Melissa Bond laughs when she says something strange to hear from an author promoting her new book: “This is not the book I always wanted to write.”
Bond’s plan, said the Salt Lake City poet and publisher, was to write about raising a child with Down syndrome and autism. But while blogging about her experiences with benzodiazepine addiction, she said she received hundreds of responses from people. They urged her to continue, she said, because they had lost a brother or their mother was disabled, and Bond’s story made the topic real for them.
“Art has a way of taking pain and transforming it,” Bond said. “For me, personally, it was a way of taking this really traumatic experience and putting it into a new kind of story.”
Writing her book, “Blood Orange Night: My Journey to the Edge of Madness” (forthcoming Tuesday, June 14), was a way, she said, to educate a wider audience about the side effects of benzodiazepines. – what Bond called the next big drug epidemic that people are unaware of.
His own private Fukushima
According to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, benzodiazepines are “depressants that produce sedation and hypnosis, relieve anxiety and muscle spasms, and reduce seizures.”
The DEA says the street names for this class of drugs are “benzos” or “downers.” Some of the brands may be more familiar: Valium, Xanax, Librium, Halcion, Ativan, and Klonopin, among others.
Bond said she was relieved when her doctor prescribed her two medications as she suffered from severe insomnia while pregnant with her second child.
The first prescription, she said, was for Ambien, a sedative used to treat insomnia. Ambien is not a benzodiazepine, Bond noted, but it shuts down the normal functioning of neurotransmitters in the brain.
“So when the drug is withdrawn very quickly, the [neurotransmitters] are disabled for a while,” she said. Bond quit Ambien suddenly, she said, because she hadn’t been told it wasn’t wise to do so.
The problems persisted, she said, and her doctor — whom she calls Dr. Amazing in the book — prescribed her Ativan. “We need to put you to sleep,” Bond said, quoting Dr Amazing. “It will fix your hormones. I’ll give you a sedative, it’s totally safe.
Bond said she remembered thinking, “Oh, it’s all resolved, like he knows exactly what’s going on.”
Looking back, Bond said she calls it something else: her own personal Fukushima, a reference to Japan’s nuclear reactor damaged in a natural disaster in 2011.
“It was a three-step thing,” Bond said. “The first was having a child with Down syndrome. It was the earthquake. The tsunami was the insomnia, and nuclear fusion was the prescription.
This happened in 2008, when the recession caused the Wasatch Journal, a much-admired local magazine for which Bond was editor, to fold. (Bond is also a published poet, played a major role in launching Salt Lake City’s “slam poetry” scene beginning in the mid-1990s, and ran the literary arts program at the Festival for several years. of the Arts of Utah.)
“I joke about it in the book, that I wasn’t ready to be the Betty Crocker CEO of the family,” she said. “I felt this loss of identity, everything I loved and defined myself by was suddenly ripped away.”
The dangers of benzodiazepines
“The decline has been so rapid, [but] it took me a while to [realize it]”, Bond said. “Benzodiazepines cause what’s called anterograde amnesia, which means they impair the formation of your memories.”
In short, Bond said, she couldn’t keep up with what was happening from one day to the next.
Bond said she realized she had a problem one day when she picked up her daughter, then one and a half years old, after giving her a bath. They left the bathroom, she said, and her “legs turned to water.”
“I just fell like a corpse off a bridge,” she said.
The moment went super fast, she said. She saw the corner of a wall move towards her daughter’s head, and Bond pushed her body to the side, she said.
“I was laying there with her in my arms and I thought I had MS, because that’s how it starts: cognitive decline and balance issues,” she said.
Bond said she went through other options, such as a possible brain tumor. Finally, she said, she had another thought: “Well, what about the drugs?”
Once she got up and put her daughter to bed, Bond said, she went online and started researching benzodiazepine withdrawal.
“That’s when I found out that any symptoms I had were considered active withdrawal,” Bond said. “This drug is metabolized so quickly that you can take a high dose and still have active withdrawals like you’re trying to get out of it.”
That night, Bond said, she tried to reduce the Ambien. “I was like, ‘I have to stop this thing,'” she said. “I took out my pills and cut a corner off one of them and thought that little corner should be OK.”
Later that night, she said, when her daughter woke up crying, Bond went to look after her. When she tried to pull her out of bed, Bond said, she felt “a burst of heat, like blood red, neon. …I remember the mat digging into my face, I passed out and woke up several times.
When she finally woke up, she said, she could barely move. Doctors later discovered Bond had suffered a stroke, she said.
Bond said she worked with another doctor – not Dr. Amazing – for five months to try to get off drugs, and that doctor told her, “I’m terrified of killing you.” Eventually, she says, she found an addiction specialist and worked with him for a year.
Throughout the process, she had active withdrawals every day. Those around her have asked if she has an eating disorder, but Bond says it’s hard to see the physical pain and anguish.
“I felt like I was on fire from the outside,” Bond recalled. “My muscles were shaking, my eyes were shaking in their sockets. I could neither read nor write. I felt nauseous.
Bond compared the process to quitting a heroin addict. “It was the most rigorous physical and mental challenge I’ve ever had in my life,” she said. “I never got 100% off the drug, but it got to the point that it has no impact now.”
Bond said she wanted to show with her book that addiction and dependence are similar, but not the same.
“When we think of drug addicts, we think of people who use either to get high or to feel impaired or something like that,” she says. “But physical addiction, especially with benzodiazepines, is so punitive. Withdrawals are so bad that you take them just to look normal.
Bond cites an observation from writer Leslie Jamison’s memoir “The Recovering” to explain the difference between an addict – someone in a cycle of “desire, use, repeat”, as Jamison wrote – and someone who is dependent.
“The addict intends to use the drug to obliterate or conceal. The intention is compulsive and repetitive and the impulse takes over their life, eclipsing almost everything else,” Bond said. only intended to follow his doctor’s orders in hopes of a cure.”
The Benzodiazepine Information Coalition, a non-profit organization that describes its mission as “education about the potential adverse effects of benzodiazepines taken as prescribed,” states that “acclimatization of the body to the chronic presence of the drug leads to neuroadaptations and, ultimately, an addiction to the drug. The group also claims that symptoms of physical dependence, such as tolerance or withdrawal symptoms between doses, “may feel like addiction, but it isn’t.”
Bond noted that many who take benzos “just follow a doctor’s orders, and all of a sudden your body can’t function without the drug.”
Bond added that with benzodiazepines there is no loss of control, as with opioids – just rapid physical and emotional decline. She described the prescription of benzos as a “shadow epidemic”.
Bond used an analogy that shows his poetess’ talent for choosing the right word has not diminished.
“Opioids are the fire that burns your house down,” she said. “Benzos are the thieves who steal everything you own one piece at a time.”
To note • If you or someone you know struggles with a substance abuse disorder, the Federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) collects information on thousands of state-licensed providers. Call 1-800-662-4357 (HELP) or visit FindTreatment.gov to find a treatment center near you.