Bye Bye Benzos, Bye Bye Booze

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This isn’t going to be one of the most politically correct posts that I’ve written.  I hope what I share doesn’t come back to haunt me, and I hope it doesn’t haunt you either!  I’ve found that when I’ve blogged about my deep, disturbing secrets, it has been a positive catharsis.  I also know that I prefer reading about others’ messy lives and how they made it through the chaos, rather than read overly sanitized posts.

What matters most is that I learned from my horrific-sounding experiences, I really did.  I had an enormous wake-up call that I will vividly remember the rest of my life.  These wake-up calls affected me so deeply that I made significant changes in my lifestyle…

It’s common for people with bipolar disorder to become addicted to unhealthy substances/behaviors in order to cope with bipolar’s awful symptoms.  I never truly understood that concept before my diagnosis, but my understanding of addiction changed dramatically after bipolar ravaged my life.

While growing up I abhorred alcoholism and drug addiction.  My father, who had bipolar disorder, was alcoholic, and my first boyfriend became a drug addict before my very eyes.  Dad and Mark were both my personal cautionary tales, but I threw caution aside when my anxiety soared sky high and my depression hit rock bottom.  I looked for something, anything, that would take the edge off my extreme anxiety after bipolar disorder entered my life.

I asked my psychiatrist if I could take an anti-anxiety medication, and he prescribed Xanax.  Up to that point, I never thought I’d take a benzodiazepine.  I was well aware that class of drugs was addictive.  But I had become consumed by anxiety so badly that I couldn’t function, and I felt desperate.  The Xanax did reduce my anxiety, but it didn’t completely wipe it out by any means.  While it helped me, one massive drawback was that Xanax affected my judgement and my driving to a dangerous degree.  I caused two separate car accidents, one minor and one much more serious, due to Xanax.

The first car accident didn’t involve anyone else but me, thank God.  It happened in a church parking lot.  I found it ironic that the lot was where my accident took place because I was there to meet with the minister.  He had generously offered me the use of their meeting room for a women’s bipolar disorder support group I created.  Because of Xanax, my depth perception was off, and I gently hit the fence bordering the parking lot.  My car bumper knocked down a couple planks of wood.  When I told the minister I hit his church’s fence, I was humiliated –  it wasn’t the ideal way to start our meeting.  I was relieved that he was gracious about the small damage.  (I didn’t breathe a word about why I hit the fence.)   No one questioned me about my little “tap”, and my husband fixed the fence a few days later.

My next car accident was a total nightmare which could have been disastrous.  I had taken Xanax that morning, as usual.  I was driving with my four-year-old daughter in the back seat. I waited at a stoplight and I thought the light had turned green, so I entered the intersection.  But the light had not turned green.  A SUV sped towards me, hitting the front of my car on my side, missing me and my daughter by inches.

An angel must have been looking out for us all because no one was hurt.  The SUV pulled over into a lot by side of the road, as did I.  An elderly husband and wife got out of the car and I stepped out of mine, with Rilla safely locked into her car seat watching all the commotion. I was in shock and I lost control of my emotions.  I started bawling because I knew what I had done was grossly wrong.  Even though I was at fault, the man looked guilty as well and he admitted to me he had been speeding. He hurriedly said that they were on their way for his wife’s surgery appointment, and they were already late. He didn’t even ask me for any insurance information – I suggested it.  My crying distracted the couple, and by the looks on their faces, it was evident they felt sorry for me.   I wrote my name and phone number on a slip of paper, gave it to him, and off they went to the hospital.

After this accident happened, I knew without a doubt I needed to taper off Xanax and I tapered successfully over a period of months.  Quitting a benzo was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done, but after I almost killed myself and my child, and knowing that I could have killed others too, I couldn’t deny the gravity of my problem.

Regarding alcohol, I never got into an alcohol-related car accident, but my dependency upon it grew worse as a couple years passed by.  Trading one addiction for another, I became a daytime drinker.  I hated the taste of alcohol, and I literally wouldn’t taste the red wine that I gulped in my oversize coffee mug.  I felt gross.   I had gone from being a health-conscious, certified personal trainer who only drank water (before I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder) to an overweight, depressed, anxious alcoholic who had bipolar disorder.

A blessing in disguise took place thanks to a medication called tranylcypromine, also known as Parnate. Parnate is in the MAOI/monoamine oxidase inhibitor class.  After I tried over twenty drugs for bipolar disorder, my psychiatrist suggested the MAOI Parnate.  I didn’t realize that Parnate was known as the “last-resort” antidepressant used for bipolar depression.  Not a single one of my numerous other psychiatrists thought to suggest this old-school medication to me.

MAOI’s are controversial because they require a fair amount of food and beverage restrictions.  One of these no-no’s is alcohol.  If you drink alcohol while on a MAOI you could potentially die, so it’s a very convincing way to give up alcohol. When I took my first Parnate pill, I relinquished alcohol cold turkey. I haven’t had a drop of alcohol since because the Parnate (in combination with lithium and Seroquel) worked to lift my depression.

The fact that medications finally worked for me was nothing short of a miracle.  While I do miss the numbing qualities of benzodiazepines and alcohol, I don’t obsess about them anymore.  I am back to exercising regularly again.  I’m researching holistic methods for anxiety such as meditation and flower essences (as long as they are compatible with my meds).  I belong to mental health crusader Meagan Barnes’s Facebook page and website called  “Anxiety Angel – Women Conquering Anxiety”. (http://anxietyangel.com/).  I take advantage of the great resources Meagan shares with her many followers – she really is an angel on Earth!

I know how lucky I am that I got several “second chances”.  All it takes to remember what I could have lost is a glance at my two daughters’ faces.  I’ve become much stronger in knowing I’ve been able to “just say no” to the benzos and booze.  If you are struggling with either of these addictions, or both simultaneously, please remember that if I can do it, you can do it too.

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9 thoughts on “Bye Bye Benzos, Bye Bye Booze

  1. I was prescribed Ativan in June 2014 for my mother’s funeral.I got into two accidents in 3 days. The second one police tested my blood and I got a DUI. Prescription drugs cause DUIs! I lost my job and income due to Ativan.

    1. I’m so sorry, Thomas, that you lost your mother. It’s an enormous loss to lose one’s parent; I know because my father died in 2009.

      That’s terrible about your loss of job/income/the DUI. You have a very frightening cautionary tale about Ativan! Thank you for stopping by my blog & taking time to comment.

      I send you my very best wishes.

      Take care,
      Dyane

    1. Thank you so much for linking to my blog! I am grateful to you!! Take care, Dyane of “Birth of a New Brain – Healing From Postpartum Bipolar Disorder”

  2. I am glad my comment was helpful. I was just so glad you wrote this. Seriously, some people’s brains just need what MAOI medications do. Psychiatrists rarely prescribe them anymore or even mention them because of the food/beverage restrictions. But if you happen to be one of the people who needs one, it can be live saving. Don’t ever hesitate to write the truth if your goal is to educate people in a positive, healthy way. There is way too much stigma and lack of understanding out there!

    1. Dr. DeVinney, in a word (or two): You ROCK! You get it! Sure, I sigh a little when I encounter a yummy aged cheese or soy sauce (due to their containing the amino acid tyrine, which is contraindicated with MAOI medications) or a margarita and know I can’t have any of those delectables. But it is so, so worth it to have my life back. I love my MAOI! I hope that pdocs will be much more forthcoming about their patients trying them especially if they medication-resistant like me. I will definitely write the truth as long as I can be a good influence. Thanks again for your comment. You inspire me to keep writing!

  3. Not only do I think this is “politically correct,” but your honest writing about the realities of feeling a need to numb while experiencing bipolar symptoms is important for people to read. The education about the little known MAO inhibitors is invaluable for people who think they have tried everything. Thank you for writing this!

    1. Dr. DeVinney, you have certainly made my day with your comment! I woke up having second thoughts about posting this piece, but I knew that was a sign I most likely needed to do it. (The only other time I felt this hesitant in publishing a post regarded medical cannabis. Well, that post was one of my most read articles!) I cannot tell you how thankful I am for my MAOI. My father tried one (I think there are at least 4 or 5 different MAOI’s) in the late 1980’s and I couldn’t remember if it helped him, so I didn’t think to ask about trying one out with my doctors. I am on a mission to let others know about this option. My MAOI medication is totally worth every food/beverage restriction in the world to me! 🙂 Thanks again for your kindness and encouragement! take care, Dyane

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