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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