I poured my last bit of vodka into my Styrofoam big gulp cup, took my last couple of pills, and then skated my way to the Meridian detox facility. This was not my first rodeo with rehab centers. See unfortunately, most doctors and counselors do not understand the cruel nature of benzodiazepine withdrawal. Since the heroin addicts and alcoholics are usually able to somewhat function after a few days of puking and shaking, the doctors expect the same from everyone. However, anyone who has survived the nightmare can tell you this is NOT the case with benzos.
There were several rehabs in the past where the doctor would rip me off the medication in less than two weeks and then the counselors wouldn’t understand why I couldn’t leave my room and participate in group. I would enter my counselor’s office while having an out of body experience, feeling like my intestines were wrapped in barbed wire and she would condescendingly tell me “just take a deep breath and try not to be in your head so much.’’
…..excuse me? No "deep breath" was going to fix what I was experiencing!
One of the symptoms of withdrawal is you lose your ability to make a rational sentence and you can’t defend yourself vocally, so when I would try to explain the hell I was in while in past rehabs, I would just get talked over and treated like a second class citizen.
So THIS time I had a plan. This time I was going to go in there while still on the meds and fully functional . I was going to let the doctors and counselors see first hand how happy and outgoing was. I wanted them to see this so that when I started to lose my ability to function, they would maybe fucking understand the brutality of withdrawal. I told the doctor “look man, I’m not doing this ‘less than two weeks bullshit. We’re doing this at my pace or we’re not doing this at all and I’m walking out the door right now.”
Thankfully he was on board! It took me years to find a doctor who was willing to allow a slow taper (7 months to be exact) and this was TRULY an answer to prayer. There are only a few reasons why I still have faith in a caring God and this is one of them. And so began my taper. The first month wasn’t too terribly painful that I can remember. I knew that within the first week I was already out of my comfort zone with the anxiety, but I was still me and able to function for the most part. I still had my outgoing personality and was able stay positive and laughing amongst the other clients....and then it started getting bad. And I don’t mean “hey just take a deep breath, everything will be ok kind of bad.” I mean my body became a complete shipwreck. I constantly felt like my nerves were plugged to a car battery and like I had hornets flying around in my head. My heart rate was ALWAYS sporadic, making it hard to concentrate on conversations or focus on group because ALL of my energy was focused on just trying to get my damn heart rate down. I began to feel like I was in an alternate reality or dimension; an evil one. It felt almost identical to a bad acid trip.
I became more and more introverted although I don’t think the other clients could tell how much angst I was in. That’s one of the scariest parts of mental health is people can’t see your war wounds. They don’t always see you completely collapsing inside. Other patients would share in group about how they were aggravated about doing chores or that they couldn’t have their cell phones, meanwhile I was trying to summon every single ounce of strength in me to not run out screaming like an insane person. I do not know how I was able to continue to go to groups and share at AA meetings. I do not know how I got through job interviews all while feeling that the walls were LITERALLY closing in on me. I do not know how I was able to perform in a talent show without collapsing on stage. I do not know how I was able to visit my girlfriend and still make her laugh. I do not know. But somehow I did. I kept envisioning a picture I saw on the internet of one man digging for treasure and stopping and turning back when he was only about a ft. away from reaching the gold. I didn’t want to be that man. I had to escape this prison, and I knew the only way out was through. Everyday literally felt like I was having to figure out how to walk through a concrete wall of sheer terror and panic. To say the least it was one of the worst experiences of my life and it lasted for 7 MONTHS!
There was one moment in particular where I was running to go see my counselor. Randy was his name. He himself had gone through benzo withdrawal and he was in shock at all the things I was still able to do in spite of the grueling, gut wrenching anxiety. He was so incredibly encouraging and also another reason I still believe in God. As I was running to his office, my heart was pounding out of my chest, the hornets in my head were getting louder and louder, and for the first time since I started tapering, I began to believe that this was ACTUALLY impossible. My mind screamed “THIS ISN’T DOABLE! YOU CAN’T DO THIS!”
....but the faintest voice kept whispering..."But you have to."