My Benzo Addiction and Detox Journey

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If all you care about is how to fix a benzo problem, then by all means, please scroll to the bottom right now where I explain how. I don’t want to hold you hostage for a second too long. I understand all too well how badly you just want to become a normal person again. If my advice works for you, then all I ask is that you spread the word to others! Good luck and Godspeed!

No one ever thinks that they’ll be that person… a drug addict. Well it happened to me. I have been an insomniac for most of my life, about 30 years now. I have trouble falling asleep and I have trouble staying asleep – if I even fall asleep in the first place. There are nights where I see every hour go by on the clock. And the nights where I do seem to sleep for long stretches (either drug induced or not), I never wake up feeling well rested. My eyes are always sore and bloodshot.

I began complaining to my doctor in my 20s. The first sleep med I tried was Trazodone. It did not work well, sometimes not at all. And the following day I would always feel like I had been run over by a Mack truck. In my 30s a bunch of new sleep meds popped onto the scene. Ambien, Lunesta, Sonata, and Rozerem. I tried them all. Ambien and Lunesta were hit or miss – more often a miss. Plus the horror stories about people sleep driving and sleep eating on Ambien scared the crap out of me. Sonata was ridiculous. It has a half-life of like 3 hours, and sure enough every single time I took it I would bolt upright about 3 hours later. Rozerem was a total joke. I’m not sure how the FDA ended up approving it for sleep. It must have had something to do with a Congressman who was paid off. Enter Clonazepam

OMG! Finally something that seemed to work most of the time. I took 1 mg about an hour before bed, and then about an hour later…ahhhhhh. I felt warm and fuzzy and so happy, because I knew sleep was going to be a thing for me that night. I seemed to stay asleep for most of the night, although I did not feel well rested in the morning. I would feel sluggish throughout the day, but I felt mentally well knowing that I had slept. The doctor warned me that it was addictive and to only take it a couple nights per week. I obeyed.

Then in my 40s I started taking Wellbutrin. It jacked me up. I felt energetic and “fake happy”, but it kept me awake all night with my heart racing. To even have a chance of sleeping I needed to take Clonazepam every single night. My new doctor warned me that it was addictive, that it interfered with deep sleep, and that it could contribute to Alzheimer’s. I figured it was better than no sleep at all, so I continued taking it at the 1 mg dosage for the next 9 months. Side effects caused me to give up on Wellbutrin and several other anti-depressants, and with that, I decided to back off on Clonazepam.

I knew that I needed to reduce my dosage slowly and I figured I could handle it. I suppose that most people who take benzos end up taking them for life (either because they need to or because the withdrawal symptoms are so severe), such that many physicians don’t fully understand how to get their patients off them completely without experiencing withdrawal syndrome. Every 2 weeks I reduced my nightly intake by 1/4 mg, until I got to 1/4 mg. I assumed I had done everything correctly and responsibly, and that I would be fine going to bed without any Clonazepam. WRONG!!!

That very first night I somehow managed to fall asleep for a very short time, and then suddenly just after midnight, my life as I knew it did a 180. And so did my husband’s. Let me just say right here that if your partner does not fully support you in every way that you need during a drug detox, then he/she is NOT the partner for you!!! Get rid of them quickly! Back to that first night…. I woke up suddenly and everything felt wrong in a way that I can’t even explain. I felt panicky. I tried to fall back to sleep but I couldn’t relax enough to stay still. I got out of bed and used the restroom. Then I got back in bed, but popped right up, as if some invisible force was pushing me out. I went downstairs and got a drink of water and checked my phone. As I steered myself toward my bedroom, I knew that lying down just wasn’t going to happen. So I went into the guest bedroom to try meditating – which is something that had been helping me to relax before bed at the time. I felt claustrophobic. I kept looking over my shoulder at the door which was mostly shut. It was then that I realized that I was going through withdrawal.

I finally returned to bed, but I felt like I was going to suffocate if I fell asleep, and a ton of negative thoughts kept flying through my head. I don’t remember if I fell back to sleep that night, but I did manage to stay in bed. I thought that everything might end up being ok. Not to be!

The following night I got up twice to pee (not normal for me) and tossed and turned all night. On the 3rd night I had to wake my husband up in order to feel calm enough to stay in bed. On the 4th night I realized that I felt a little less panicky after seeing light coming in through the bathroom windows, but the tossing and turning continued.

After 1 week of no Clonazepam I dreaded going to bed so much that I watched tv until late. This is a big thing for someone who insisted that the lights be turned out at 9:00. Some other weird things were that I had to take my socks off before bed because they made me feel even more claustrophobic, and I had to turn the fan down from high to low. The noise was also contributing to my claustrophobia. And I had to keep the bathroom door open because seeing that little bit of light helped, sort of. All of this for someone who has mylar shades in their bedroom because one speck of light kept them up and needed the fan on high to block all outside sounds.

The next week, everything started to get a little worse. I could not stay still in bed. I kept getting up to pee even though I didn’t really need to. I kept waking my husband up to tell him how miserable I was. He suggested that I go downstairs and sit up with my pillow and blanket, and keep the lights on and read. I began researching benzo addiction, withdrawal symptoms, and treatment. There wasn’t much useful information out there. Some people wanted to be paid for any advice that they gave. How inhumane!!!! I did come across a website that would end up saving my life, but didn’t do anything about it just yet. I started feeling claustrophobic during the day. I needed to be in a large, open space, and I needed to be able to see daylight. Friends suggested that I try melatonin, valerian, tryptophan, chamomile tea. I did. Ha! All jokes! I tried staying in the bedroom at night with the bathroom light on and the tv on. It did not help. I also turned on the closet light and the foyer light. Nope! I began to feel claustrophobic in my heavy coat and even in my car if I was stopped at a red light. I attempted to meditate at lunch time at work, but felt panicky when I shut my eyes. I started to feel nauseous and itchy.

After 12 days I finally went to see my doctor. He said he’d make a call to a local mental health center to see if they had a day program for me, and he prescribed Clonodine and Librium (another benzo). It helped a little bit for one night. I tried sleeping in the family room again and my husband offered to sleep there too. He slept like a baby. I did not sleep at all. I developed a low grade fever.

I thought a change of scenery might help. We went to the beach for the weekend after Thanksgiving. Our room had an entire wall of floor to ceiling windows which overlooked the bay. I figured if I kept the curtains open I wouldn’t feel claustrophobic. I got in bed the first night and felt like I might be able to sleep…for about a minute. I got out of bed and paced. I turned the tv on and sat on the sofa. I was so tired. Every time I closed my eyes I would panic. I woke my husband up and he offered to sit on the sofa while I laid on it with my legs across his lap. He fixed my pillows so I would be propped up, because I still felt like I would suffocate if I laid flat. He did this for both nights and I managed to get a tiny bit of sleep each night. He was my hero!

Throughout this time I questioned whether I should go back on Clonazepam. Even just 1/8 mg. I knew that dosage would not do much to help me sleep all night long, but at least I might not feel panicky and claustrophobic all of the time. But I always talked myself out of it, knowing that it would also do nothing to help break my addiction. I had to persist.

Fifteen days after suffering from benzo withdrawal syndrome I finally made a decision that would save my life, or at least my sanity. I would follow the advice of that website I had come across during one of my sleepless nights. I realized that going to a treatment center wasn’t going to do anything for me that I couldn’t do myself, other than drain my bank account.

READERS WHO JUST WANT TO KNOW THE FIX, SEE BELOW…

After reading the The Ashton Manual and showing it to my doctor, he agreed to my plan. I would begin by taking 5 mg of Valium (name brand diazepam), which is equivalent to 1/4 mg of Clonazepam. And I would reduce it by 1 mg every 2 weeks until I had used 1 mg. I used this chart to figure out the equivalency of Valium to Clonazepam. The reason that Valium works so well as a detox drug is because it is longer acting than Clonazepam and other benzos, and you can get extremely small doses of it. The trickiest and most important part is getting your doctor on board with it. I was very lucky in that regard!

My first night of taking Valium was on December 10, 2016 and my final night was on March 17, 2017. As I reduced my dose, sleep was tougher and tougher to come by, but I did not suffer from any withdrawal symptoms. I never felt any of the phobias I had been experiencing even once! I didn’t have the best sleep, but that has always been my normal. What I did have was my life back!

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