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Alison Kellagher

Boulder, Colorado 

Following is a description of events in my life that have led to my interest in working with the benzodiazepine problem, beginning with some general biographical data.  

I was born in Saranac Lake, New York in 1954. In 1979 I earned an undergraduate degree in fine arts at The State University of New York. I was a dedicated athlete, pursuing Nordic skiing and bicycle racing competitively. My first “career” was in bicycle racing, and I was named to the elite US National Cycling Team in 1982 and 1983. In 1980 I married Bill Kellagher. We are still happily married, and have no children. I worked for fifteen years in the bicycle industry. Professional positions include Apparel Product Manager for Cannondale Corp, and Senior Apparel Designer for Trek Bicycle Corp. 

At the beginning of my design career, in 1984, I began to experience panic attacks (I did not know the name for this at the time.) I consulted the first psychiatrist in my life then, and was prescribed a benzodiazepine on the very first visit. The doctor’s instructions were to take the pills as part of my daily routine, and to simply continue to take them, as long as they helped with the anxiety, which they did.  

I was able to pursue my career, but over the next ten years the benzo dose had to gradually be increased to remain effective. As this happened, I began to change, losing my spirit, my intelligence, and my will. I became deeply depressed and disoriented in my own life. 

1993 represents the beginning of a nine-year battle to become free of benzodiazepines, which I would not win until 2002.  

By 1993 I had begun to experience persistent suicidal ideation. I had not had this condition before taking benzos. I was switched from Xanax to Klonopin around this time as well, because we had moved to Colorado and I was seeing a new psychiatrist who preferred to prescribe Klonopin. 

I was hospitalized for a suicide attempt in 1993 and taken off of 6 mg Klonopin in two weeks. I cannot begin to describe the way this felt, and the horror of circumstances I found myself in. It was like being suddenly cast out of the normal world into hell, and there was no exit. No one around me recognized what I was experiencing, and I was left alone to suffer, or worse, told that what I was experiencing could not possibly be true: “ Benzo withdrawal lasts two weeks,” etc. It was bizarre and horrible beyond description, and I thought maybe I had gone mad, and the world had gone mad at the same time. 

I endured the awful hellish state of mind peculiar to benzos for four months. I did not understand, as I now do, what was happening to me. It was an enormous muddle of symptoms and suffering, and my doctor was in the dark about what was wrong with me. He did not recognize the symptoms of benzo withdrawal. The people at the detox hospital were also under informed about benzos. I was told I might be slightly anxious for a few weeks. I trusted that I was in good hands and believed these professionals. When, after four months of mental/emotional torture, in bewilderment and confusion about what had happened to me, as well as being subdued and shamed at having somewhere along the line becoming a “drug addict,” I accepted the doctor’s opinion. The doctor told me he thought I would need to be on benzos the rest of my life for non-specific reasons. He also diagnosed me with bipolar disorder and prescribed a cocktail of other medications. I was miserable, confused, barely able to function in my life, and reinstated at 4 mg Klonopin. Not once did someone suggest that I might be in a healing process from benzos, and that I needed only wait it out a little longer for the progress to begin to show. 

This cycle (reinstate, increase dose over time, become suicidal, go to detox hospital and c/t) was repeated five times over the next nine years, so in total I have c/t’d from a high dose of benzos five times. During these years my career faded out, I faded out, and became a shell by 2002.  

In April 2002 something from deep inside reached up, incredibly, for one last attempt to save me. Something had shifted in me, I think because I knew I could not stay alive any longer on benzos, and I made a decision to go off and never reinstate, no matter what happened, or how long I had to wait. I c/t’d then from 7 mg Klonopin. I was prepared to suffer for years if that was what I had to do. I was treated badly at the detox center I went to, but it didn’t even matter to me. By then I knew that no one had any idea what was happening to me, did not listen to them, and simply went my own way in order to become well.  

Because of my husband Bill’s love and compassionate care, I was able to let everything in my life drop in order to get well. I stayed at home, and I was unbelievably sick for the following months. 

Basicly it went like this: 0 – 3 months: suffering mentally 24/7, except when I could sleep. 

3 – 5 months: some good windows gradually appear, and slowly increase, giving me hope. I began to participate, tentatively, in the outside world. 

After about six months I had enough healing to have hope and faith that I would eventually be more or less well. I continued to gradually feel better over the next months, and although it was very hard at times, as long as I saw progress, I felt hopeful enough to endure the symptoms. But I was not yet back to normal. By this time, because of the progress I was experiencing, I was completely certain that it was the benzodiazepine that had changed my brain, and that I was healing from that injury. I was witnessing the process in myself. Because of this experience I began to want to help others who are struggling in their efforts to heal from benzos.  

In 2004 I began as a graduate student in counseling psychotherapy at Naropa University in Boulder, CO. I am now (Nov, 2005) in the third, final year of my program, and working as an intern. 

Two years into my recovery I discovered the on-line support group that Geraldine Burns started. This group has been shown to be an amazing resource, and I have been witness to the processes of numerous people successfully, if often painfully, tapering and recovering from benzo use. 

In the support group people are learning from one another. When so many mental health professionals remain in the dark about benzodiazepines, we are relying on communication between people who have been through benzo withdrawal for accurate information.  

Last autumn I started a small support group in Boulder. The group limped along, fell apart, and has begun anew, having learned from the first attempt. Several people have gotten off of a benzo with us, and two are now in the process. There is little else out there for us except one another’s experience and encouragement. 

In July 2005 I attended the launch of the benzo clinic in Oldham, UK, looking for models of care for benzo sufferers. 

In October 2005 I attended the benzo conference held by the Maine Benzodiazepine Study Group. I gave an informal presentation about the role of support groups in benzo withdrawal. I had the good fortune to meet Dr. Ashton there. I am in the process of writing my master’s paper about how to help people through benzo withdrawal, and I am very honored that Dr. Ashton has agreed to be my second reader. I hope I can write something that will help guide other therapists in working with people experiencing benzodiazepine withdrawal. 



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.

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Last updated 21 July 2020