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It was August, and a full three months away from Thanksgiving. But I was on hold with the Williams Sonoma customer service line, attempting to cancel an order I had apparently placed for a massive, $185 artisanal turkey scheduled to be delivered to my home a continent away, in a week.
It was June –- bikini season. And I was on the phone with my credit card company, closing and re-opening my Chase account because someone -– not me, oh no –- had attempted to buy $150 worth of Garcinia Cambogia -– the miracle weight loss supplement doctors don’t want you to know about! -– from China using my credit card number.
It was February -– nothing special going on. Just buying econ-o-size multi-packs of mysterious herbal energy supplements off of eBay and having one-sided text conversations composed entirely of consonants and punctuation.
So what kind of weird online shopping addiction do I have? Aside from the occasional spree during Nordstrom’s semi-annual, none. Au contraire –- all this fun results from the fact that I take Ambien.
I travel a lot for work, which is how it got started. I’m often crossing multiple time zones, which makes keeping a regular sleep schedule a challenge. For a while I just dealt with it –- showing up to an office in a new city an hour late once or twice; bleary-eyed and exhausted.
Enter Ambien. My first fix came from my mother, who gave me a handful and told me to try them after a particularly harrowing experience: I was two hours late to an important meeting and woke up to frantic texts from my boss asking if I was OK. She instructed me to take one an hour before I wanted to go to sleep, and BAM -– I was hooked. Like magic, I could now fall asleep 8 hours before my normal bedtime, and stay asleep in crowded, noisy and sometimes filthy foreign hotels. I was saved. I was never late to work again.
But then. Oh then. The math of Ambien started to creep outside the bedroom. You see, you must take Ambien a full 8 hours before you need to get up –- as soon as you take that little white pill, you, my friend, are for all intents and purposes deceased until it decides to release you from its time-release clutches.
I started gambling with my sleep numbers. I’d find myself in a cab or at an airport, realizing that I was quickly approaching a time beyond which I’d be unable to safely take an Ambien and get up in time for a full day of shilling for the man.
“Let’s see… I need to be in the office at 8 a.m., which means I need to get up at 7,” I’d think to myself, counting quietly on my fingers. “So I need to be asleep by 11-ish. It’s five after 10 and it’ll take an hour to get to the hotel… I’ll just take one now and hope we don’t hit traffic!”
What followed was a series of usually confusing and hazy but mostly-successful cab rides, check-ins and stumbles through hotel hallways. Sometimes it would take me a few tries to find the right room, but not once did I wake up somewhere I wasn’t supposed to be. Success! I was getting good at this.
As my comfort level with the disassociative effects of psychopharmaceutical drugs increased, so too did my comfort level with taking the pills in unsafe places. Next up? The redeye flight challenge. No one likes a redeye flight –- not least of which someone who is meant to step directly off the plane and right into a meeting, looking bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (or at least not rumpled and half-awake, with sleep marks on her face).
People who can comfortably sleep on red eye flights, I salute you. Me? I can’t fall asleep on a plane even in the best of circumstances –- so I wasn’t looking forward to nine hours in coach, where, it turns out, I’d be sandwiched between a backpacking trustafarian and a businessman with a bad chest cold.
But: Ambien to the rescue! I’d simply take a pill and emerge on the other side of the world, in a foreign airport, rested and ready to go. Right? Wrong. What I got instead was a couple of hours of fitful sleep, punctuated by concerned-looking flight attendants thrusting snacks at me –- which I ate (I think?) along with more Ambien, because I kept forgetting how many I had taken.
When the trustafarian had to shake me to let me know we were landing, I was so nauseated that for the first time in my frequent-flier life, I had to use my seatback barf bag. In my infinite wisdom, I had failed to heed even the most simple of safety instructions that came in the packet with my pills -– take on an empty stomach. I barely managed to make it off the plane, and I was the last from my flight to make it to customs -– by a lot. I arrived pale, drenched in cold sweat, and halfway to losing consciousness.
You’d think that after that, I’d stop with the Ambien already and give lavender-scented sachets and restful nighttime yoga a try. Nope! I’m no quitter. Several midnight makeup experiments, a couple half-naked Instagram selfies and a new credit card later, I’ve finally figured out a 10-step process that works for me: Take Ambien. Remove contacts. Put on glasses. LOCK DOOR. Get in bed. Set alarm. Put phone 2-3 arms’ lengths away. Turn on a dumb TV show. Turn out lights (this step is optional). Wake up 8 hours later, refreshed and, if all went according to plan, with no felony charges.
All images are courtesy of Toothpaste for Dinner comic artist Drew.