Spaces Between Rocks and Hard Places

Since I moved into this condo I’ve learned things I never really wanted to know, like that I’d been taking a drug for the past 15 years that is a notoriously life robbing and addictive drug. No one thought this when it was prescribed to me. But more than a few people have sought treatment in the last 10 years to help them make it through the slam of awful realizations and the emotions that go with them once they realize they need to get off the drug and quit. The drug is marketed by the brand Klonopin and as the generic Clonazepam which is produced by a few manufacturers.

Stevie Nicks is possibly the most famous of all of us who come to see the drug for the danger to sanity and stability that it is. The drug was prescribed to her to help her “nervousness” after she quit using cocaine in 1986. She was taking huge quantities of it, along with any kind of painkiller / opiate derivative she could get her hands on, such as Percoset. She has shared that she went into a clinic for 47 days of detox to clear it from her body sometime in 1993, that it was hell, that she wanted to get the word out about this particular drug because it is so nasty.

Ok, so she was detoxing 23 years ago from this drug and I was just beginning to wonder if it was causing my problems with sleep and social life in early summer 2015. What took me so long?

For one thing, although the doctor I had in 2012, 15 years after being prescribed the drug by a different doctor did let me know that the drug was no longer recommended by psychiatrists and physicians because it was “addictive in some people” as she put it, she was not going to insist that I get off it because I had somehow managed to keep my dose very low. I only took it once a day and to only 1/4 to 1/2 of a 10mcg dose. I also was very reluctant to give it up, it seemed to be the only thing that I could count on with any regularity to help me to fall asleep and told her so. I remember even assuring her that I couldn’t be one of the “some people” since I was careful to keep my dose so low. I remember then that I just stopped talking. Something didn’t feel or sound right, I wasn’t sure, but it was just a fleeting moment of doubt and I was back into an “I know what I’m doing” mode that still frightens me looking back a couple of years later. She let me stay on it. With hindsight, I think she knew I’d noticed the doubtful, awkward moment and trusted one day the truth was going to sink in. It took a few years.

Before I go into the perfect storm of converging symptoms that made me swallow my concerns about the consciousness of mental health providers and seek help, let me describe the preceding conflagrations of life history. I have a legitimate case of Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, stemming from an infancy injury wherein the eye end of a hand sewing needle got lodged between the tarsal bones of my left foot and forgotten. If anyone knows how it got there, they aren’t talking. I have no conscious memory of any such injury. It was discovered by an emergency room doctor looking at an x-ray of my sprained ankle at age 18 after hiking in sand dunes with some friends on a day trip to Carmel. Besides being surprised to learn of it, I didn’t think much of it. Having it removed was presented as optional and I since I was not particularly athletic, probably because of it having been there for a long time, my thinking didn’t go in the direction of enhanced ability and I opted for the easy way out of leaving it there. This is actually sad because I didn’t give it another thought really, other than as an unusual “factoid” about myself that I could tell at parties. I never wondered how it got there and I never connected it to the terrible anxiety, even panic and confusion I felt as a youngster over the clumsiness in my feet, my resulting lack of balance at the weirdest times, my inability to trust my body and ultimately to trust my peers who seemed to be unprepared and put off by my lapses in attention as I paid attention to what my body wasn’t telling me but never the less was letting me know about.

Unable at my years to understand or explain, I began a strange, gradual turn away from my physicality. This being one of the things that humans, basically, I was turning away from a huge piece of human success. There are a lot of opinions about the consequences of the lack of equal access to the enjoyment of movement in this country and over the world, but there is no doubt that values such as what is fair, how to be a good winner and a good loser, how to recognize our good fortune so we can help those less fortunate are learned in childhood during physical activities. Consider hop scotch, jump rope, hand games like “Mary Mack”, learning to dance, swim and play team sports in K-12 are opportunities of great value in shaping character and socializing children to work in teams and share strategies and enthusiasm toward a common goal of winning. I was busy tuning out the part of me that wanted to put any finishing touches on raw movement and began to live quite timidly and most sadly of all, without any expectation of the natural grace I actually possessed. I was so ashamed I would not even acknowledge I was doing this. I did well in school and that was all that I allowed to matter, although it cost me dearly. At 8 years old, I fell from my bike and injured my left thumb permanently. At age 17 I went away to college and got so excited about being someone special (note, I did not feel privileged, just special) enough to go to this beautiful women’s college that I was determined to overcome my shyness and I tried to be part of a tumbling presentation for the Christmas pageant presented by the resident Freshman class to the rest of the dorm. I practiced diligently and endured pain to prove myself. I fell repeatedly during the performance and although the rest of tumbling group cleverly covered for me, the damage was to my psyche was done. My body was my enemy.

When trauma starts in childhood, the action of the stress afterward becomes complex, obviously, hence the term Complex is applied to the diagnosis Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Many common symptoms arise, such as panic attacks, anxiety, insomnia dis-associative states or black-outs, and anger. Simple PTSD presents individuals who grew up, formed a personality and was socialized within predominantly normalized circumstances and then experienced trauma as adults. When children experience trauma, their development as personalities and socialized individuals is impacted. Sometimes people with chronic PTSD may turn out to have undiagnosed Complex PTSD which needs to be treated to make a dent in the chronic nature of their disorder. I believe that persons with Complex PTSD can recover and lead relatively well adjusted lives, especially if they are willing to cultivate a strong optimism, to work on caring for themselves and building exceptional personal boundaries. But I digress…

The reason I’d been in at the office of the doctor who cautioned me on my use of Clonazepam was that I had been experiencing a lot of difficulty negotiating socially. I was having difficulty finding gainful employment to fill the void, nothing as fun or well paying as the job I’d had until getting laid off from work in 2009 during the Great Recession. I was having difficulty negotiating new friendships or maintaining old ones. I had had treatment by 48 weeks of Interferon chemotherapy for Hepatitis C and just as I was going to celebrate being disease free after 30 years, I had a disastrous one-niter after no sex for years which left me with agonizing genital herpes. In a seriously misguided effort to economize, I moved out of a place that should have been my launch pad into “the normal world” into a series of apartments with from serious to appalling noise problems and put the finishing touches on a once just simmering now a full blown sleep disorder. Always taking my little piece of Clonazepam before bed and maybe again when I woke up, and maybe again when I woke up after that. I never thought that little bit of prescribed medicine could have been the culprit. Somewhere in there, my step-father, whom I referred to as my mother’s husband, went through an excruciating battle with cancer ending in death within 2 really tough years. Right when my mother needed me and both live in the Bay Area, I was mad traumatized on my own and barely able to really be what in my heart of hearts I wanted to be.

There were opportunities to turn things around, people tried to help. I tried to do the right thing, but ultimately I failed again and again. And always I took my medicine. It had been prescribed in 2000 by a doctor who listened to my life story of needle in foot and busted thumb and blah, blah and could I have this one, I tried it while working at a treatment home, noticing that a resident who took it always fell right asleep. It wasn’t stealing meds because meds that get accidentally dispensed go into a little collection bin and I just took one of those. I tried to make him feel conspiratorial with me. Apparently it worked because I walked out with a prescription that stayed on my record no matter how many times I moved.

Anyway, a new doctor raised the red flag 2012. For about a year after I felt really defensive and kept saying I couldn’t understand why “they” were trying to get me to stop taking a medication I clearly had no problems with and really needed. I do kind of wonder why she never suggested that some of the problems I was experiencing might be related to the medication I thought I had no problems with. As I wonder about a lot of things about the on going “Dark Ages” that mental health care represents.

At any rate, some time in May of 2015, I noticed really serious problems keeping my dose to the limit I’d imposed. It had been 15 years without much trouble in that department and it may have been problems associated with work, but I really wanted to take more and when I did, I couldn’t get it back down to a lower dose again without being awake all night. One night I waited a long time to take it and when I finally did I noticed a really chemically taste and as I waited for sleep, I realized was feeling a high that I also realized I recognized. I did some research on the Internet the next day because that’s what we do in the 21st century. I learned a lot. I learned about Stevie Nicks and how she’d lost years of her life to this drug. I learned that it’s still used to treat PTSD by many doctors. Basically I learned that I had a problem.

I was not really looking for a way to look good. I have 5 years of 12-Stepping from awhile back and I had gone the full intensive route. I’d been to AA, NA, Alanon, Co-dependents Anonymous and Sex Addicts Anonymous. I know that 12-Step recovery is hard work, walking through difficult places and coming out better for it. Really, I don’t think I was ever even close to as damaged by addiction as any of the people I met there, but their stories inspired me to try to make some positive changes in my life. I had learned that I had a potentially life threatening liver disease and alcohol simply had to go. I didn’t think I could do it alone. After five years, I left because it seemed like my ability to think in words that had meaning for me was being impacted and shut down. I knew the intent was meant to be kind, I could feel that much, but the reality of what I was supposed to say about myself was truly unkind. So, I left the Steps. I had five years of therapy, which was what everybody in the 12-step programs said you’d need to really recover. I knew needed to pursue some serious goals in the material world, and I knew didn’t need any negative feedback while I was doing it.

And for a good stretch, I really made some headway. I went back to college and finished my degree. I even got an additional minor degree with a special focus at the same time. I wasn’t addressing my PTSD at all, hell, I didn’t even know I had it. I wasn’t becoming a social butterfly, my friends came to me in convenient ways and I didn’t put a lot of energy into them. That doesn’t make me happy today, but I’d never had friends at all, so I got fooled maybe. I was making a little money and that was a big deal. I had the needle taken out of my foot, finally, and I kind of made peace with the balance issues, although I had trouble balancing the time I’d lost to it with how it had gotten there. Was there anyone to blame? Were my perceptions of people and the world damaged, or simply arrived at from a different vantage point than any majority? I don’t think I was able to reach any clarity on those questions and that became problematic. I think the difficulty was partly fueled by getting the prescription for Clonazepam. Slowly and almost imperceptibly, the headway I was making toward a creative and valuable work ethic became re-directed into a more selfish pursuit. In ways not clear to me, but looking back, people tried to warn me but I couldn’t hear. Finally, I knew I needed to stop because that selfish pursuit was not working. At first I figured I just needed to stop and bring the tools I’d learned from the 12-Steps, and they were many, to bear. I wasn’t really looking at much else.

I stopped taking Clonazepam in July of 2015. The first few weeks were very difficult and I honestly don’t remember much. I may have really legitimately offended my upstairs neighbor, although I have a feeling cultural differences are really more at the root of our discord. I had just been laid off from a job that I could have been better at, although I wonder if it would have made any difference. The biggest difference it would have made is that I would have seen that it was going nowhere and made a move to get out of there before it looked like her lack of success was really my fault. I don’t think she thinks this, but I think some people around her may. Since then I’ve been fired from another job I wasn’t really suited for but took anyway. Besides that my discord with my upstairs neighbor meant I was going to work on no sleep for days in a row. It was a disaster. I couldn’t even qualify for unemployment benefits.

But I think it must be a turning point in my recovery and remembering that I’m in a process of recovery is about the only thing that is keeping me moving through my days lately. I realize the crazy that has led to this point has been building for really for as long as I took that drug. While I don’t think, looking back, that the drug ever really worked, it’s clear that it filled a “need” and at first the effect might have been fairly benign, but for the fact that I couldn’t see it. I think this is what makes it such a dangerous drug. I think with substance abuse that enables a person to fulfill social roles otherwise too scary, or to dull pain otherwise too profound, the person knows it’s the substance that’s working and so they go back to it again and again. When it finally gets out of control, everyone is saying, it’s the substance abuse that’s getting in the way of your progress. So, according to the 12-Steps, while a lot of people have probably been noticing an association between ludicrous behaviors and the use of the substance and trying to get the use to see it, only an alcoholic (for example) can finally say, I’m an alcoholic.

With a prescription drug, about the only person who can raise a red flag is the person “abusing” it. With a prescription, even if the doctor feels caution, they’re not going to tell you it could be related. They would be liable. They wrote the prescription. So the user has to wake up and say there’s a problem. And even then, the doctor has to remain impune. The patient is simply reporting an adverse side effect, which is happening because of taking it as directed not because of abusing it. The problem is that taking it at all may constitute abuse of it in the terms as I learned them in 12-Step programs, although in all fairness, “particularly exquisite” is a term I’ve heard applied to Vedic passages, and the speaker wasn’t speaking to the flowery prose, he was speaking to the “prickery nature” of getting the understanding of the purport down correctly. So, perhaps me and the 12-Steps just never spoke the same language, more likely, some of the finer discernments might have been lost on me at the time.

I do want to get better, I want to be fully de-toxed and to do the work it will take to recover from the “side effects” of this drug. Given the murky nature of responsibility for how long it took to get here, I’m finding this particular recovery a bit complicated. Maybe for the first time I see how this recovery business is all about the spaces between rocks and hard places, about facing one’s own truth in those spaces, about trusting and hoping positive change will come from positive effort and about making room for spirit and time for caring. I’d like to recover from feeling so estranged by that invisible disability(ies) that really seem like the worst side effects of the needle in the foot. I’d like to know how to cope with people are having difficulty walking the walk and not just talking the talk, or, simply when I feel imposed upon? Lately, recovery seems to be about just that and I know there is so much more that is different too it. I feel like I’m in one of those spaces. Writing all my stuff to validate my truth before I get overwhelmed by something insignificant to my recovery is my first attempt at moving on. Here it is.