Tapering and Recovery
One Person's Story and Tips For Survival (revised)
Guest Blog by Daisy Anderson
I was twenty-two years old when I walked into the psychiatrist's office with some personal and social troubles. I expected understanding and help so was surprised that the doctor prescribed potent medications. I naively thought the ten-day prescription was just that, for ten days. Over the years, the psychiatrists prescribed me cocktails of psychiatric drugs at high doses. Now, thirty-seven years later, I am drug free.
Early in 2001, I realized the drugs were making me sick and wanted to get of all of them. For eighteen months, I tapered down to two medications from a cocktail of seven prescribed medications. During the last nine months I tapered from the remaining ones, Rivotril and Ativan, both highly addictive benzodiazepine medications. For these two drugs, I used diazepam substitution.
After going through the withdrawal, I realized that I had been through withdrawal many times before. This happened when a medication dose was decreased or a drug stopped. For years, I lived with “between dose” withdrawal, when in the late afternoon and early evening, my agitation increased before my bedtime medication dose relieved the agitation. My withdrawal symptoms precipitated additions to my medication regime, frequent visits to the emergency, and numerous hospitalizations.
A Few Tools I Found Useful During Tapering and Recovery
1. Take a thorough look at your situation.
What is your attitude?
- Fear of becoming “crazy?”
- Angry at being labeled “mentally ill?”
- Feeling you are “ill?”
What are you hearing from others?
- Are doctors and family emphasizing that you are “ill?”
- Have you been told that these drugs will help or that you must take them for the rest of your life?
- Worse, have you been threatened by being told that if you stop them, something bad will happen to you?
- Are there conflicts in your close relationships? Be aware that as you change, your relationships may change. This could be wonderful or difficult.
2. Gather as much information as you can handle
Take care not to scare yourself with too much information. Continue gathering information as you become stronger. Being informed is crucial to keeping up your determination.
3. Maintain a diary.
- Write about how you are today.
- Note the times you feel positive.
- Record what helps and hinders your progress.
- When times are tough, read your notes so you can see your progress.
- Use the journal to help you solve issues.
I was in a “state,” I could not see my progress and reading my notes reassured me.
4. Maintain a positive attitude!
This keeps discouragement from the door. Use affirmations. Write the affirmations on a card and post them where you will see them.
Examples of what I did to keep positive:
- I told myself and my friends: “I will not let the ‘medical system’ get my spirit.”
- “I will get well.” “It can only get better.”
- I noted that I actually started to have one hour periods of feeling OK! Imagine I felt better for an hour!
- I told a few friends that the addiction process was medically induced and medically supervised. I labeled the diagnosis as “iatrogenic,” clearly putting the responsibility where it belonged. At the same time, I used my inner resources to stay as calm as possible and made sure I had the assistance I needed to reach my goal.
5. Plan rewards for when you are drug free.
- I took my left over medications to the pharmacist.
- I requested the pharmacist record all I returned.
- On the first day of no medication, I called a couple of friends to announce that I had reached my goal. Later in the day, I received flowers for my achievement! What a surprise!
- I continue to notice improvements in my life now that I am drug free.
- I preferred the use of “drugs” rather than “medications.”
6. Listen to wise persons who you can trust.
- One person reminded me to “go slow” when life did not go as I wanted.
- Another reminded me to decrease my expectations.
7. Use good judgement to take care of yourself.
- Sometimes a friend took care of my dog.
- I had to carefully consider every physical move I made.
- I did not drive for many months and avoided other potentially dangerous activities. The medical system had no idea of the potential dangers I faced daily, but I became aware of them when friends pointed them out.
- I obtained assistance with my financial affairs. I was in bad shape and vulnerable!
8. Be creative in devising your “tools” to get through.
- When I could not sleep I watched TV in a language that I did not understand.
- I knit 60 dishcloths to lull myself to sleep.
- Take care of #1! I had a bath every time I felt bad about myself.
9. Practice respect, understanding, honesty and patience.
could become quite irritable and my vigilance kept me from getting into “hot water.”
10. Do homework from “self help” books.
One book that I found useful was The EQ Edge by Steven J. Stein and Howard E. Book.
11. Advocate for yourself.
- I asked my pharmacist for information of benzodiazepines.
- I worked with the psychiatrist for two months before he would agree to diazepam substitution for tapering.
- I had to read a drug manual to determine why I was over sedated. The doctor missed many of my problems.
- I educated a few friends so they would understand.
12. Think when you are in a difficult situation.
Three times, I worried that was psychotic. I was SCARED. I held onto my very firm belief that I would not let the “system” get my soul. Going near a doctor was the first step to giving up my soul. (Affirmations.)
My suggestions to handle paranoia:
- Do not go near any medical person, or anyone else who would invoke the “system,” i.e. where you could be drugged or have the Mental Health Act imposed upon you. (Look after #1.)
- Identify the stimulus. A TV show, or automatic thoughts.
- Stop the stimulus immediately. This is an emergency where you must save yourself. (Take control of your life.)
- Work very hard at getting calm. (Take responsibility.)
Twice I had to attend the emergency department for physical health problems. This potentially is very risky for those of us undergoing drug withdrawal!
- I told myself that going to emergency was good judgement.
- I clearly stated to the doctor that I would deal with my agitation myself. (Assertive: I was in control of my life!)
- I tried very hard to not give the staff any reason to believe they should intervene with the agitation, i.e. drugs, or psychiatric admission. (This can be done against your will, believe me!)
- On the second occasion, the physician offered me Ativan to help with the physical problem. I said no thanks, told the doctor why and then quoted the medical literature. The doctor offered another solution which worked well.
- I now wear a medical alert bracelet that says I have adverse reactions to all psychiatric medications. If I am in a crisis and cannot respond I want to be reasonably sure that I will never be given a benzo or other similar drug again.
Hints for presenting yourself as credible:
- Be nice.
- Try to hide any agitation.
- Have the pertinent facts readily available.
- Do not challenge the medical staff.
- Stand firm.
These tips work to help you get your needs met and reach your goal of getting off the drugs.
13. Do not trust any medical person who has not demonstrated a thorough knowledge of the withdrawal process! Ask questions to find out if they really understand drug effects, tolerance withdrawal and tapering. Do not put yourself in a relationships with a doctor who is not fully informed!
14. Remember that the effects of the drugs and withdrawal symptoms are NOT pathology.
You are not mentally ill. It is the doctor who prescribed the drugs who has the problem!
15. Psychotherapy will not be effective while you are using the drugs or during tapering.
A knowledgeable Registered Psychologist was clear: the drugs interfered with the effectiveness of psychotherapy. He explained that many of my issues were drug related and they would simply disappear as I became well. If you still have personal issues, WAIT UNTIL YOU ARE OFF THE MEDICATIONS then find a health care provider who does not prescribe drugs.
16. Learn and use all the cognitive skills you can absorb.
David Burns has written several self-help books that teach cognitive behaviour skills. Some groups and some counselling professionals offer these skills too. Check out their qualifications and familiarity with the effects of prescription drugs.
17. Use your own form of faith or spirituality.
18. Get practical help if you need it.
I did not have supportive family and did not want to compromise my friendships. Tapering is onerous and long term!
Updated: July 28, 2014