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See also: People's Stories
The following pesonal accounts are by people who have successfully recovered (or recovered enough to get on with their lives) from their dependence on benzodiazepines and from the benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome.
Carol's Story · Gary's Story · Jim's Story · Bee's Story · Deb's Story
Juliann's Story · Betsy's Story · Jen's Story · Liz' Story
This is for all of those people who may have questions about benzodiazepine withdrawal and whether or not people can come through it and feel like it was a success. I have been off of the benzos for two months now, and while that is still early for some in recovery, I feel that the best way to help others is to offer my story and let you know how far I've already come in this journey.
Almost 16 years ago, I was prescribed Xanax for panic after the birth of our first son. My OB/GYN prescribed this for me as a wonder medication that would make things "normal" for me again since I was having trouble with anxiety, a lot of anxiety. I began with a small amount and continued this for quite some time. Then it seemed that the anxiety increased and, of course, so did the dosage. I did okay on this (I thought) and then I became pregnant again. I went off of the Xanax with no trouble, had some pretty good anxiety while pregnant with our daughter and after she was born I was with new OB who also prescribed Xanax for anxiety soon after childbirth. During the next three years I didn't need to up the dosage and went off of it when I found out I was pregnant with our youngest son. I talked to my third OB about anxiety and he agreed that probably after our son was born that I would need Xanax. This time the panic was pretty severe after childbirth and I began taking Xanax again. However, this time the dosage was increased steadily (always by physician), and anxiety didn't subside and some depression set in. After checking out a ton of physical and emotional symptoms and going through much soul searching analysis (at least I've analyzed entire life now), it seemed that only increasing dosage would help. I got to where I was taking 5 milligrams a day, and it was not alleviating the anxiety.
By this time, I had about decided that something horrible was wrong with me, that I would need these drugs forever and possibly others. My mother died seven years ago, and at that time I increased the Xanax to around 8 milligrams a day. Then my body just sort of did what I now call a meltdown. The Xanax seemed to have gone toxic on me. I was in horrible shape. I broke down and called a psychiatrist who seemed to know what he was doing--NOT--he switched me to Klonopin, and to make a long story short, I was on an antidepressant for a year and then still taking 4 to 5 milligrams of Klonopin a day. I was waking up with terror every day. About a year ago I began gradually tapering the Klonopin myself. Somehow I knew that something had to do with the medication, I just didn't know what the problem was. I guess I probably went through tapering and some withdrawal for about 8 months. Then in November after talking with psychiatrist again and not feeling like things were improving much, I decided that if I was doing so well tapering that I might as well just quit taking the Klonopin. Not a good idea. I do not want this to scare anyone, so I will just say that on the fourth day I found myself in the hospital, this time seeing another doctor I didn't know who gave me Ativan to taper off of and another antidepressant. Well, guys, this was horrible. I was in withdrawal with each taper and feeling horrible on the antidepressant, so I weaned off of it, stuck to the horrid taper on the Ativan and ended up in bad shape. I finally called my husband one day and told him I just couldn't do this alone anymore. We had already been through 2 months of hell at my home. We went and finally saw a doctor at our mental health hospital. This time I had information I had retrieved from this site and a couple of other places that fully helped me understand that the majority of my problems was benzo related. The doctor put me back on Klonopin (my poor brain) and I tapered off of that for five weeks. This was still tough, but I made it with God's help, my best friend in the world, my husband, our three children and one friend who believed in me.
Right now I am right at two months of no benzos, no antidepressants. My life has totally changed but I think much of it is so much for the better. Almost every week I am improving and know that recovery will take some time, but guess what? I have God watching over me, my husband and children tell me I'm already much easier to live with even on rough days, and I look forward to the months and years ahead. It has not been easy, anything but, but I can tell you one thing. I am glad to be off of this medicine. It doesn't happen the way it happened to me for everyone. Some people can take it and it doesn't turn their lives around but improves it. I don't know how many this is true for, but if this helps anyone who is tapering or going through withdrawal or in recovery, then I feel like I've made a difference in this world. It's a shame that we have to learn from others and not the majority of the medical profession, but I'm not going to waste precious time on that argument. My life has already been consumed with too many doctors who did not know enough and would not listen. I am so ready to move on, to love my family, to venture out slowly and to HEAL!! If I can be of help to anyone, I am here for you.
Much healing to you all,
Betsy Meffert · April 18, 2002
You Will Survive this nightmare
My Fellow Sufferers,
To those of you in withdrawal now I want you to know you will recover! I never thought I would be saying these words, but I am just about my old self again after a severe withdrawal from cold turkey Ativan. It took me 8 months off the poison to get my chemistry back to normal. I have had some setbacks, but the symptoms always go away and I feel better than ever after them!
I was sooo very sick I cannot believe most has passed. The first 2-3 months off I could not read, write, watch TV or do ANYTHING but pace and rock. I had such severe anxiety I knew I was in HELL. All I could do was hold on and pray and talk to God to keep my sanity. No one should ever have to go through this. Yes, we all could handle this for maybe a week or so, but mine lasted months. And up until last month, I had pretty bad anxiety just driving and going places. It was unreal. I had just about every symptom, but the anxiety/panic was the worst. Also the FEARS that lived in my head for months. If I had gone to a shrink they would have said I was a severe hopeless case. Also, thank God I quit doctors, for not one of them believed I could be in withdrawal after a month off. Thank God I stopped believing in them, or else I would be on Paxil, back on benzos, Ambien, you name it, they wanted me on it. Well folks, the only thing that heals us is TIME. And I promise you, you will heal. Mine took very long, much longer than I would have believed, but it happened and it will for you too, hopefully sooner than my healing.
I write this letter in remembrance and thankfulness to all those ahead of me that wrote me letters of hope and recovery. If I hadn't had others writing I would have stayed in a terrified state. Eventually the adrenals get back to normal!!! I can laugh now and joke, ride my bike all over the place, and live like I used to!!! My prayers go out to each and everyone of you going through this. You will come out of this too.
Juliann · December 27, 2001
PS If you don't believe in God, you will by the time you heal!!!
I hope my story will serve as encouragement for all of you going through this difficult ordeal.
I was on Klonopin for 7 years, working over time to a dosage of 2 mg 5 x daily. I was originally prescribed it for a seizure from a head injury. My life was a mess on this drug. My judgement was very severely impaired. When I look back on the mistakes I made, it still makes me cringe. Although, after careful prayer and repentance, I have learned to forgive myself and move on.
I quit the Klonopin 'cold turkey' on October 1, 1997 and have never taken it since. Let me qualify that I was also on Tegretol for the seizures, and had to quit that over a period of nine months to avoid having a seizure from the Klonopin withdrawal. Did the Tegretol make my withdrawal symptoms less? I don't think so, it was hell. Looking back, I know I wasn't strong enough to have made it through the ordeal alone. I still get tears when I read the 'Footprints' poem .
I can't say my withdrawal was short and sweet, or that it was easy and painless, but I CAN say that it was well worth it! I am so grateful for every day. I've gone back to school and am completing my degree in computer programming. I've remarried my husband and have a wonderful marriage (We had divorced over the Klonopin, mainly). I have a great relationship with my family (who had been forced to distance themselves during my worst times), and am active in my church and community. I feel no anxiety, no panic, and am healthy.
What advice do I have? Eat a healthy diet, be patient with your body, and look to the future rather than the past. And, the most important thing is prayer and faith. You can make it though this, but it's much harder alone. Also, if you're stressing your body further by smoking or drinking, stop. I didn't drink but I did smoke, and once I quit my recovery went much better.
To the women: In order to truly feel 100% I've had to straighten out some hormone issues (I've had a hysterectomy). I'm on compounded natural hormone replacement (bio-identical to what your body produced), which has to be prescribed by a doctor. It's from natural substances, and once I got the right mix, it has made me feel significantly better. Also, I am taking armour thyroid ¾ grain daily. Having that small amount of thyroid has really been the last missing piece in the puzzle for me.
Do not lose hope! I cannot even begin to express the difference between my life then and my life now. It is so worth it!!!!
Have a happy holiday!
Carol · December 18, 2001
Successful Withdrawal From Ativan
I took up to 2.75 mg/day of Ativan for 8 months. The lowest amount that I could taper to was 1.75 mg/day. I was taking it 5 times per day and I was going into withdrawal 5 times a day. I could not successfully taper with Ativan - too short a half-life and too potent.
I successfully switched to Valium and tapered as follows:
A) Exchanging Ativan with Valium:
Saturday, April 28, 2001: Ativan 1.25mg; Valium 8mg
Sunday, April 29: Ativan 0.5mg; Valium 10mg
Monday, April 30: Ativan 0.5mg; Valium 10mg
Tuesday, May 1: Ativan 0.5mg; Valium 10mg
Wednesday, May 2: Ativan 0.5mg; Valium 8mg
No significant problems switching.
B) Since May 3, 2001, Valium only:
8mg - 2 days
7mg - 1 day
6mg - 11 days
5mg - 7 days
4mg - 21 days
3.5mg - 14 days
3 mg - 18 days - I became lame 3 days after starting this level. I had to walk with a cane for first time since 2 weeks after the start of vancomycin treatment (November, 2000, for the treatment of staph infection after hip replacement).
2.5mg - 23 days - I was lame for the entire time, my leg muscles were sore. Unable to stabilize.
2mg - 2 days
1.5mg - 1 day
1mg - 11 days - less muscle pain in my legs. More discomfort where I have had tongue surgery and lymph nodes removed from my neck and shoulder. Minor psychological problems - irritable, depression, insomnia.
0.5mg - 10 days
0.25 & 0.5mg, alternate days - 7 days - muscle spasms in muscles in both thighs, difficult walking at times.
0.5mg - 6 days - muscle spasms in muscles in both thighs, difficult walking at times.
No Valium - 30 days - muscle spasms in muscles in both thighs, difficult walking at times. My condition is improving.
60 more days - no muscle spasms. Some tinnitus has returned.
Previous surgeries, hip replacement and radical neck dissection (lymph nodes, muscle and nerve removed), definitely made tapering much more difficult.
The antibiotic, Levaquin, prescribed (April-June, 2000 for 10 weeks) for staph infection in my hip replacement (July 1995), likely caused the insomnia and anxiety for which Ativan was prescribed (August 2000).
Levaquin is a fluroquinolone, the same drug family as ciprofloxcin which is being used for anthrax (see adverse effects reported in the Wall Street Journal - October 26, 2001).
I would not have been able to successfully taper with Ativan - too short a half- life and too potent.
Thank you to everyone involved in providing the information that I required for a successful withdrawal from Ativan.
Gary · Saskatchewan · Canada · December 14, 2001
About three years ago I had a series of panic attacks. In retrospect it was caused by lack of sleep (I was working two jobs to pay off a loan) and too much compensatory cigarette smoking and coffee (drinking gallons!). But my brilliant doctor wasn't brilliant enough to figure this out. He decided I was overreacting to acid reflux. (An endoscopy later showed nothing of the sort.) Anyway, I found myself on Xanax, grateful for the relief from the anxiety attacks that followed the panic attacks, with no idea that Xanax was in itself dangerous. I was given Prevacid by MBDr, who still clung to the reflux theory. Later, I found that Prevacid may potentiate Xanax. MBDr didn't know that, obviously. I took Xanax for six months or so with no warning as to possible addiction, other than the mild "could be habit-forming" warning on the paperwork with the medication.
I started researching on my own when stopping the medication for even a day caused severe head problems; I found internet groups and stories that were pretty scary. I asked MBDr about it. His comment: "Oh, once people start taking Xanax, they're generally on it for life." Now you tell me, says I.
I started tapering after nine months on the stuff (2-3 mg/day at most). Tapered for six months, then quit. Had a horrible first month, but only really suffered emotionally and mentally. Anxiety attacks, light-headedness, depersonalization, derealization were the worst.
I never had much in the way of physical symptoms. After a few months I was very much better; still with the occasional bad spell of a couple of days. After fourteen months or so the depersonalization and derealization went away, but it was replaced with tinnitus that was sometimes accompanied by a mild headache. Now, 19 months along, I consider myself back to normal, with just a little tinnitus that's mostly ignorable, and which I think is just me noticing a kind of white noise that was probably there all along, but which I wasn't aware of before.
Through it all, from the beginning of tapering, I followed a program of running three times a week; daily meditation using relaxation and visualization tapes and techniques; vitamins; diet (gave up caffeine, cigarettes, most sugars and alcohol); and prayer. I think it's worked pretty well.
Jim · December 6, 2001
I don't know exactly when I began taking benzos, or why I began. I do recall having to spend two weeks in Las Vegas in 1976, and going through a 30-day prescription for Valium in that two week period. I used Valium, then Xanax, for two decades.
In 1995, my Xanax prescription ran out. I didn't give it much thought. I'd begun taking Prozac about a year earlier, so I figured I didn't need Xanax anymore. (I was very ignorant about the purpose of the two drugs. I was ignorant about a lot of things back then.) I became very sick very quickly, with a bizarre array of symptoms. I attributed all of my illness to Prozac, but my doctor reassured me that I'd feel better in no time, and that after two weeks without Prozac, he would start me on another AD. I was sick as hell for 3 months, but in the natural course of events, I saw my doctor again, he refilled my prescription for Xanax and I began taking it again. Of course, all my symptoms soon resolved, but I remained clueless. I never attributed my illness to Xanax withdrawal; not for years.
I went out of town to visit some friends one Memorial Day weekend, not concerned that I'd failed to take along my little bottle of Xanax. I didn't sleep for three days, finally told my husband that I needed to go home. Once I took a pill, I began to feel a little more "normal," but still, I remained ignorant - I blamed my symptoms on a new course of Effexor. (Is that something we have in common, a tendency to blame ANYTHING but benzos?)
Over the course of a couple of years, my Xanax use had increased - I was taking upwards of 8mg a day! (And passing out face down as soon as I came home from work. EVERY DAY.) On my own, I tapered down to 2mg, but my internist didn't feel qualified to manage a taper so she referred me to a psychopharmacologist, who switched me to Klonopin because of its longer half-life. She wasn't encouraging about my idea of tapering off benzos altogether; she gave me the usual rant about "chemical imbalance" and the need to take these pills forever.
In September of 2000, I began my taper from Klonopin. The effects were immediate and horrible. I had to drop out of graduate school because of constant visual and auditory hallucinations. My symptoms ran the gamut from anorexia to tremors, but I kept cutting anyway: 0.25mg every 4 weeks, no matter how sick I became. The worst symptoms hit after I went cold turkey at 5/8mg - on the advice of my psychopharmacologist, whom I now recognize as a know-nothing. I was very sick, and it felt like I was sick forever. But all in all, I was extremely lucky, and my withdrawal was one of the shortest I've ever heard of - from first cut to last symptom took about 7 months.
When I hear of other people's experiences, I realize how amazingly fortunate I've been. I took benzos for nearly half my life. While I suffered horribly during my withdrawal, the process was comparatively short, for which I am very grateful.
Bee · December 5, 2001
It's been just over a year since I finished a 4 1/2 month taper of Klonopin. It was absolutely the most difficult thing that I have ever encountered in my life and there were a few times when I thought I might be better off dead.
I am here to say that I feel, at this point, that I am 100% or so close to 100% that it's insignificant. I tapered directly from Klonopin. It was a slow process. When I got down to 0.5mg (1 tablet), I cut by 1/16th of a tablet each time. Once I finished my taper things began to improve a lot and it just got better and better. It took a FULL year to be 100% but even after a month off I saw significant improvement. A few months ago I was still having restless legs, muscle aches, but I just realized a few days ago that they were gone. I hadn't noticed that they were gone because they went away so very slowly. My energy has really returned to normal. It took about nine months for my energy to return to normal.
My sensitivities also seem to be improving. I have a daily cola now and tolerate it well. I drink an occasional glass of wine with no negative side effects. I still can't tolerate sugar, but then I always was somewhat sensitive to sugar. It might be a little worse now but I don't know that I can blame the benzos since I am also entering menopause.
I really wondered if I would ever totally heal but I did. Once my symptoms were completely gone I found that I was no longer reading the Benzo Group posts. I do correspond with several members of the group who are still tapering but I no longer feel the strong connection that I once did with the Benzo Group. I think this is a real problem in that the Group needs to hear that healing does happen. I am here to say that I am proof. It takes a load of patience but it does happen.
My best to each and every one of you!
Love, Deb from Ohio · November 14, 2001
(as told to Professor Ashton)
Dear Professor Ashton,
I am writing to update you on my successful withdrawal from Xanax. It has been almost eight months since I took the last bit of Valium and I am feeling very well, with essentially no anxiety. I did have a rough time with acid reflux and esophageal dysmotility - which commenced about two months after my last pill and lasted about three or four months - but now I am much better. (Just prior to the initial acid reflux episode, a woman who had been staying in our home killed herself, which certainly added to my stress and anxiety.)
The most amazing thing is that, during the period when I was under so much physical and emotional stress, I was able to accept what was happening to me and give up the frenetic effort to "fix" it. I knew that I basically couldn't change it, that it would eventually pass, and that I must find a way to be as peaceful as possible while it was happening. I actually was able to find some serenity during all of that, with a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy tools, help from my AA sponsor and friends, and my spiritual program of prayer and meditation. Best of all, I was able to get through all of it without taking any drugs whatsoever. That was the last thing I wanted to do, because I knew that if I took Xanax or Valium to try to ease my problem, I would really just have two problems: the root cause of my anxiety PLUS addiction to pills.
Today I am a free woman. Naturally, none of us knows what the future will bring, but I feel confident that I can continue to live my life without anti-anxiety drugs - and without much anxiety - as long as I stay with my AA program and take good care of my health. I live with and take care of my mother, who is 90 years old with some dementia, and have learned how to handle that well and, in fact, enjoy it! I make sure to get away at least one weekend a month and I am planning a cruise to the Caribbean with a group of AA friends in October. In short, I am enjoying life to the fullest.
Again, I thank you for all of your help. I could not have gotten off of the Xanax without you. And I could not have regained my confidence and freedom from anxiety without getting off of the Xanax.
If there is ever anything I can do to help another person who is trying to get off of these drugs, I hope you will call on me.
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