A few years prior to getting sober I awoke one morning with a feeling of anxiety. I’d had anxiety before but this feeling stayed with me for the day. Upon returning home from work I started drinking and the feeling went away. The next day I awoke and the anxiety had returned. Within a few weeks that anxiety had gotten so bad that my hands were shaking, I was losing weight and was having trouble sleeping (even after passing out from alcohol). I finally went to the doctor.
My blood pressure was through the roof and my pulse was going crazy. The doctor gave me some Ativan (from the benzodiazepine family) and put me on an antidepressant called Paxil. The Ativan kicked in immediately and calmed me down (a few years later as my disease of addiction progressed I would begin to abuse the Ativan). The Paxil took a month or so to finally start working. I finally had some relief but would still suffer from anxiety attacks on a regular basis. Things I once took for granted I had trouble doing. I could no longer get a haircut without a huge anxiety attack. I can remember sitting in a barber’s chair and holding my breath, my muscles tense as the snip-snip of the scissors filled my eardrums. I ended up buying a set up clippers and doing my own haircuts from then on. There was also a time where I was in line at a store and the fluorescent lights were buzzing and flickering. This set off a huge anxiety attack. I dropped what I wanted to purchase and fled the store never to return. While this was going on the Paxil was having a weird side effect of a sexual nature. I could get an erection but was unable (95% of the time) to ejaculate. It was quite frustrating. My doctor was an awesome guy and liked to make things less tense with humour. When I told him my dilemma he said, “well, the girls must love that.” I ended up switching to Zoloft, which didn’t work and finally settled on Effexor.
Over the next few years my alcohol and drug addiction progressed to daily use. While I was not honest with myself or anyone else I was honest with my doctor as to what I was up to and how much drugs/alcohol I was imbibing. He started having me come see him on a regular basis. He would raise and lower the dosage of my Effexor depending on the craziness of the stories I would tell him. He would often lower the dosage saying I was too happy. When this happened my anxiety would go up and so too would the dosage. Of course, I would later learn that the alcohol and drugs were preventing the Effexor from doing a proper job. The last five years of my addiction I began to use cocaine and eventually crack cocaine. I would abuse the benzos I was taking in order to come down from the drugs. I remember running out of benzos and the pharmacist didn’t buy my story that I accidentally spilled them down the drain so would not prescribe me some more. I ended up switching to NyQuil as a replacement. Needless to say it was an inferior replacement. On January 7, 2005 I successfully sobered up. While I gave up the benzos I would remain on the antidepressant.
When I turned three years sober I decided that I didn’t need to take the Effexor any longer. Things were going awesome in my life – I had a great job, was going to tons of meetings and the Ninth Step Promises were coming to fruition. Under my doctor’s supervision (by this time I had a new doctor) I weaned off the Effexor. Unfortunately, within six months my anxiety level was through the roof and I could barely function. I returned to taking the pills knowing that I actually had anxiety and that it hadn’t been the drugs and alcohol causing it (I’m sure they exacerbated it though).
From that point on I realized that anxiety was going to be a part of my life. Over the years I’ve developed some tactics to help me along. I’ve learned different ways to breathe and change my focus so that when I do get an anxiety attack it doesn’t last long. As people who deal with chronic pain I had to find an acceptable level of anxiety that I can live with. When discussing my anxiety with people I explain it talking about our flight/fight switch. I tell people that mine is permanently switched on. By combining the medication with what I have learned in Alcoholics Anonymous, deep breathing and mindful meditation I manage my anxiety quite fine. My advice to people, in recovery, taking antidepressants, is not to listen to those 12 Steppers who tell you that medication is wrong. They are not doctors and should be avoided at all costs.