Personal stories – lived experiences

Personal stories

Prescription medication dependence is a medical condition which can happen to anyone. It is a common consequence of regular use of high-risk prescription medications such as opioid pain mediations or sedative medications (benzodiazepines).

 

If you are concerned about your medication use, you are not alone. There are effective treatments available and health professionals who can help you to get back to living the life you want. Visit our ‘Get Support’ page to find out more.

Rustie’s story

Rustie shares her story of recovery from over 32 years of dependence on opioid and benzodiazepine medications. 

Jessica’s story

Jessica shares her story of recovery from over-the-counter codeine dependence after wisdom tooth surgery.

Deniz’s story

Deniz shares her story of recovery from codeine dependence after the birth of her child. 

Merideth’s* Story

 

Merideth shares her story of recovery from benzodiazepine dependence (diazepam and temazepam).

She has decided to do so in writing. 

*Please note Merideth is a pseudonym

Read Merideth’s story – click here

If you’re concerned about your medication use, speak to your GP or another trusted health professional. Do not stop or reduce your medication without first speaking to a health professional as this can be potentially dangerous.

 

In 1994 I sought help from a psychiatrist to work through the abuse and torture I had experienced as a child.  I was against any medication however he said it was necessary.  He prescribed 10 mg Diazepam (Valium) and 10 mg Temazepam (The Temazepam was equivalent to 5 mg Diazepam) as well as 200mg Zoloft, an anti-depressant.

 

When I started taking the medication I was a healthy, fit forty-two-year-old. As a family, my husband and I, and our three children enjoyed bush walking and outdoor activities.  Within three years of starting that medication my coordination had deteriorated, and my GP suspected that I was either suffering from a brain tumour or Multiple Sclerosis (MS).  After an MRI and a neurological examination by a leading neurologist I was diagnosed with MS.

 

By 1997, I had worked through the trauma of the abuse and come to terms with it, however, the psychiatrist wanted me to remain on the medication because of the MS diagnosis.  Over the years that followed he incorrectly reassured me that I could safely remain on it for the rest of my life. Our life changed significantly because I became increasingly more disabled requiring a motorised scooter when out shopping and home help to do everyday tasks.  The active life that I had always enjoyed was no longer possible and instead I lived a restrictive, socially isolated, indoor lifestyle.

 

Eighteen years after starting the medication as I approached my sixtieth birthday, I decided to take stock of my rapidly declining health.  Around about this time my then 4-year-old grandson asked why I walked, talked and moved so slowly.  I explained to him about the MS.

 

I decided to reduce the medication in the hope that I would see some general improvement in my health.

 

Unfortunately, when I spoke to my GP about the withdrawal process he was extremely unhelpful. We contacted all support services in our area finally we were given the number of a rural withdrawal support worker who was extremely supportive and understanding. He said that it wasn’t going to be easy, and that I would have to work at it. He gave very practical advice such as keeping a diary of the withdrawal process from day 1 to day 14, to help me understand the patterns of my withdrawal symptoms, which gave me a good indication of what to expect in my future withdrawals. This helped to get rid of the feeling that I didn’t know what would happen to me. He said that it was important to go for a walk or swim every day.

 

Two thirds of the way through the tapering process I was informed by two separate neurologists that I did not have MS, it then became clear that the medication had caused the MS symptoms.

 

Regaining physical fitness became my focus after the completion of the withdrawal which took 2 years.   Gardening and farm work helped me regain upper body and arm strength while walking and gardening helped strengthen my legs.   I pushed myself even on bad days because I wanted to regain my former health.

 

The Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms which I had experienced for about 8 years had resulted from developing tolerance to the medication, this started improving 6 months after completion of the withdrawal.  I went from being very frail at 47 kilos to 64 kilos.  It took 2 years

 

Now over four years since the completion of my withdrawal from the benzodiazepines I am fitter than the average 65-year-old.  As an example of this transformation, compared with 6 years ago when I struggled to walk just 50 metres, this week I was able to catch 150 lambs when we were doing the docking and tagging of our lambs, last year I struggled to catch 60 lambs.

 

Unfortunately, the poor medical advice  I received while withdrawing has resulted in me developing a very severe form of Multiple Chemical Sensitivities according to the specialist.  Having MCS means that again I am forced to live in social isolation because all man-made chemicals affect me from fragrances to agricultural chemicals, essential oils to petrol and diesel.

 

It is now over four years since the final withdrawal.  My life while on Diazepam was just an existence which lacked any quality because I was so physically, emotionally and intellectually disabled by Diazepam.  I found that in the recovery phase I had to actively work at recovery even though I was tired and disillusioned.  It was also important to keep busy so as not to focus on the symptoms.

 

When I started withdrawing from Temazepam and Diazepam in October 2012 I never envisaged that I would go from being frail with wasted muscles to being fitter than the average 65 year old, nor did I envisage that I would regain the ability to think and talk normally after so many years thinking and talking so slowly.  It is also wonderful to get back to being able to be organised and efficient rather than muddling through life.

Louise’s* Story

 

Louise shares her story of recovery from benzodiazepine dependence (oxazepam and temazepam).

She has decided to do so in writing. 

*Please note Louise is a pseudonym

Read Louise’s story – click here

If you’re concerned about your medication use, speak to your GP or another trusted health professional. Do not stop or reduce your medication without first speaking to a health professional as this can be potentially dangerous.

 

Not many stories begin, “I’m an 82 old recovering drug addict!”

 

This story does, but it’s really for you of any age taking medication of the class ‘benzodiazepine’. With luck, sharing my experience might help change a life or two.

 

Eight years ago I had hip replacement surgery and the discharge meds were Serepax and Normison. Prescribed for sleep. Dosage was 15mg Serepax an hour before bed and 15mg Normison on retiring. Those drugs seemed the absolute ant’s pants and my sleep was wonderful.

 

‘Serepax’ and ‘Normison’ are brand names; not a chemical. Serepax is oxazepam while Normison is temazepam. Note the name-ending ‘zepam’, which is a marker that a drug is of the class ‘benzodiazepine’.

 

There are many brand-name benzodiazepines on the Australian market and the best known is Valium (diazepam). Then there’s Euhypnos (temazepam), Murelax (oxazepam), Ativan (lorazepam) for starters.

 

I soon began to need more than a 15mg Serepax to achieve sleep, meaning that I required fresh prescriptions at shorter intervals. My GP doubled the tablet strength to 30mg and ordered double packs. No questions asked; no advice or caution offered.

 

Fast-forward six years and by an insidious process I don’t recall in detail I’m now taking 45mg of Serepax a day. And not only for sleep…I had begun to use the med in waking hours too. Facing any stress; long haul flights, SHORT haul flights, painful recovery from a fracture, sitting with gravely ill relatives, tutoring my literacy class, negotiating a messy legal matter, medical appointments…

 

Ordinary, bog-standard life-requirements made me antsy…a quiver of low-grade anxiety…but Serepax sorted that like magic. No trouble getting the tablets though as my GP wrote scripts for the asking.

 

Then in June 2016 I crashed. Hard. Following routine cataract surgery my anxiety levels went ballistic and in two weeks I developed the blackest of depression; the memory of which terrifies me to this day. I would not have believed such profound suffering possible…merciless despair that made me desperate not to draw even my next breath. I was admitted to hospital and prescribed two powerful psychotropics.

 

In an effort to discover what was behind the depression I consulted a psychologist. She helped me identify a slew of major life traumas in the months preceding my breakdown and was of the opinion that I had suffered stress overload. ‘A perfect storm’ she called it.

 

Some independent research I did uncovered another factor…benzodiazepines are a depressant. I’m now convinced that the Serepax I was medicating it with was actually driving my increasing anxiety and furthermore, that same benzo was also a catalyst for my life-threatening crash.

 

I’d been advised not to try getting off the Serepax until I was free of the others and when that time came, faced the prospect with little trepidation. How wrong I was.

 

Even though I’m now confident my benzo whacked brain is in sight of complete healing there’s no point sugar-coating the early agony. It’s said that getting off a benzo is way harder than quitting heroin and I believe it. I was lucky enough to have expert advice and good support but the early days of my taper off were pure hell. No other word for it. There are about 40 benzo withdrawal symptoms listed and although I only copped a half a dozen it was a battle to survive the early mental and physical distress even from one minute to the next.

 

I’m now 13 months into my taper and a few weeks off taking the last benzo crumb I’ll ever put in my mouth. It hasn’t been a linear recovery and there are still down times but lately the overall trajectory is UP. I’m even accepting of the warning that for a while even after you’re completely ‘off’, symptoms can stick around for a while. So be it.

 

It’s daunting to safely taper and allow yourself time to recover but the good news is that tens of thousands before you have already done it. People from 19 to 87 and who have been on benzos for six months or 40 years. You can do it too and like them, you will get your life back. The joy of that will surprise you.