It Happened To Me: I'm Coming Off Benzos

I'm 48 hours into being completely benzo free.

Sep 5, 2012 at 1:00pm | Leave a comment

I thought I would be celebrating. But after 3 years addicted to benzos and a 4-month struggle to kick them, being clean is pretty anticlimactic. 

I never thought I would be in *that* demographic. I guess I believed that I had changed enough factors in my life to prevent the awful things that led other family members down the road to addiction, that I had created some magic force field that made me different from everyone else. After all, I was in weekly therapy and I was following my doctor's instructions -- "You take them for a reason," he would reassure me. "When you want off of them we can just taper your dose down." I thought I was bulletproof. 

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Taken right before things went downhill.

In late April, I realized that something needed to change. I was cleaning the front hall and just broke down in tears. By this point I had been on benzos steadily for about three years, and two weeks prior to that I had gotten a migraine that was so hideous that I was too exhausted to be anxious. I saw my doctor -- the one that had been prescribing all of my medication -- about 2 days into the migraine. I was getting sicker, but the doctor had announced that he was quitting the practice and I had to see him. My husband drove me to my appointment because I was too shaky and lightheaded to drive. I also couldn't smell or taste anything and my skin was almost entirely numb, but hey, migraines can be weird, right? I had issues talking during my appointment, and I kept apologizing. The doctor gave me refills on the rest of my meds and said, "Here's a prescription for 3mg Klonopin, that'll help you get off of the Xanax." I just shoved the prescription in my purse and left. I still hadn't put two and two together. 

Later on that day, I was lying on the couch, staring at the ceiling. That's when I saw the pill bottle and thought, "Shit, I haven't taken Xanax in a few days." I took 2mg and within 15 minutes I was feeling better. Over the course of the next two weeks I was balancing Klonopin and Xanax together, but it wasn't working. Breaking down in the front hall was the final sign I needed. I called a few people -- the local psych ER, my therapist. All of them said, "You need to go to the ER for Xanax withdrawal."

Damn, I thought, this shit must be hard to kick. I was on 6mg Xanax and 2-4mg of Klonopin a day, and life felt like an emotional earthquake. I decided to go to the ER the next day. 

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Books, knitting, meds.

I sat on the bed and filled out a notebook -- current medications, medical history, mental diagnosis and treatment. I didn't know if they would try to throw me in the psych ward -- my therapist said to call her cell phone if they threatened to do that.

That next morning my husband had an interview at a temp agency. I asked him to drop me off at the ER on his way there, since the wait at ERs is always long. The receptionist started the registration process. She asked me to hold out my arm to put the bracelet on, and I could barely hold my arm steady enough. 

I waited for 4 hours. They took my vitals multiple times. My husband got back from his interview, and eventually they called me back. 

They put me in a room. The nurse came in and said, "OK, so you're addicted to Xanax and you need more, right?"

I just said, "I have plenty of Xanax. I want off of this shit." He looked surprised and said the doctor would be in soon. 

I've had various medical issues and my fair share of hospital stays, but what struck me the most was how the doctor reacted -- instead of examining me or taking my vitals, he pulled a chair over to the hospital bed and sat down. He was so kind and gentle that I felt relief. He was alarmed at how high my dose had gotten, and that a doctor had given me so little to wean myself off with. He said, "No matter how you do this, it will be hell." I nodded. He took my vitals, and he tested my reflexes. He was hitting away at my knees and elbows -- usually pretty damn sensitive areas -- and nothing was happening. Nothing. My reflexes were gone. 

He gave me a weaning schedule, a dose of Xanax, and a prescription for it. He warned me again that this wouldn't be easy and would take at least three months. 

So, I braced myself. The next three months were a blur of feeling sick, having great days, having horrible days, body pain, sweating, no sleep, regressing back into self-harm, not being able to eat. My doctor convinced me that it would be best to start a small dose of Klonopin for when I was on the final weeks of the Xanax withdrawal, and that the Klonopin would be easier to get off of. This was a good decision. 

In mid-June I took my last Xanax. Since then it's been a slow step down off of the Klonopin, and the symptoms haven't been as severe, but just as miserable. 

I'm 48 hours into being completely benzo free. I'm a sweaty, lightheaded mess curled up on the bed. I know I should be proud of myself, but my brain has been slowly clearing the benzo fog and returning to normal, and all it sees right now is a life without the magic bullet. The rational side is telling me that I am happy that I am no longer a slave to Xanax, and I know that's true. But if someone had told me that venturing back into the world benzo-free would be this scary, I wouldn't have believed them.