Life is hell when you’re an addict.
There are things in our lives we aren’t proud of doing. There are things we wouldn’t ever bring up in polite conversation. There are things that only certain people know about us.
For me, I’m ashamed to say I’ve been an addict for over 12 years.
I didn’t start down this road because I experimented with recreational drugs and moved on to the hard stuff. I became an addict because I trusted my doctors had my best interest in mind.
I’d been on medication for anxiety since my early twenties, and I was getting used to the rollercoaster of starting new medications, increasing the dosage when it didn’t help, crashing, and eventually changing to the next big thing.
My doctor prescribed Clonazepam because Paxil wasn’t managing my anxiety. This doctor, who I trusted, said I needed something stronger and suggested the Benzodiazepine. The mistake I made was not researching the drug before I took it. I was going through an awful time and was willing to try anything. I thought my doctor wouldn’t give me anything harmful.
I was wrong.
The thing you have to understand is - when you have a serious or severe mental illness, especially when you’ve been hospitalized in the past - you know that the most important thing you must do is trust your doctors without question. You are brainwashed into believing that you’re unable to make decisions for yourself, so you should leave your care in the hands of professionals.
I believed I shouldn’t trust my judgment.
So, when my doctor suggested a Benzo, I took her word for it that it was the best thing for me. I had no reason to believe that my doctor would put my health in jeopardy for the sake of the almighty dollar. I had no way of knowing that some of the doctors at my clinic would later lose their jobs because they were accepting money and gifts in exchange for pushing drugs on trusting patients.
But this is exactly what happens to people like me.
If you’ve read any of the literature on Benzos, you find out they are best used for short term relief because they are highly addictive. There are clear warnings on the labels that they harmful when taken long term.
My problem was I didn’t read any of the literature until it was too late for me.
I started with a small dosage, and it worked remarkably well. I was happy with the result. But before long, my body got used to the drug and wanted more. After a short time, it didn’t work on my anxiety as well as it did in the beginning.
So, my dosage increased.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I was becoming physically addicted to Benzos. I’d also become mentally addicted as well because I knew if I took a pill, I would feel better.
At 3 mg, my anxiety leveled off, and I was able to live many years on a maintenance dosage.
I only started to see a problem after I moved to the Philippines and ran out of pills.
Clonazepam is a controlled substance, and I can only get a 1 mg dosage a day for 30 days at a time. When I moved here, I was still on 3 mg, and when I tried to lower my dosage, I got sick from the withdrawal - but I didn’t know that is what it was at the time.
A few times, I either couldn’t get an appointment with a doctor that would prescribe it, or I didn’t have the money to buy the pills, and I got dangerously sick and suicidal. The pain of withdrawal was so terrible - I couldn’t eat or sleep. It’s was one of the worst feelings ever.
I didn’t know why I was getting so sick. The first clue was when I linked my symptoms to what I felt like when I tried to quit smoking. Quitting smoking is far less painful than Benzo withdrawal, but the feelings were similar, so I connected the dots.
I started doing the research I should have done years ago. I found out that Rivotril (which is the version of Clonazepam here in the Philippines), was only intended for the short term. At this point, I had been on it for seven years.
I was an addict.
I immediately decided I was going to stop taking it. The only problem was everything I read told me that stopping Benzos cold-turkey was dangerous. I knew from experience how sick I would get and how suicidal I would become at times. I knew many doctors suggested a person admit themselves to a hospital when attempting to quit.
The next four years were a blur - I would quit the drug, but always crawl back to my doctor for another prescription. She was more than happy to fulfill my request because, as I found out, she had quite a thriving business going.
I found out, like many doctors, she made a ton of money providing people narcotics and keeping hundreds of her patients addicted. Again I put my trust in a doctor, only to come to harm.
A year ago, something happened that would change my life.
My doctor suddenly went to the U.S. on a “vacation.” She left instructions to visit another doctor in her building, but when I could finally get an appointment, she wouldn’t prescribe the Rivotril I needed to get my fix. At this point, I had been without for a week and was in the grip of terrible withdrawals.
It wasn’t my finest moment, but I screamed in the doctor’s face and gave her a panic attack. I was so sick I did something not in my nature that I will always regret.
When my doctor returned a week later, I screamed at her too. I wasn’t the only one she left hanging when the government got wind of her “operation” and they took away her license to prescribe controlled substances. I never knew what happened to her because I never went back to her office after that day.
The next few weeks are what I can only describe as hell. I don’t believe hell exists except in the mind of addicts.
I didn’t search out any other doctors because I didn’t want to get back on the Benzo train again. Through sheer force of will, I made it through one day, then another. Then, I made it a week and a month.
I still experience withdrawals, even now. When I take my anti-psychotic at night, it alleviates some of the discomforts, but not all. At this point, it’s no longer physical, but mental. But, it’s still uncomfortable and something I have to fight through every day.
I asked my new doctor for something to help me with anxiety again but requested she not give me anything addictive. She put me on a low dose of Sertraline, which is both an antidepressant and anti-anxiety drug. I have to go back next week to get the dosage increased because it’s still not dulling the unease and panic.
Now that I’m on the winning side of my addiction and have quit Benzos, I feel like my life is coming together. I’m the one in control - not a drug. I’m more careful about what I put into my body. I don’t take doctors word for it any longer.
I’ve learned that I have to be my own advocate. I’m not bitter about the doctors who took advantage of me, but I’m much more careful with the advice I get. There’s no excuse for me since it’s so easy to read labels and do research on the internet before putting something in my body.
I’m a lot of things now that I wasn’t before. Mostly, I’m smarter and tougher.
I learned I can fight when the chips are down. I found out that I have amazing willpower and fortitude. I am a strong man, and there is no obstacle I can’t overcome.
If I can make it through hell and back, I can make it through anything. I can proudly say I’m a recovered addict.