How Katy Perry Gave Voice to My Benzo Withdrawal
Hello there, lovelies –
It’s the Saturday before World Benzodiazepine Awareness Day and I’ve been waiting all week to tell you why Katy Perry – yes, cherry lipstick Perry - gave voice to my benzo withdrawal.
You should know it’s hot right now. Hell yes, it’s hot, because we’ve smoked up the skies, so mama nature is making her adjustments.
And my A/C is out. It’s 90 degrees inside my house (and you know I’m so totally in my underwear) and a kind man named Brian is coming to tell me if I must buy a new cooler.
But this discomfort is temporary.
What I want to tell you today is about a time when the discomfort was not temporary …
This was in 2010. It lasted until about 2014. I was sick and pretty sure I’d never get better. I’d push my kids in their stroller and – no joke- have to sit down halfway up the block because I was so tired, Me.The used to be ultramarathoner, rock climbing, yoga girl. I was sure I had undiagnosed Multiple sclerosis. Or a brain tumor. I felt like I had a nasty flu every single day and still I got up, still I tried to be a mama to two infants and to revive my freelance writing career. It didn’t work. None of it did. I became eclipsed. I went into the dark and had no idea what was sucking me down. One night, after walking out of the bathroom, holding my freshly bathed daughter in my arms, I fell like a dead body from a bridge.
I lay in the hallway holding my girl, legs useless as bags of jelly. This is it, I thought. They’ll find a white mass in my brain and the doctor will tell me to kiss my kids goodbye. Thirty seconds later, my legs surged to life. It was as if nothing had happened.
That’s when I realized … the sickness, the memory loss, the instability started after taking the drugs my doc had prescribed for sleep. They weren’t making me better. They were taking a hammer to my brain.
I discovered I didn’t have Multiple sclerosis. I didn’t have a brain tumor. I’d become physically dependent upon that Ativan my doc had prescribed. And I was in withdrawals. You can be in withdrawals while actively taking your doctor prescribed dose. It's one of the perks.
It still makes me angry. And for those of you unfamiliar with Ativan, think the Rolling Stone’s song Mother’s Little Helper. Ativan is Valium on steroids. It’s a family of drugs called benzodiazepines that include Xanax (bet you you’ve heard of that one), Klonopin and Librium. Sedative hypnotics. They’re pharmaceutical hammers and they’re prescribed all the time. In September 2020, the FDA enforced a black box warning to let consumers know that these buggers are physically addictive within a week. Fishhooks in the brain. Hurts like nothing you can imagine pulling them out.
So, I’m putting Katy Perry’s song Rise on my Spotify playlist for benzo withdrawal.
Katy dropped the song for the 2016 Summer Olympics. It’s her in the Utah desert, struggling to get a pink parachute to fly. She gets pulled back, smashed to the ground, trapped underwater. The song is about relentless determination. It’s a phoenix rising from the ash song and captures what Olympic athletes go through -the hours of training in the dark or alone, the years and years of pushing their bodies to the very edge.
And to me, this song captures what it’s like to go through benzo withdrawal.
It’s not the same for everyone, but this withdrawal takes the kind of stamina and ferocious determination that few can muster. It can take years. But so many try. So. Very. Many. I dedicate this song to them.
Here are some of the lyrics that make me cry:
'Cause when, when the fire's at my feet again And the vultures all start circling They're whispering, you're out of time But still, I rise This is no mistake, no accident When you think the final nail is in, think again Don't be surprised, I will still rise
Thanks, Katy. The song and the video are gorgeous. For those of you out there still struggling or watching a family member or brother or friend struggle, know they’re working with vultures. Know they’re doing everything they can to rise out of the ash.
With all my heart,
P.S. The photo above is me, right in the middle of withdrawal. I'm doing my best to smile, to look normal. I'd done an arty performance piece with two friends at the Utah Arts Fest, and we'd thought having lines down our faces was a good idea. I did the performance, trying to regain a sense of who I used to be - a performer, a poet, someone who was upright and joyous. The experience crushed me. I got dizzy, nauseous, felt like fire ants were consuming my body. I came home to a six-hour nosebleed and stomach seizures that didn't stop for several days. I caught this picture right before I tanked. You can see that my eyes are pinned to the mirror, as if they could hold me up.
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