“In short? It is exhausting being me. Pretending to be normal is draining and requires amazing amounts of energy and Xanax.”
~ Jenny Lawson, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened
It has been said that America is a Xanax nation, and if that is the case, then I was its number-one citizen. There was a time when I loved my little “blue footballs”, but as it turned out, I may have loved them too much. My Xanax addiction cost me thousands of dollars, my job, my car, my freedom (briefly), my self-respect, my sanity (briefly), and very nearly my life. It was never supposed to be this way.
From the Beginning
For most of my life, I was the girl who wouldn’t even take an aspirin for a headache or a Midol for cramps. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in medicine or anything, I just didn’t feel the need to pop a pill for every little ache or pain. For whatever reason, that changed in a big way the year I turned 30. All my life, I had been somewhat of a worrier. I was always the one who could find a cloud in the silver lining, but I always felt that was just who I was. That year, however, it seemed as if everything was weighing on me harder than ever before. I constantly felt tense, achy, twitchy, and vaguely nauseous. I hate to sound cliché, but I think it was the fact that I hit the milestone birthday while being completely underwhelmed about my life. I was almost completely unable to sleep – I was both restless and exhausted at the same time. My muscles always felt tense and most nights, I couldn’t concentrate long enough to watch a TV program. There were times where I never even left my apartment, for days at a time. I finally broke down and decided that I needed to see a doctor. Here’s the weird thing – that when I started describing what was going on to the doctor, I never even got to finish. While I was still talking, he interrupted and said that it sounded like I had clinical anxiety, caused by depression, and he wrote me a prescription. No other solution or remedy was discussed. That was his diagnosis, and the entire visit didn’t take 15 minutes.
A Miracle Worker
I’ve got to say, that initially, Xanax seems like a godsend. My tension, my twitchiness, my restlessness… all gone, and it worked fast! Whenever I was having a bad day, I could just pop a pill and I would be feeling better in no time at all. I might’ve been a little foggy, but I felt…vaguely happy. And I could sleep again!
After a few months, I noticed that my Xanax pills didn’t seem to be lasting as long. Originally, I had been prescribed a dosage that was to be taken three times a day, but now, they would start wearing off at about four hours, leaving me to deal with the gap. And now, that was worse than anything that had come before. Let me see if I can explain this. I had originally gone to the doctor because of my feelings of restlessness, anxiety, and undefined dread becoming a significant negative distraction in my life. Having to deal with these unexplained feelings was making my life difficult at the time. Then Xanax had come into my life, and for the most part, I was almost completely untroubled by those feelings. I could “lean on” my pills and blissfully – albeit a bit foggily – muddle through the day. It normally took about 15-20 minutes for me to feel the positive effects of the pill, so that is the longest I ever had to “feel” the symptoms of my anxiety, and, because the initial dosage was covering most of the day, I usually didn’t even have to feel that. That changed when I started becoming acclimated to my dosage. Instead of the medication lasting all day, now I had a maximum of about four hours of relief. If I took my medicine exactly as prescribed (and at this point, it didn’t occur to me to do anything else), I would have to suffer through the anxiousness and restlessness for several hours each day. Worse, since I was no longer accustomed to dealing with the symptoms without pharmaceutical help, they were hitting me harder than ever. Rather than being an unpleasant nuisance, my anxiety was amped up to the point of being debilitating.
“Just a Little Bit More”
So what was I to do? I couldn’t stand it. I started taking what I felt I needed when I felt I needed it. I didn’t see a point in suffering if there was something I could do about it. When I wanted a pill, I took it. This decision on my part created several results – I would run out of my medication that much sooner. This meant that I had to get more of it because doing without simply wasn’t an option. So, I learned how to “doctor shop” to gain multiple prescriptions. And pretty soon, I had more “legal” pills than you would think I could ever need. However, having all the pills I wanted meant that I was much more cavalier about taking them. Any time I felt the urge, I took another Xanax. Anxious? Xanax. Restless? Xanax. Feeling down? Xanax. Feeling stressed because I was running out of Xanax? Xanax. Because by now I was taking these whenever I wanted, I had discovered the euphoric Xanax “high” that some people talk about. What had started out as a way to alleviate my unpleasant anxiety symptoms was now turning recreational. I was frequently out of it, in a very happy and mellow way. Whatever problems I was having no longer seemed quite so important. What I was oblivious (or was it apathetic) to the fact that some of my problems were starting to be caused by the Xanax.
A Downward Spiral
By this point, almost every area of my life was affected by my overconsumption of Xanax. As is very common among people who abuse Xanax, I was having memory problems and “losing” time, but even the stress of those side effects didn’t faze me. Can you imagine what it is like to know that your drug use is affecting your brain and making you horribly forgetful, but not be concerned about it in the least? I went from not being able to function because of my anxiety to not being able to get off my couch because of my Xanax use. I, of course, lost my job because of my repeated chronic absenteeism. Even when I was there, there were times when I was so under the influence that I would slur my words. I was in the emergency room on three separate occasions because I overdosed on my Xanax when I forgot I had already taken a healthy (unhealthy?) dose. It’s weird to say that a DUI saved my life, but it’s true. When the State Trooper pulled me over for crossing the center line, he found extra prescription bottles. The only thing that kept me from a Distribution charge was the fact that the extra bottles were empty. If I had filled the prescriptions, I would have faced federal charges, instead of just the DUI.
On the Way Up from Rock Bottom
Luckily for me, I was given drug court and rehab as an alternative to a prison sentence. Of course, as part of the treatment program, I had to detox first. As bad as my anxiety alone had been, detox and withdrawal were worse. Xanax is a benzodiazepine, and you just can’t quit “cold turkey”, because severe withdrawal can literally kill you. I was under constant medical supervision while my dosage was gradually reduced. The whole time, my addled brain wasn’t getting what it was accustomed to, so I suffered through some very unpleasant withdrawals. I was horribly anxious and nervous, because of my pre-existing condition and because of the withdrawal from Xanax. I was sweaty, nauseous to the point of dry retching, and my muscles ached. Without my drug, I had trouble concentrating, I was highly irritable, and I felt as if I was constantly on the verge of a panic attack. And of course, I couldn’t sleep, even though I was completely exhausted. I spent three months in rehab. I never would’ve guessed that such a commonly-prescribed medication could totally disrupt my life in such a relatively short time. I didn’t start out to become an addict—I just wanted relief, but benzodiazepines are insidious and tricky. In a way, I’m glad that my Xanax addiction happened so quickly and that I hit my bottom with the DUI charge so soon. This kept me from suffering the permanent cognitive damage that can happen when Xanax is used or abused over the long term. I’m rebuilding my life. I’m just lucky that I still have a life that’s worth rebuilding.