I feel I owe it to everyone on this site who has been there for me during this awful withdrawal journey, and to those who might need to hear it to help their recovery, to share my "success story". I don't provide this story to scare people, as it is not a pleasant story, but it has a happy ending, although it is not over yet. I have made the story as complete as I can for the benefit of those who find that their symptoms or life experiences mirror mine...you can skip all the text and get to the happy part if you want!
So here goes:
I am 47 years old and have been a successful attorney for over 20 years. I am divorced with 3 daughters, the youngest 12, who I have full custody of. I guess I was always "anxious", which maybe is not the best thing for a lawyer to be, but anyway I guess my first problem arose when I developed a intestinal disease (which I am sure was caused by stress!) when I was in my late 20's, which led to some major abdominal surgery when I was 33. For whatever reason, after that surgery, I was even more anxious and started having real trouble sleeping. My HMO doctor tried me on Prozac but I got so wired from it that I discontinued that and tried various over the counter sleeping aids for a couple years until I went to a HMO psychiatrist who, after a 5 minute consultation, diagnosed me as having "situational anxiety" and put me on 3 mg klonopin and 150 mg Trazadone. While I guess I looked up on a PDR to see that Trazadone was an anti-depressant, I don't remember even looking up about Klonopin, certainly I never thought it was a powerful drug and never understood that it was in the same class as Valium, which I had taken off and on over the years to relax. I never really thought about the long term consequences of taking these pills, as I was just so happy to find some immediate relief since I started sleeping better and feeling better during the day, without any real side-effects. I reduced my dose of klonopin to 1 mg after about one year, and my HMO doctor continued to prescribe these drugs to me over the years, without much discussion.
Fast forward to mid-2003, when I just started getting very tired and unfocused and, while I could perform my job ok, I just was not motivated or very happy. I thought my problem was from drinking too much, as I had a brother who went into rehab and had been sober a couple years and was convinced everyones problems were rooted in alcholism, so I decided in early 2004 to take a leave of absence from my job and go into an out-patient treatment facility for a 30 day program. My assumption was that I would be "all better" in a month and everything would be back to normal! Boy was I wrong!
The rehab center sent me to a hospital for a 3 day detox. Without telling me why, they took me off the klonopin and while I was in the hospital I was on a small amount of phenobarbital. The whole detox scene was a joke: here I was with major heroin addicts, people taking 30 vicodin a day, people who were drinking a gallon of alcohol a day. They were all being pumped with all these meds (gorilla pills, they called them) and I was the only one who wasn't all drugged up. It seemed like there was a competition going on as to who was the worst addict, and here I was trying to fit in, but my "addiction" paled compared to the others: I maybe drank a couple drinks at night, and had no idea at that point that my problem lay in that little pill I was taking every night to sleep!
I was so happy to get out of there after 3 days and was actually feeling pretty good, and right when I was leaving the detox center director cautioned me that he just looked at my record (probably for the first time!) and realized I was on klonopin and that "that stuff is tough to withdraw from" and he urged me to stay there for a while longer. My conclusion was that he was just trying to tap my insurance for some more money (which I am sure was at least partly right) and I was actually feeling ok, so I left the hospital and went to the rehab facility.
Well the long and short of it is that after a couple weeks of "treatment" (12 step) I was feeling worse than ever, whereas some heavy duty alcoholics and heroin addicts were doing fine. I could barely focus or function, and the director of the rehab facility sent me in for blood tests, which came out normal, and then started pumping me with vitamins, etc. The "addiction specialist" doctor who was associated with the center concluded I was "depressed" and put me on neurontin, which barely helped me sleep at all and had unacceptable side-effects such as groggiess. (When I told him it was not working, he doubled the dose!, which led me to a month of diarehea which he thought was caused by a parasite and had my stools tested, etc, until I discovered on my own through talking to my pharmacist that it was the neurontin, and the problem went away within one day!) There was no way I could even think about going back to work, and still thinking I was just recovering from alcohol withdrawals and not knowing what else to do, I extended my treatment for another 30 days.
Around 2 months into my recovery, someone mentioned something that made me wonder about klonopin, and when I typed that word into my search engine, I found the Ashton Manual which answered all my questions. I couldn't believe that the symptoms I was experiencing: brain fog, incredible insomnia, congnitive dysfunction, head pressure, incredible anxiety, electric shock experiences, unbearable fatigue, total lack of joy, body pain at night (especially in my legs), emotional blunting, were almost identical to the symptoms of benzo withdrawal. Hell, I didn't even know what a benzodiazapine was, let alone that klonopin was in the same class of drugs as valium or xanax, or that that little 1mg pill I was taking for the last 9 years was equivalent to 20 mg of valium! Nor was I aware that I should be tapering off the klonopin, and here I was c/ted for the last 2+ months...what could I do? I found this site (yahoo online support group) and asked what should I do and basically I was told that I was too far along to reinstate without some major problems, so I was stuck in a cold-turkey recovery. But still, how long could this last...it would have to be over soon? I went to my "addiction specialist" doctor and brought him the Ashton Manual. He told me there was no way I was experiencing klonopin withdrawal and denied that I should have slowly tapered off the 1 mg I was on. (A real addiction specialist who probably never dealt with benzo problems in his career!) He continued to assert I was depressed, and that was why I was so tired and unfocused, and tried to get me to go on Wellbutrin. Well this doctor had lost all his credibility, and I knew I was on the right track following the advice of the Ashton Manual, so I largely bid him goodbye at that point. Over the next 9 months I explored many treatments: yoga (which I found to be incredibly beneficial in that it got me out of the house and some exercise and some relaxation and some socialization), sufi treatment involving healing and meditation (of course I was so zoned out that I could not clear my mind to meditate, but it was a nice diversion), detox fasting, various therapists; unfortunately nothing really worked: where some symptoms seemed to fade, others took their place, but the primary symptoms never waned for more than one day!
And of course my friends and my family didn't understand. They all thought I was either suffering a mid-life crisis, or that I was depressed, or that I was just "weak". That was probably the worst, that several of my friends said what I was experiencing was the same as they go through ("I have trouble sleeping too" or "I get tired in the afternoon" or "I have trouble focusing" or "I am not interested in reading the newspaper either"), but that they were somehow tougher than me or that I was just being a baby! And of course my ex-wife just used my illness to her advantage: since I was not working, I was a convenient driver and baby-sitter for the kids 24-7. I think you all know how difficult it was driving the kids around in my condition--hell I didn't have the energy to walk around the block, or open mail, or change a light bulb, or water a plant--yet I had no choice but to deal with my kids. At the end of the day I must be grateful for what my ex did to me: it forced me to go on living my life, despite the fact that what I was living was pure hell! Thankfully my youngest daughter, Carly, who has been with me throughout this hellatious experience, was the only person who understood that I was really sick: and while she needed me more than anyone, I could count on her not to be judgemental.
Then there were my parents! Without whom I would be bankrupt. I would certainly have lost my house and tapped into all my retirement. But, my dad was impatient and, even after I let them know what I was going and provided him a copy of the Ashton manual, never really bought into my illness. (The same with my brother, who is a prominent doctor: it is like no one wants to educate themselves about what is really going on, which is understandable since they have their own lives, but is very frustrating when they try to offer "advice" which disregards everything you try to tell them!) So my dad tells me I have to get a job or he will cut me off around one year into my recovery: so I decide I will try to go back to school, since there was no way I could go back to work. So I take a couple classes at a local college, can barely muster the energy to go to classes, certainly cannot read a book, and drop out after a couple weeks. Here I was, having breezed through college and law school with pretty much straight A's, and I can't even handle a junior college class!
ONLY ONE THING SAVED ME during the first year of recovery: that was my guitar. I have played guitar all my life, and picked up my guitar around 3 months into my recovery, and where nothing else gave me any relief, be it food, tv, companionship, I found that I found total relief from playing my guitar. Furthermore, where I may have written a handful of songs over the 30 plus years I played, all of a sudden, I had a burst of creative energy which led, and continues to lead, me to compose over 50 songs over the last year! Some of my religious friends say "what god takes, he gives something in return if you know where to look." For me it was my music! I don't think I was ever suicidal, but many lonely nights and days were spent playing songs and finding some level of contentment, even at the height of panic attacks with my heart beating a mile a minute, my guitar was there for me!
Then I hooked up with an attorney to explore a disability case. I hate disability insurance carriers: they are evil! It was such an unbearable ordeal, at the height of my withdrawal symptoms, dealing with these devils who would demean me, question my honesty and integrity, call me out of the blue and hassle me to try to get me to drop my claim. But my attorney referred me to a neuro-psychologist who performed some IQ type tests on me in 2/05 and concluded my brain was not functioning right. For the first time I had my illness validated by someone in the medical profession. She referred me to a neurologist who performed a series of tests on my brain, all of which came out normal, except the sleep study, which determined that I was suffering from periodic movement of legs syndrome and restless legs syndrome. No wonder I couldn't sleep and why I was suffering from "cognitive dysfunction"...so finally I had a medical validation for my disability: of course none of the doctors believe it was caused by klonopin withdrawal, but isn't it ironic that the treatment of choice for this disorder is, you guessed it, benzodiazapines! Of course, short of going on benzos again, or some sleeping pill, there is no real treatment for this sleep disorder.
Around this same time my momma died. She was 85 and had a good life, and thankfully I was there for her and my dad at the end. Unlike my brothers and sisters, however, I realized that despite my symptoms, which were still quite severe, I could cope with her dying and was in many ways much stronger than anyone else. Whether by coincidence or not, around this time (the 13th month of my recovery) is the first improvement in my condition. The brain fog and head pressure seemed to fade, out of the blue. I was still suffering extreme anxiety attacks and was getting no more than 3 hours sleep a night, etc. but I gradually noticed this one area of improvement and later realized that it happened at 13 months, just like vetarans in this group predict.
Shortly after this, Paul Thornton of this group posted his "success story", which happened to mirror my experience, and I found renewed hope that I would recover! Thanks Paul! I provided his story to my family and for the first time they seemed to
understand what I was going through!
For the next 6 months I cannot say I was doing much better though. I would still only sleep a couple hours, wake up with major anxiety attacks and extreme leg pain (which my neurologist claimed was due to my leg movements and which I have found has been significantly reduced by a small amount of codeine), and have incredible problems focusing or socializing, get extremely tired in the early afternoon, but if I tried to nap, would wake up with electric shock impulses and incredible anxiety which would ruin the rest of my day! I sold my house 4 months ago, which was way too big for me to keep up and which I couldn't afford, and therefore got in a position where I had enough cash on hand to keep me going comfortably until I got better, and found that even though moving was incredibly hard and stressful, I mustered enough energy to get it done and it relieved me of a lot of pressure. This may have helped more than I realized since now I am renting and nothing bothers me as much anymore!
But then, I swear, it was out of the blue around 2 1/2 months ago, one day I was down in Palm Springs doing a project for my sister--manual labour scraping a patio deck--I swear I did not think I could do it, either physically or mentally, I was there all by myself and was worried as afternoon approached I would face the daily fatigue that beset me and it didn't come! The next day it didn't come, nor the next! And my leg pain started diminishing and I started sleeping a couple more hours every once in a while at night. (I am convinced that my neurological condition has improved and will ultimately go away: klonopin withdrawal caused it and eventually once I have fully healed I will prove the neurologist wrong since I will be the one who beat an incurable neurological condition!) But most importantly, the anxiety attacks have almost entirely disappeared: I swear, nothing major has changed in my life...I am still lonely (I have not been "well enough" to date much over the last 2 years) and none of my other personal issues have improved much either, yet all of sudden, I don't irrationally freak out and work myself up over nothing! And this all happened around the 22nd month, just like those crusty old veterans predicted!
I can't say I am all better, but I think you all can attest that if you can be free of the symptoms I have beaten: brain fog, anxiety, incredible panic attacks, etc. you would consider it a success story too! I don't know if I am going to be able practice law again, but I can assure you that my whole perspective of things has changed for the better having lived through this ordeal. I also realize how much I lost while I was numbed by klonopin: all these life events occured, my kids were growing up and shit happened, but I basically did not experience highs or lows, and I was sucked dry of creativity or passion. Not that this realization made my recovery any easier: while I am stronger and wiser and more courageous than ever, there were many days over the last 23 months when I did not think I could make it, but I did--I am a survivor; I am a warrior!
My heart goes out to all of you who are suffering, and I can only hope that my story gives hope to someone out there who can find some similarities in our stories, who are in the depths of despair from withdrawal, are lonely, are in pain, and are looking for a way out! I swear that I was in all of your shoes and now I can be a witness to what the oldtimers say: only time will heal the wounds caused by benzos and that we all can recover. I pray that each of you who are in need have the strength and courage to survive. It is far from easy, as I had the family support and resources to help me make it through, and I have such incredible sympathy for those who in the throes of withdrawals without the help I had, but the doctors and therapists and drugs that are available mean very little in this battle. Just bear in mind that you will recover, hopefully much sooner than I! I never thought I would be writing a success story, and it is ongoing! But I am full of hope and optimism, which 6 months ago were not even within my furthest reaches. Hopefully my story will give some hope and optimism to others!
Take care and my thoughts are with all of you!
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