Teenager’s Perspective: living with her mother experiencing benzo withdrawal

By: Rachel

rachelMy mom is an addict. Or was an addict I should say. She wasn’t addicted to any street drugs, not heroin, not cocaine or meth. She took the drugs, not because she wanted an escape, but because she was prescribed them without knowing their addictive properties. She became addicted to the medicine that the doctors continued to give her when her depression and anxiety didn’t go away. I have never seen so many pills. Prozac, Cymbalta. Xanax, Klonopin, Zoloft. Take three a day, take one in the morning and one at night to help her sleep, remember to take twice daily with food.

While taking these she wasn’t herself. She stopped telling me about her new favorite books because she didn’t read anymore. Weeds had invaded our garden and the brown-eyed Susan’s were wilted because she lay in bed instead of tending to the plants outside. She realized this was happening to her and that her symptoms were not going away. So she decided to change. She wanted to be completely independent from any medication. She wanted to feel things. To be okay with being nervous or worried or sad and be able to handle whatever came her way on her own.

I supported her, I wanted her back, and I wanted her to be happy. The doctors, however, did not. One therapist practically laughed when told that she no longer wanted to be medicated. “Oh they aren’t working for you?” They would say, “Well then you just need more!” Since she had no professional help, it became a family job to help her off the drugs.

As we found out, a person cannot simply stop taking the pills because there was a high risk of: seizure, coma, and death. My mom would have to go through withdrawal and detox. The process began. We researched and learned all we could, bought books published in London, because it seemed as though not many American doctors wanted to admit the severe side effects of antidepressants and benzodiazepines, the class of drug she had been prescribed.

First step, rid her body of one pill at a time. Over weeks and weeks the doses became smaller. I got used to walking into the kitchen and watching my mom and dad lower the doses by hand. The tablets were cut into halves, thirds, quarters, fifths, eighths. The capsules were opened and the tiny beads of powder poured onto a plate, where all the beads were counted. Only swallowed 100 beads this week, try 90 in a few weeks, maybe 80 soon after that if she was feeling up to it. Every morning reopening a capsule and starting over, recounting the beads. Each drop in dosage brought on horrible side effects. I watched my mom become someone I had never seen before. She lost over 60 pounds because she couldn’t eat, getting sick after or having no appetite at all. Every muscle in her body ached. She told me how it felt like electricity was constantly pulsing through her skin and zapping her. Strange mood swings, headaches, stomach aches, neck aches. I had never seen her like this before.

She couldn’t take care of all of us in her condition, it was too much work and my dad and I knew it. He worked nights and couldn’t always be there, I knew I had to step up. I learned how to make spaghetti and meatballs, I washed my sister Anna’s hair so that shampoo would never get in her eyes, helped my brother, Jacob, with his algebra homework, and tucked them in at night. The goal was for my mom to get better and I would do anything to help with that. Both my dad and I had to constantly remind them, because they were young and scared, that she would get better, even though at times it didn’t seem like she could.

The past year and a half at my house has varied from being happy to hellish, depending on the day. We could see our mom smiling one day, but the next she would be found lying in the dark in her bed trying to somehow cope with the pain and sickness. But no one ever gave up. We were all going to get through this together.

At times I felt like I had become as sick of her sickness as she had. I would have much rather gone to a sleepover than stayed home to read ‘Little House on the Prairie’ with Anna, or stay at my grandparents’ house when my dad couldn’t get work off and my mom was having days so bad she didn’t want us around to see her that way. But I realized I wasn’t the most important one there, I learned that those around me are my priorities. So we carried on. I came home from school, checked on mom, checked on dad. Asked Jake how he did on his graphing or matrices test, reminded Anna to clean up her toys. I told my dad to drive safe to work and that I’d see him the next day. Then made dinner, told the kids to do their homework and did mine, and went to bed after Jake and Anna were asleep.

The past couple months have been different though. My mom has been slowly coming back. Her appearance is different, but I can see her. Under the grayed hair, the tired, slightly wrinkled eyes, and wearing clothes four sizes smaller than before, she is smiling. She is now medicine free. She is cooking vegetable stir fry and baking brownies, she is braiding Anna’s hair, and she is helping Jake study. Outside the brown-eyed Susan’s are blooming.

printed by permission from Rachel and her mother

First published at Benzo Withdrawal Wall of Pain on Facebook

For more information on benzodiazepine use and withdrawal see:

Benzo Info  — Benzodiazepines are prescribed primarily for anxiety and/or sleep issues. They are a highly problematic class of drug. Most people are not told the risks involved when they are first prescribed. This page provides information on the risks of taking benzodiazepines. It also offers information and resources for freeing oneself from benzodiazepine dependence.


About Monica Cassani

Author/Editor Beyond Meds: Everything Matters