By Don Killian
This morning my wife and I took our grandson, Eli, to a plant nursery in the area that was decorated for Halloween and fall harvest. We took a hayride, played in a sandbox full of corn, slid down a hay slide (Well, Eli did. They wouldn’t let me – too old and too big.), walked through a spooky, dark haunted house maze, and took lots of pictures of bales of hay decorated as all manner of Halloween and harvest creatures and characters. It was a very leisurely, pleasant day.
It brought back lots of memories of my own childhood and the wonder of autumn and Halloween. In many ways, it seemed like I was reconnecting with the person I had been some fifty years ago before “life” happened to me. It felt like I was rejoining the path that I had been on at that time. Somewhere around age eleven or twelve, I got off that path and entered a nearly fifty-year detour – one that had no resemblance to the carefree days I had lived in my early years – one increasingly filled with addiction (some by my own doing and some unknowingly thrust upon me) and all its misery. Life would never be the same again until I reached the end of the detour and found the path I had wandered from long ago. I am on that path now.
Five years ago today began a journey that I would never have believed was possible to survive. If I had I known at the outset how long it would last and how gruesome it would be, I would have opted out and found an easier softer way – a way that would have eventually led to my death.
On October 20, 2009, I took my last drink of alcohol. The withdrawal was immediate, and over a couple weeks it morphed into post-acute withdrawal. The anxiety and depression were brutal and did not dissipate. I had also been taking Klonopin, and, even though I was in its clutches, I had no idea what benzo tolerance withdrawal was. Through trial and error, torture in a mental institution, near suicide, online help, and words from a friend, I finally realized I needed to discontinue the Klonopin if I ever hoped to be well again. It would be more than three years until I would declare myself well again.
I recall many things from those three-plus years – none of them good, but the most disturbing aspect of the journey was that, at every turn, I was told under no uncertain circumstances by every mental health care professional I met (more than a dozen), except one, that I was a hopelessly mentally ill addict who would need to be on psychotropic drugs for the rest of my life. It’s called dual diagnosis. It felt like a death sentence. It was terrifying. It was the best way I could ever think of to completely deflate another human being and suck every bit of hope from his or her mind and soul.
The only health professional who did not agree with this dismal diagnosis was a guy named Matthew who dispensed night meds in the mental health institution in which I was mentally and emotionally tortured. One evening he looked at me and said, ”Sir, you don’t belong here, and you don’t need these drugs.” I remember agreeing with him inside my head but, being so drugged and so frustrated trying to figure out what was wrong with me, I could not respond. He was a good man, and, in retrospect, I can say he was right.
In particular, I recall something my therapist said to me when I was tapering the Klonopin. I had been tapering at the rate of about 1/8th mg every two weeks. Throughout that tapering period she made fun of me for going so slowly. (Since then, I have learned that that is a fast taper.) The week before I jumped, I was extremely concerned about having no drug whatsoever in me. The thought of “0 mg” was very frightening. I had been torturing my brain with alcohol for most of my life, and I had taken Klonopin for thirteen years. This would be the first time in well over forty years that I could say there were no psychoactive substances (anthropogenic or otherwise) in my body. My therapist calmly told me I was married to my drugs. She assumed I was a craving addict. She missed the cause of my fear completely.
I had no idea who I would be once I had no more drugs in me. I started drinking at around age twelve or thirteen. Booze had become my crutch from childhood. Would I be a twelve-year-old emotionally when I jumped from the Klonopin? Would I still be mentally ill as they insisted I would be without drugs? Who would I be?
Today I thought about the answer to these questions. The withdrawal from the Klonopin was brutal, as it is for so many. Once it was over, I began to see the person who had been hidden by the decades of booze and years of benzos – the real Don. Today it became crystal clear as I played with Eli and enjoyed the whole experience. I am not mentally ill and have never had a mental disorder for even one day of my life. They were obviously wrong on that count.
The person I am today “feels” in many ways like the twelve-year-old who somehow got detoured on his journey through life and is now picking up where he left off so many years ago. He is a person who looks at so many things in life with a wonder and clarity he possessed long ago. That wonder was shrouded in a fog of booze and benzos for decades. It has reemerged stronger and brighter than it has ever been.
This person is alive – more alive than ever. He was somewhere inside me for a very long time and could not be seen or felt…but he was there.
Eli and he are good buddies…maybe because, in some strange way, they are much the same age.