Proud To Be A Benzo Survivor (five years free)
(I wrote this October 17, 2007. I will be five years benzo free december 20, 2008.)
I wanted to write my success story, but hadn't kept a personal journal, so I decided to retrieve some posts I had written at another online benzo support group, starting in September of 2003, four months before I finished my taper. I started reading, and was astonished by some of the things I had written. I read them with tears rolling down my face, as I realized how far I've come since those days.
In the Spring of 2000, I was given Ativan for anxiety. I took it for three months, then stopped it because I thought I no longer needed it. Knowing nothing about benzos, I thought the withdrawal symptoms were a return of the original anxiety, and went to another doctor, who put me on Xanax, at two milligrams a day.
In the Summer of 2001, I had been taking Xanax for ten months, during which time, I cried as I begged this woman to help me stop it. She refused, saying I needed it and that I could take it for the rest of my life. She also prescribed Zoloft, and told me not to stop taking either drug for any reason. She said, "Never stop Xanax cold turkey, or I guarantee, you will go crazy". I stopped the Zoloft because of the intolerable side effects, which included a constant fever, insomnia, restlessness, rapid heartbeat, and high blood pressure, and they immediately disappeared. The doctor threatened to abandon me, saying she would no longer help me unless I reinstated it. I did, and half the smallest possible dose resulted in severe panic and shaking, which lasted several days. My whole body burned and no amount of Xanax offered any relief. This landed me in the emergency room, begging for help, only to be sent to a detox facility, where I was pulled off Xanax over seven days, using Phenobarbitol to prevent seizures, and several other drugs, which only made me sicker.
While there, I was not amused to be told by someone coming off Heroin, "Oh no, not the benzos. I wouldn't touch those!" When I left there, I was so sick and dehydrated, I couldn't speak without choking.
After detox, I endured two months of cold turkey withdrawal Hell, and not able to bear another day, I begged, and was put back on Xanax to taper. Unable to stabilize at my former dose of two milligrams, I reinstated at four milligrams, but still wasn't able to achieve full relief. My taper was set back several times, due to other drugs I was given to "help" with the withdrawal symptoms. Birth control pills being the worst, I was told I needed them to ease the anxiety, and after taking them for only three days, my symptoms escalated in number and severity, over a period of two weeks, and I was back to square one, with new symptoms I didn't have before.
This time I became bedridden, and afraid I was dying, I decided to write a letter to my family, asking for their forgiveness. I thought about my children and couldn't do it. I would stay in bed all day and write; that was how I coped with what was happening to me. It broke my heart when my fifteen year old daughter would come to my room to bring me pens and stationery from her special stash, just so she could make contact with a mother who was too sick and frightened to get out of bed and be with her family. When we got a computer, I searched the internet for any information I could find about benzo withdrawal. I read and reread the success stories every day, as a sort of security blanket, hoping to understand this thing that was happening to me.
I had almost every symptom in the benzo book. I was weak, and had insomnia, and if I was lucky, I slept one or two hours a night. I had extreme anxiety and panic, and shook so much, I would sit on my hands, fearing I would fly apart if I didn't. I had muscle tension, muscle spasms, twitches, restless legs, and akasthisia. I travelled back and forth from the living room to my bedroom, carrying a blanket, because I couldn't stay still, and sometimes I would sit in the corner of my bed, with my back against the wall, and rock back and forth. I had brain zaps and noise sensitivity. My hands were numb, the head pressure made me feel like I was trapped inside my own body, and when I would lie down, it felt like the bed was in constant motion. I was dizzy and confused and couldn't remember things that were said just a couple minutes before. I had intrusive thoughts, auditory hallucinations, and my mind raced constantly. I would hyperventilate for hours, which was painful and exhausting, and at times, I felt like I was suffocating and couldn't get enough air. I had chemical sensitivities, allergy and sinus problems, headaches, benzo flu, and my skin burned. I had severe digestive problems, and with no sense of hunger, I would forget to eat, and lost sixty pounds. When I did eat, it was so painful, I was lucky to get 1000 calories a day.The acid reflux was so bad, it went into my sinuses, and I even lost my voice.
After a few months, I resumed my taper, and actually started getting better as my dose got lower. I tapered faithfully, and was finally benzo free December 20, 2003, after tapering for twenty eight months. What a relief. No more doctors to answer to, no more being told it was all in my head, no more being plied with harmful drugs I didn't need, for conditions I didn't have, no more frustration at not being heard by the "experts", who knew nothing about me, and no more trips to the emergency room, wondering why my "resistent anxiety disorder" kept coming back every time I stopped taking a drug no one told me was addictive in the first place.
As a way of celebrating the gift of freedom, I waited until Christmas morning to get rid of the leftover pills. I don't remember if I cried, but I do remember one thing. I was ready. My only regret was that there was nobody there to be excited with me, nobody who understood how important this day was to me, and that the long journey was finally over, and there was nobody there to congratulate me on my accomplishment.
I began my taper, being terrified I wouldn't be able to make it halfway through, let alone finish it. As of December 20, 2008, I will be five years benzo free. I'm not a different person than I was before taking the pills, but I have discovered the strength that was already inside me. I still have a few lingering symptoms, but they're mild and can be counted on one hand. All in all, I'm thankful to be alive, and to be able to enjoy the things I enjoyed before encountering the benzo monster. I would shout my story to the world if it would save one person from the dangers of these evil drugs. I'm proud to be a benzo survivor.