My name is Madelon and I am here to tell you about my battle with benzo addiction, its torturous withdrawal and the real possibility to beat this monster.
Before my introduction to benzos in 1986, I had been struggling for 2 years with something no doctor was able to diagnose.
I was unable to sleep and had continuous anxiety I didn't know how to describe, felt very depressed and was exhausted. Towards the end of the 2nd year, I also had developed a severe phobia for elevators or anything that locked me in. I had seen numerous health professionals except the Vet till I was finally given a diagnosis of "Neurosis" by a highly regarded French Psychiatrist in Paris, France, where I was visiting my parents at the time.
I was so relieved to have found someone at last who knew what was wrong with me that I gladly accepted his prescription for medication that was going to "get me back to normal" within 5 days, as he promised.
I remember asking what a Neurosis is, but his answer was I didn't need to know since I was never going to find it anyway. My next question, if I had to take the pills for long, was met with him simply raising his shoulders.
Whether this was a mental illness was also met with his raised shoulders.
So while I was happy to have found a "cure", I was still not any wiser as to what this was. Five days later, indeed, I did feel fine and had the pharmacist fill the 6 month supply of 2 benzos, 1 neuroleptic, 1 sleeping pill and Vitamin B3 (Niacin) for good measure.
A couple of years later, about 20 lbs heavier and feeling terribly ugly and unattractive, I decided to stop all drugs except one, the Klonopin (Rivotril) and kept taking the 2 mgs daily for the next 6 years.
I chose this drug, since it was the only one I could get here in Canada; for the others I had to fly to Paris every 6 months.
At some point during the next years, Prozac was added to treat the still existing depression and so I continued the 2 of them together.
Most unlike me, I never researched these drugs for side effects. I was too busy figuring out what this Neurosis was all about. I never did find out, since I was laughed at by anyone I had asked. There was no such thing anymore, all Freudian stuff, old fashioned, etc., etc., I was told, but why was I then taking all these drugs for something that did not exist anymore? This was a real mystery to me.
During one of the check-up visits in Paris, I did mention this to the psychiatrist, but he compared it to a diabetic needing insulin. I needed the Klonopin in order to live. If I did not take it, I would either become insane or commit suicide. Both scared me, so I continued faithfully.
And so life went on. I raised 2 daughters, travelled, ran a household and cared for 10 race horses, a couple of dogs and cats, gave dinner parties, etc. Early 1992, I decided I did not need the Prozac anymore and quit, cold turkey. Nothing happened and in the fall of that same year, I did the same with the Klonopin - cold turkey .............and blew my brains out.
Feeling so desperately ill, I frantically called around, except my doctor for some reason, and found a Detox that warned me of the dangers involved.
The next morning, my husband drove me to this place, where I was to detox safely for a period of 3 weeks, but nothing had ever prepared me for the roller coaster ride I was to embark on, to say nothing about that side of life I had only seen in movies or heard about.
I was violently ill for the whole time in there, and it did not look like it was going to ease up, something that puzzled the staff. I was also the only one coming off a prescribed pill, so it was very difficult for me to relate to the other women, particular since they were doing fine. I did not see others with the same symptoms at all.
As far as I could see, heroine or cocaine detox looked like a piece of cake compared to what I was going through. I walked out as sick if not sicker as when I walked in 3 weeks earlier, and was unable to cope at home.
My body and brain were at war it seems. I burned all over, my eyes felt like they had fallen out of their sockets, my vision it seemed had to be dragged all the way from the back of my head, I could not see nor hear, I was full of fear and panic, paranoia which made me climb walls, I could not eat or drink, my scalp felt like it was being burned by sizzling coals and I wanted to die.
Soon, rage would get the better of me and everything that was not attached to a wall or floor would fly across the room without warning. This behaviour concerned my family and it scared me too and so Paris was called for a consultation.
I was to immediately fly over, but not without going first to the local ER for some Klonopin to get me over safely. Fear of these pills made me reluctant to take that first one again and I stared at it for a long time, but decided to take it anyway. The most amazing thing was that 20 minutes later I jumped into my car and drove to the nearest town to buy a new outfit for the trip to Paris. I hadn't been able to do any of that previously.
Once in Paris, I was hospitalized immediately (the Klonopin had stopped working during the flight over and I was popping them every hour to keep the rising fear from exploding) and stayed 2 weeks, while being drugged up to the eyeballs with the same cocktail from years before.
Exactly one month later, during a family holiday in Hawaii, I was seized suddenly, out of the blue it seems, with the same fear and anxiety, but still on all these drugs. I was totally stunned. How could this happen??
Once back home, and with the help from my local GP, I tapered over an 8 month period and was free of drugs on November 24, 1994, and glad I had finally done it. I felt fine over the Xmas holiday, but New Year's Eve arrives and I am exhausted on the couch, while friends and family celebrate.
This was also the beginning of my steady decline and in March, 1995. I am admitted in the local Psych Ward with suicidal depression and in a catatonic state and where I am to stay for the next 3 months. I had all the same symptoms again from the first withdrawal plus many more frightening ones.
It was at this time, that the Depersonalization and Derealization popped up their ugly heads and I had no idea how to explain these 2 symptoms. I just felt very crazy and disconnected from myself and everyone around me.
I also failed to recognize my own children and husband and prayed to God to end it all.
The only lifelines I had at that time were my pen and paper and wrote daily, sometimes just words and I painted flowerpots, one after another, all different.
I had also made a list of all the symptoms (134 in total) and presented it to the resident Psychiatrist one morning, who could only ask me what I was doing to myself and by the end of my stay I had been labelled every single psychiatric illness known to mankind.
I knew then I was on my own.
It was also at that time I was given Barbara Gordon's book, "I'm Dancing As Fast As I Can", for the first time and was horrified. I knew I was in the same boat, I recognized all her symptoms, the burning, the rage, the DP/DR, and saw myself going to the place of my worst fears, the institution where she too spent a few years.
My husband, alarmed by a friend who saw my daily decline in health, discharged me and took me home, hoping I would pick up the pieces of my life again, but the DP/DR had made it impossible for me to even relate to the outside world, let alone myself, so I lived for the next few months in my own cocoon, disconnected.
Unable to dress myself, to take showers, to go to the bathroom alone, to make a cup of tea, to laugh or to cry, or even to remember who I had been, all I could do was to sit, lay down and stare into nowhere and hope that God or anyone would come by and take me away from all this.
I did wonder who I had been, did I have friends, who were they?
I knew intellectually that I had 2 daughters, but who were they?
Who was that man in the house, in my bed???
I had no memory of anyone and only the many photo albums were a testimony I had a life, once.
I attended weekly NA meetings, only because I had nowhere else to go and someone in Detox had urged me to do so. I also went to a Treatment Center for women for the same reason, but it turned out the worst mistake I could have made in that situation.
My 6 week stay at this monstrous place took the last strength and hope I had and I sank deeper and deeper into the depersonalization and depression till it nearly killed me.
I was refused treatment for severe uterine bleeding with the reason being given that I was trying to manipulate the doctor in order to get to " my pills of choice" and as much as a sneeze would take away my weekend passes home or my telephone calls to my daughters, who were frightened to the core of loosing their mother.
At one of the weekends home, I saw my GP who immediately ordered surgery to stop the hemorrhaging, but the Center ordered me back as soon as I came to. If not, I would lose my place. By now I did not care anymore what would happen. As far as I was concerned, this life was not worth living and suicide occupied my mind daily and I frantically sought a way out of this horror.
I flew once more back to Paris, but this last time I was put in a place south of the city, a place that looked more like a rest home for the mentally disturbed from rich families and I was painfully aware that I had finally arrived in the place of my worst fears, the asylum.
My whole time in there was something out of the movies, male nurses with crisp white coats, long side burns and thick rimmed glasses, bringing in the medications in little brown bottles on white chipped metal trays, the studio where we were making moccasins .......Yep, I had "arrived".
And again, I was back on more neuroleptics, more benzos, more sleeping pills and anti-parkinson drugs to avoid the Tardive Dyskinesia and this time for life. I was seriously mentally ill, my parents were told.
Once back in Vancouver, I tried to perform as much as I could, but the many drugs I was taking made my speech slur. I fell asleep behind the wheel of my car, and pretty soon I had blown up like a balloon.
My GP became worried and urged me to stop the "nonsense" because the men in the white coats would come and get me (like I cared - been there, done that) and ordered a blood test.
My liver was in distress and I had to get off all pills was the verdict but he kept me on Serax (Oxazepam) that soon escalated in having to take more and more in order to keep the suffocating panic and anxiety under control.
I was stuck between a hard place and a rock, between an overdose and a 3rd withdrawal.
Neither appealed to me.
My husband in the meantime found a lead to a Neuropsychiatrist in Vancouver whose practice was completely full, unfortunately, but somehow we were granted an appointment and within a week I was in.
I had come to hate these kinds of people, but was told to give this man a chance.
He turned out to be the most compassionate man I had met so far and he was appalled by my story.
"Benzos are not drugs that cure anything, but only mask the problems and you can never ever take one again, under any circumstances" were his first words after having patiently listened to me for over 2 hours.
He also felt I had a massive chemical imbalance in the brain and it was going to take time to fix it. I also had to come off the Serax, but he wanted to wait till he was back from his holiday.
But I had other plans now, and was off before I had my next appointment with him 2 months later.
I did get some of the common withdrawal symptoms again this time but tried not to complain and suffered in silence. My family by now was pretty much immune to my benzo problems and didn't want to hear me moan and groan again. Many of my friends had left, other family members had formed their own opinions about me, in a negative way, and so we were very much left on our own devices.
I did once mentioned to my husband that I was burning a hole in the chair I was sitting in, but his only comment was; "You've done that before, so you know what it is. It will pass." Then he continued to read his paper.
As for the treatment for the chemical imbalance, it has been a tricky one.
I am now 5 years further and still suffer from some DP and DR with some depression and adrenal surges. I sometimes wonder if this is benzo related or menopausal. My specialist and I have been working as a team to get the right combination at the right dosage etc, like baking a cake - "a little bit of this and a little bit of that," as he said.
I hoped like hell he was a good cook; he said he was lousy in the kitchen but the best in his field of medicine.
There were bad times and better times, times when I did not want to come to the appointment out of fear of having to tell him I could not stand the side effects.
I also quit taking them at times, wanting to prove I could do without, but soon fell flat on my face again.
Today, when writing this, I feel much better about myself then I ever have but this has taken much hard work on my part along with the help of a few therapists I have seen along the way.
I had to learn to "accept" what had happened, to learn to live with the left over symptoms and to slowly build up and put back together the pieces of my life again.
The benzo experience has forced me to grow up in a hurry, to change some of my thinking and to take one day at a time, to enjoy each moment and to stay in the moment.
I can't think too much about the future yet as this is too much for my brain to deal with, and so, while at first I couldn't think further than one minute to the next, this over the years has reached as far as several months.
I struggled with long and short term memory loss, concentration and focusing and severe eye sight problems.
I had difficulties performing several things at once, difficulties being in groups or social gatherings and following conversations, not to mention having to take part in the conversations.
I couldn't talk about anything, hadn't a clue about what was going on in the world nor couldn't form an opinion about any issue.
Many times I felt I had complete amnesia and this would put me in a desperate state of depression and fear.
My husband urged me to start reading the daily newspaper, to start writing, and to use the computer to find others in the world who had experienced this.
And I did.......many...... and my gratitude goes out in particular Dr. Reg Peart who was there every time I called him and who patiently explained what had happened to me and so many others before me. He dragged me through the first year, while repeating and repeating it was still early days till I finally could stand on my own two feet.
As time went on, my days were filled behind the computer and telephone, neglecting my family and household till I realized I had to find a balance somewhere. I was a sponge for information and researched anything I could find on these drugs.
I joined women's groups, I spoke out about the dangers and my own experience with these drugs and slowly people started to know me and several invitations came for lectures at Rehabs for women, University groups, addiction specialists, etc.
My husband and two daughters, now in their twenties, have been my rocks while going through this traumatic experience and without them I know I wouldn't be here today.
While, for quite some time I had given up on me, I knew I had to do this for them, and so I persevered, endured, white knuckled it, kicking and screaming, swearing like a trooper, angry like hell, at myself, the medical profession.......at the world.
A concentration and memory test, done last year, came back with flying colours - better then the average person who had never been on benzos, so this was good news.
My brain specialist has played a big role as well in my recovery. His compassion, his warmth, his huge knowledge about the brain, his patience towards a patient with a mind of her own and not willing to do everything he said, his humor as well as his putting up with my shit several times........without him, again, I wouldn't have made it this far.
Am I a success story?? I'll let you decide.........I think personally we all are a success story once we have gotten off no matter how long it took us and no matter how we did it.
Lean on your faith, your beliefs, your family and friends- at least those who stick around - and on those who have been there, done that.
Use prayer, use anything that helps you and above all, believe that you will make it......... by taking one day at a time, one minute at a time if you have too.
Each day is one day further away from the drugs and one day closer to full recovery.
And when finding yourself in a hole.......stop digging. It saved me, one day on my way to do the unthinkable.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this website was not compiled by a doctor or anyone with medical training. The advice contained herein should not be substituted for the advice of a physician who is well-informed in the subject matter discussed. Before making any decisions about your health or treatment you should always confer with your physician and it is always assumed that you will do so.
Last updated 21 July 2020