I am slightly over a month away from the one year mark of my unintended benzo withdrawal. It has really been on my mind lately. I lost the majority of my memories from last fall and part of last winter. I still have memory issues.
Hang on, I’m sorry. That’s way too complicated of a way to start this post. Let’s go back and talk about what happened and then I’ll get to what I’ve been thinking about.
About two and a half years ago I hit a very low point, emotionally. My job wasn’t going well, my mother was sick, and I really didn’t feel like I had enough (or any) control over the trajectory of my life. I eventually admitted that I needed outside help. I found a group that could treat both my brain and my emotions. Therapy is wonderful. I can’t recommend it enough. Between my therapist (She’s a goddess, I swear.) and my psychiatrist, things were on the upswing.
Now let’s talk about where the benzos came into the story. That takes us even farther back. The FIRST first time was without a prescription at some point in my teens when I lived in Tucson. It was never about getting high. At the time it was to try and help me sleep (I’m a lifelong insomniac. Fun!), but fast-forward to being an adult. I was finally sleeping better, but still having a lot of anxiety. It’s something I’ve struggled with as long as I can remember. So my GP at the time prescribed a very low dose of a benzo. ONLY for absolute emergencies. Fine. That was around 2009. I’d go multiple years at a time without needing to fill the prescription. I rarely ever took it. But I took it when I needed it.
We’ve now caught up to where I was on the upswing. While not being aware of its addictive properties, I’d been told repeatedly by many people that the benzo I was taking can affect the person’s memory, as well as increase the possibility of getting dementia later in life. So I was feeling better. With my medical people I lowered my dose, but was still cutting pills into quarter segments to take a smaller dose. So they prescribed an even LOWER dose. This was all over the coarse of two or three months. Not a very long time.
All of my medical professionals warned me to stop taking the benzo. Not a single fucking one of them told me not to just stop taking them. I’m not a hard drug user. There was no reason at any point in my life I’d have the knowledge to not do what I did. It was up to those medical professionals to tell me. But they didn’t.
So when I felt better, I stopped.
I don’t know how long it took for the initial withdrawal to kick in, only how long it took to understand what was happening to me. It wasn’t an act of “I am going to stop taking this.” Because I took it when needed, I simply stopped needing it and therefore taking it. To make things more confusing, I was also switching one of my other meds at the same time. One was being swapped for something similar. So there was a lot going on in my brain all at once.
What I do know is that I went from being the most emotionally stable I had been in over ten years to being in a never-ending panic that also felt like I was on some sort of psychedelic drug. I couldn’t think straight. I couldn’t eat. I would be freezing cold then instantly be covered head to toe in sweat then back to cold again a few minutes later. I couldn’t sleep, although I would occasionally have crazy fever dreams/delusions. I was about 72 hours into that when a physicians assistant finally recognized that I was in a benzo withdrawal. My options at that point were to start taking either the same benzo (or a similar one) but in an even smaller dose to taper off, or I could just ride it out. I was TERRIFIED of going through all of that again, so I chose to ride it out. A year later I do truly wish I’d made the other choice. This has been an incredibly difficult year emotionally (and as a result of that, physically). The first week or so was pretty much a continuous panic. Not a bunch in a row. It. Never. Stopped. My world literally felt like it was ending around me. One of the hardest/worst parts was knowing that all of the work I’d done with therapy was gone.
Not just gone but everything was so much worse than it had been before. The panic finally did stop, but it came back hard and it came back often. Panic was an ugly family member who liked to just show up randomly.
It’s gotten better but it’s been a hell of a journey. First it was every few days. Then it was every few weeks. Now it’s every few months. Hopefully it will stop someday.
Y’all, that withdrawal messed up my brain. I have hopes that it’s not all permanent. But let’s step back and took at the bigger picture here.
To treat my panic, my physician (No longer my physician.) gave me something that if I were to stop, would make my panic worse. Basically chaining me to that drug for life. With no warning.
With no fucking warning, y’all.
My therapist showed me a great online support group and I learned that what happened to me is COMMON.
So now we get back to what I’ve been thinking about.
I want to be loud about what happened. It happened to me. It’s happened to a TON of other people. BUT NO ONE FUCKING TALKS ABOUT IT, SO THE PEOPLE WHO HAVEN’T EXPERIENCED IT YET DON’T KNOW. This has to stop. And I think I want to stop it with me.
I don’t know how. It’s going to take a lot of thinking and planning and organization and work, but I think I’m willing to do that. People need to know what these LEGAL prescription drugs do to people. I didn’t go through a withdrawal because I stopped getting high. I went through it because I didn’t need the medicine anymore and no one had told me the safe way to stop it.
Just watch me. I’ll figure this out. Pretty sure this is my cause now.