My Name Is Alex, and I'm Addicted to Xanax

Recounting My Struggle With Xanax Addiction

I was 14 years years old the first time I took a Benzodiazepine. They weren't prescribed to me like they are to most. The provider of my first dose was my mother. My mother always kept about 60 Pro-Lorazepam tablets in her purse at all times. My mom's been taking the stuff since she was 19 years old. At the time of this story, she was probably about 52, so she had 33 years of continuous use under her belt at the time. One night she had left to walk the family dogs and she always left her purse sitting on her dresser in her bedroom. It had never crossed my mind to steal these pills from her, but I was getting to an age where I was curious about experimenting with drugs. I thought I had a pretty good idea of what they were going to do to me, so I went into her room and pulled back the zipper on the top of her black leather purse. Inside the purse was a makeup case containing her prescription drugs. I opened up the makeup case and took out the Pro-Lorazepam and popped the safety cap open. I knew she'd never notice they were gone. I proceeded to dump four pills into my palm and dry swallow them, without hesitation, right there in the dark of her bedroom. I snapped the top of the pill bottle back on and positioned it exactly as I found it in her makeup case. I closed her purse carefully, positioned it just as it was, and settled back down into the basement for whatever trip I was about to experience. To sum it up, a 14-year-old me had just taken four one milligram tablets of Pro-Lorazepam, which would be eight times the recommended dose for somebody of that age. 

Honestly, I loved it. It was one of the most incredible feelings I had ever experienced. Once the drugs were in full effect, suddenly I was no longer tired; the desire to sleep had disappeared, along with any awareness of my responsibilities. All I wanted to do was stay awake and continue feeling all the sensations associated with being high on a recreational dose of Benzodiazepines. I stayed up about as long as I could that night. I had friends over, we laughed, we smoked pot (which always made the effects of the drug even more powerful). I was noticeably more confident, social, witty, and funny. I never wanted it to end. I was finally being the outgoing, confident young man I saw myself as but was never confident enough to show the world.    

I woke up the next day and I remember walking outside to sit on the steps to the entrance of my house. I began thinking and felt I had come to the realisation that I had been suffering from some form of disorder I wasn't aware of. I figured that, if I was being the person I wanted to be while I was high on the drugs, that must mean that there's something oppressive and wrong with the person I am on a daily basis. In addition, I would have to be living as the oppressed person I had no interest in being for every conscious moment that I'm not high. That oppression was my true self. I was never going to have the personality or the identity that I wanted if I wasn't high on these drugs. 

Time went on until I was twenty-one and these sensations never really went away. I would steal pills from my mother when I knew a social event was coming up and I knew I would feel obligated to go. Something like a birthday or a holiday, for example. Around this time, I met the girl that I thought I would be with for the rest of my life. I was certain of it. I had everything invested in her. We dated for just a little under two years and she decided it wasn't going to work out. Everything changed for me after that. I began experiencing uncontrollable panic attacks that would be brought on by anything and everything. In January of 2016, I had amassed a total of ten emergency room visits. During one of my visits, I began having a panic attack as they were pushing me to a private room on a gurney right out of triage. I remember having six nurses at my bedside trying to get me to admit that I had taken speed or cocaine. My heart rate reached 180 beats per minute and over the loud beeping on the heart-rate monitor, finally, one of the nurses said, "Alex, if you don't calm down, you're going to pass out," and almost as the last of her sentence escaped her lips, I did. I regained consciousness moments later. By the time I was fully conscious, my heart rate had normalised. About 30 minutes passed and the nurses told me I could start getting dressed and that I would see a doctor shortly. He came into the room and after we exchanged a few words. He concluded that there was no evidence to support that there was anything wrong with me, physically. The best course of action in the short-term would be to put me on Ativan until I could be seen by a psychiatrist.  This situation would happen in similar fashion another nine times that month, each visit concluding in a very similar manner, each with a prescription for Benzodiazepines to be filled. 

I began abusing them almost immediately. I was severely depressed about my relationship ending, and I also never wanted to feel the way I felt as I was laying in that gurney in the hospital. Ativan was going to keep me away from all of that. I almost never took the recommended dose. I wasn't looking to prevent panic attacks, I was looking to numb any and every emotion I was having, good or bad. It did exactly that, for a while, until the pills that I had gathered from each emergency room visit had worn thin and it was time to see my family doctor to discuss a more permanent solution to the symptoms I was experiencing.  When the doctor's appointment finally came around, it became obvious that he wasn't going to write me a renewable prescription for the drugs like I expected. He wanted me to start taking anti-depressants and I promptly refused. Out of pride, I also refused to communicate to him that I had developed a dependency on these drugs. So, he had very little choice other than to send me away without any reassurance. His advice to me was to "get help." I didn't have the money to go see a therapist privately, so I was put on an extremely long waiting list to be seen by a psychiatrist through the public healthcare system. It would be a year before our first session.

I was terrified. I no longer trusted my body; wherever I went and whatever I did I was certain it would turn on me at any moment. It was the first thing on my mind at all times. I could hardly leave the house, I wasn't showing up for work, and to make a bad situation worse, I was on the last legs of my prescriptions from the various emergency room visits.  So, doing only what I could to prevent myself from going into withdrawal, I began purchasing Xanax illegally. It's not the stuff that I had been getting prescribed, but I knew it was supposed to work just the same. I got in contact with an old friend from high school that was selling these pills and got my hands on about 40 Xanax. Now, Xanax wasn't like the drugs I was used to taking—Xanax is extremely strong, fast-acting, and has a shorter half-life than most other Benzodiazepines. You know it the moment it takes effect. It has what I can only describe as a brain-hijacking effect.  Soon, you find yourself needing larger and larger doses to get a fraction of the effect you used to get. Within three weeks of being on this new, more powerful drug, I was taking five to six times the recommended dose just to feel normal. Eventually, the drugs stopped working entirely. I began to have panic attacks severe enough that they would overtake the effects of the drugs I had taken. 

A night came when I was at my brother's place for a gathering. He had a few friends over. Naturally, I decided I was going to have to take a huge dose of these drugs to be able to function in a social situation. Nothing was more important to me than hiding my disease from those around me. To do that, I was going to take three full two milligram Xanax along with two one milligram Ativan that I had stolen from my mother earlier on. I took the pills and waited for the effects to kick in. They did, and it was as strong as I could ever remember it being. I would typically smoke pot while taking pills, especially in excess. I remember taking my first hit, and about 25 seconds after, I knew, without question, something was wrong with me; I had overdosed. My first instinct was to stand up from where I was sitting on the third floor of my house and stumble down the stairs into the basement where I knew I would be alone. It immediately started running through my head that I was going to die. However, the notion that I was likely not going to make it through the night didn't scare me at all. What scared me was being exposed. I didn't care that I was mentallyvill and a drug addict, so long as I was the only one who knew. If I were to call for help, everyone would then find out how who I really was. As soon as my feet touched the tile on my basement floor, I collapsed onto my hands and knees. I began dry-heaving. I could feel my heart beating with extreme force but also dangerous infrequency. I was ice cold, sweating profusely, only conscious enough at times to dry-heave into the toilet bowl if I had the strength to pick my head up. Weak and now unable to move even to hover my head over the toilet, I laid flat on my back and looked straight up at the ceiling which was, at this time, just a pitch-black void. Tears began rolling down the sides of my cheeks as I would begin to repeat a sentence to myself. I kept repeating the same thing out loud, over and over. I don't know if I was actually able to make a sound, but I could hear myself.

"I'm sorry," I would say, "I'm so sorry."  

I was sorry for a lot of things. Mainly, I was sorry to my mother and brother, whom I was certain were going to be the ones to have to discover my body on the bathroom floor the next day. I imagined their reactions, I imagined their faces, I imagined and felt the pain I was about to cause them. These were the last thoughts I would have as I would accept my fate and fall out of consciousness for what I thought would be the last time. 

I woke up the next day. It was at that point, out of fear for my life and fear for my family's well-being that I made an internal pact never to touch another pill again. My plan was to quit flat-out; cold turkey. I wasn't aware of any of the withdrawal symptoms before making my decision, but after the first 24 hours, they became quite obvious. There was no sleep for the first 72 hours of my withdrawal. At the forefront of all the symptoms was this sensation of burning in my brain that never seemed to go away, just varied in intensity. I was having unbelievably severe rebound anxiety and panic. I had indescribable bouts of depersonalization and psychosis. I was hearing aggressive, morbid thoughts, and voices in my head that I was helpless in controlling. Every waking moment was indescribable pain and mental anguish. Weirder still, I was waking up most days of my withdrawal period covered head to toe in hives. My throat would have swelled partially shut and my eyes, as well. I can only assume this was some sort of autoimmune reaction brought on by the intensity of the withdrawal. Adding to it was the reality that it wasn't likely to end any time soon. The only thing keeping me from taking my own life during the withdrawal period was recollecting my thoughts from the night I had overdosed. I could easily have given up, I just couldn't stand to disappoint my family.  

Luckily, I had a plan for if I was ever able to make it to the other side of this addiction. Once I was stable enough to drive a car and worked up enough confidence to have a short conversation with a stranger, I signed up at a gym. I was going to punish my body every day as a form of self-flagellation to repent for all the recreational abuse I had put my body through. I would now deliberately put my body through as much pain as I could, every day, day in and day out, until I felt my penance was paid.  Luckily, I grew up training and competing as a power-lifter, so I had plans on how I was going to inflict this kind of pain on myself. I made sure that the gym I signed up for was open twenty-four hours. I would go very late at night to ensure I was close to, if not completely, alone. I would try my best to put myself under the worst physical stress that I could in an attempt to simulate the most intense moments of a panic attack. It was going to be my own crude form of exposure therapy. I was going to push myself to the limits of discomfort. I would spend hours on the web looking for newer, more creative ways to get my fix. At the end of each gym session, when my body wouldn't go any longer and I still wasn't quite satisfied, I began to research and experiment with ice bathing and cold exposure. When I would get home, I would try purging oxygen and holding my breath for long periods like a pearl diver would. I went even further as I deprived myself of most foods. Everything that I put in my body was for its medicinal purpose—to keep me alive. I stripped the sheets from my bed and slept without a pillow, I abstained from the recreational use of technology, I deleted all my social media accounts and sent out a message letting everyone know that I couldn't be contacted. I took solace in the thought that every moment of suffering I was enduring was a purging of the darkness that had spread through me. With that in mind, I tried everything to make suffering take up the majority of my waking hours, and through that practice, I fell in love with the process.  

To no surprise of my own, in time, it began to work. I slowly began to regain control of my mind and body with every workout, every ice bath. I would continue to put myself through these rituals until the day I felt my universal debts were paid. That day still hasn't come, and I doubt it ever will. Having gone through this has given me gifts that can only be received through unimaginable suffering. I'm not broken from what I've experienced, I'm many times stronger now that I could have ever expected to be had I never made the decision to touch a drug.  

If you're reading this and you're going through hell, keep going. 

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My Name Is Alex, and I'm Addicted to Xanax
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