Benzo hell is difficult to understand unless you’ve been through it. We have been fed a narrative about drug addiction as a lifelong disease that asks us to accept the notion that all drugs that create a physiological dependency also create the disease of drug abuse and addiction. The unlucky benzo-harmed can testify that the benzodiazepine narrative is not about addiction per se; except for a limited sub-set, it is not about wanting to get high or making a chemical escape from the world. Damn, so many of us feel nothing and prefer it that way. We took a medication that our doctors said would help us; we took something that we were told would benefit our health and well-being, something that was supposed to be safe. The true benzodiazepine narrative is about outrageously high numbers of drug harm stories — about profound CNS damage, brain change, and physiological dysfunction. It is not a story about addiction.
Yes, yes, I realize that Chris Cornell had a history of drug abuse that fits the common addiction narrative. But I believe his family when they speak about how satisfied he was with his life at this time. He had success and purpose and love on deep levels. And he seemed to have an awareness and feel a sense of gratitude about making it through years of dark times. The demons that remained were old familiars that could be tamed. But, so typical with recovering addicts, some ill-informed doctor was happy enough to prescribe that harmless little anti-anxiety agent Ativan, something that could help with occasional panic attacks and the pressures of touring and playing to audiences of 50,000. When the show was over and the pressure was off, he should have been able to restore balance safely; he should have been able to head home and be with his family, his heart.
He had suicidal thoughts, they wrote. Suicidal thoughts? That’s not strong enough. That’s not accurate. Suicidal ideation. That’s what it’s called. I think you have had to experience it to understand how ordinary and measly a suicidal thought is compared to suicidal ideation. Suicidal ideation. Something that happens too often when the unlucky are dealing with benzo tolerance, benzo kindling, even during a safe benzodiazepine taper. Try to convince me that this is not exactly what Chris was dealing with. Sure, I’ve been there, but I was much more fortunate. I knew that that particular cruel trickery was part of the benzo experience. I could find that on BenzoBuddies. It’s a common topic of discussion there as well as in the benzo Facebook groups. I weep thinking that Chris had little knowledge about what he was thinking and feeling, about the horror he was experiencing. I have a cynic’s hunch that his doctor never talked to him about suicidal ideation and Ativan.
And so we lose another beautiful soul, another amazing talent, another who made our lives better, another who leaves behind a family who loves him and needs him. How common is this story? In the world of non-celebrity, it is a daily occurrence. The benzodiazepine epidemic is real. And the information that most doctors tell their patients about these drugs is wrong, skewed, and keeping the epidemic alive, causing heartbreak and loss and death every day. Yes, every bloody day.
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