My story revolves around Ambien. I learned about it through a gentleman I’d been dating. He was a surgeon and would prescribe it to himself. I asked him for half a pill once, and I really liked it, but he didn’t want to give me more. Eventually, he gave me five or six pills and cautioned me to only use it every other night. Ever since then I loved it and always kept a vial in my cabinet and reached for it. It became important to me to have it.
I got my Ambien in a variety of ways. I asked my general practitioner and she prescribed it to me. When my aunt died, she had a prescription, so I took hers and added it my own. When I couldn’t get enough of it, I asked my dad to get a prescription. I made up stories — my dad spilled the pills, I’m going on a trip. This drug is insidious, and it changes a person. My core values are completely different than who Ambien made me.
I was in a toxic, on-again off-again relationship, and I chose to check out and put a Band-Aid on it and live in denial. I took Ambien more and more instead of working through my issues. Some people reach for drugs or alcohol, but I reached for Ambien because it was there. I slept. It was a great way of just checking out.
Of course, there were consequences. I’d leave my phone by the bed to have a connection to the outside world, and I’d end up having conversations that I had no memory of. I stopped dreaming. The more I checked out, the worse my coping skills became. It was self-perpetuating. One-hour naps turned into two hours then all day. Soon, I was sleeping all weekend. I’d wake up just long enough to take more Ambien. It’s a very lonely process, very isolating.
A friend knew about my Ambien addiction and urged me to get off it. I got tired of being disengaged from life. Who I was while taking Ambien was so inconsistent with who I really am. I felt like I was being defeated and that pissed me off. I didn’t want to be controlled anymore by a little pill, so I made a decision. I was determined not to lose.
I’ve been off Ambien since August 1, 2011, but I’m not healed. My brain still wants it.
I quit on my own, going away for two weeks to rewire my brain to sleep again. I felt like I could do it on my own because it’s a sleeping pill as opposed to narcotics.
I still have stress in my life, but I’m coping with it differently. It’s a process. I’m checking in daily with my intuition, journaling, doing nearly daily yoga. I also make sure I don’t get too hungry, tired or angry and I’m eating well. The recovery process is complex. It’s not just one thing. It’s a dozen things that you do to maintain a healthy lifestyle. All this keeps me engaged and keeps me hopeful.
While I’m on the road to recovery, the problem persists. Ambien is addictive – just as addictive as Vicodin – and It infuriates me that these doctors didn’t ask me, they just kept refilling my prescriptions month after month and never asked me to come in. They could have killed me. I had no reason to need this. Sleeping issues are usually temporary, and powerful drugs shouldn’t be given for extended periods of time, especially without checking in with the patient.
Anger is a great impetus sometimes. Instead of numbing myself, I somehow found the courage to be angry enough to change. I know people can benefit from my story, and reaching out like this also gives me a purpose. Addiction can happen to anyone. I’m educated, and I thought I would never go there.
I’ve learned that I need to allow myself to feel the pain that results from my choices, so I won’t make that choice again. Popping Ambien to numb my feelings let me make the same mistakes over and over again. It lets you forget things. Now if I’m having trouble sleeping, I ask myself, “Why?”
Transcribed by Wendy Lee Nentwig