm others in telling it. I also write here because I know others who have these kinds of troubles, sometimes read my blog – and find hope, and support. I have received emails, texts, comments, letters, and phone calls over the years that tell me addiction and compulsion touch many, many lives. I can’t do much to end the stigma and shame of drug addiction, drug dependence, alcoholism, eating disorders, mental disorders, or any number of “invisible illnesses” that plague so many. But I can do a little, and telling my story is a part of that.
I am looking forward to being drug-free again; this time, without the horrid and longterm symptoms of cold-turkey cessation. Life is an adventure. Let’s see what happens next!