Recovery with a Side of Klonopin

By Amy Dresner 06/14/17

My doctor prescribed the drug to treat my epilepsy and I was terrified of relapsing. But I won't lie. I was also a little bit excited at the idea of a freelapse.

illustration of a woman contemplating a capsule.
Klonopin is usually considered off-limits to those in abstinence-based recovery.

Many of us sober folk have some permanent repercussions from our abuse: whether it’s Hep C, rotting teeth, fatty livers, a hole in your septum so big you could put a shower rod through it, or just a little residual psychoticism. I’ve escaped most of those but I do have grand mal epilepsy thanks to years of snorting crystal meth cut with God knows what. For the last decade, my epilepsy has been relatively well controlled with daily doses of phenobarbital (the drug now infamous as the lethal additive to the applesauce that those Heaven’s Gate weirdos ingested so they could shed their earthly shells and meet the Mothership or whatever). However lately my EEG’s have had more colorful explosions than a Fourth of July celebration and I was pressed by my neurologist to add yet another medication.

“You’re having subclinical seizures all the time. Your risk of a breakthrough seizure is very high.”

Speaking of high, you’ll remember that I rather reticently jumped onto the increasingly popular marijuana (or specifically CBD oil) train to control my fiery brain. Unfortunately, I was recently told by my neurologist that it did nothing for my seizures despite its reputation for being the cure-all for some children with intractable epilepsy.

But I won’t lie. I was also a little bit excited at the idea of a freelapse.  

“It doesn’t work for everybody or all types of seizures,” she told me in that flat doctorial tone.

Oooh, lucky me! Special again!

So we were back to the big pharmaceutical guns. We had tried without success almost all of the newer anti-convulsants. What was left were the benzos. Yikes.

My doctor offered, “Well, you could try Ativan or Klonopin but I’m a little hesitant to prescribe either with your history of drug abuse.”

Ativan and I had already proven to have an abusive relationship. I was given a script for it and aside from making me high as fuck, it put me in a black out for a full week ending unceremoniously with me signing myself into the psych ward under the impression that it was a fancy spa. 

So no way, José on the Ativan. But Klonopin? Hmmm. I’d never tried it though I’d heard multiple horror stories in and out of the rooms. Stevie Nicks says the drug is why she never had children, claiming it ruined her life for eight years. It was one of the meds in the deadly cocktails that led to the accidental overdoses and suicides of Margaux Hemingway, Anna Nicole Smith, Don Simpson and David Foster Wallace, just to name a few. Granted none of them were taking it for epilepsy which is why it was originally brought to the market in 1975.

Also I am not the granddaughter of a famous writer, a sexy playmate, a schlocky producer or the writer of novels that he himself couldn’t even finish reading.

I was scared to try it. There is a lot of fear mongering in the rooms regarding benzos and with good reason. They’re highly addictive and the detox is one of the worst and can be life threatening.

I consulted my sponsor, Jay Westbrook, who not only has decades of sobriety but is also a hospice nurse thus very familiar with meds. I reminded him of my Oxycontin fiasco back in 2011. I was prescribed the opiate for an insufferably painful shoulder condition and ended up…well, in jail.

Jay told me, “This is a different medication, a different problem and a different sobriety. If your motives are clean, which I believe they are, then I don’t think you’re going to have a problem.” He then reminded me of page 133 in the Big Book: “God has abundantly supplied the world with fine doctors, psychologists, and practitioners of various kinds. Do not hesitate to take your health problems to such persons…Try to remember that though God has wrought miracles among us, we should never belittle a good doctor or psychiatrist. Their services are often indispensable…”

Umm okay. I chose to trust and believe him even though I was terrified, convinced even, that one of these little pills would instantly send me back down into that old rabbit hole of active addiction. I could just picture myself crushing them and snorting them through a Bic pen while listening to Elliott Smith on repeat for days.

But I won’t lie. I was also a little bit excited at the idea of a freelapse. What addict wouldn’t be? I’d been so hysterical from my recent breakup that I was hoping the Klonopin might just give me a small sliver of that Valley of the Dolls cool composure. No such luck. I was prescribed the lowest dose (.5mg) to be taken three times a day. The first day or so I felt fuzzy, a little uncoordinated but mostly sleepy. I dragged myself to a meeting, and as I walked there, I really had to concentrate: “left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot.” As I entered the meeting I thought, “Do my eyes looked pinned? Am I allowed to share? Will I slur?”

Of course, none of that happened. I was as verbally scathing and overly emotional as ever.

“This stuff isn’t doing shit to sedate me. I’m just as hysterical as normal,” I complained to my sponsor.

“Good,” Jay said.

My report: I’ve become a napaholic. Granted it’s only been about two weeks and I still hope to build a tolerance. But as of now, I take three hour naps during the day and sleep at least 12 hours a night. It’s a common side effect of a sedative medication and not one I particularly like. As an ex-cokehead and tweaker, sleepiness bordering on narcolepsy is not the stuff dreams are made of. Just as I’m feeling less drowsy from the last dose, what do you know? It’s time to take the next one. Ugh.

I guess I just wanted to inform people that you can take what are considered “slippery” medications for real medical problems and be just fine. And believe me, I am just as surprised as you. Please beware, I’m not saying everybody will have this experience. If you know you have a mad crush on benzos, then of course, stay away.

So in closing, my relationship status is: dating my bed. (But I am seizure-free.)

Amy Dresner has been a columnist at The Fix since 2012 and is the author of the forthcoming My Fair Junkie. And she is on Twitter. And now she has her own website!

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Amy Dresner is a recovering drug addict and all around fuck up. She’s been regularly writing for The Fix since 2012. When she isn't humorously chronicling her epic ups and downs for us, she's freelancing for Refinery 29, Alternet, After Party Chat, Salon, The Frisky, Cosmo Latina, Unbound Box, and Psychology Today. Her first book, My Fair Junkie: A Memoir of Getting Dirty and Staying Clean was published in September 2017 by Hachette Books. Follow her on Twitter @amydresner.