For the last two or three years, my doctor has prescribed Valium for me. To be taken as and when needed within clear boundaries: one 2mg tablet at a time, with an absolute maximum of four tablets in any one day. So we are talking low doses here on an irregular basis. The pattern has been that I might need one on a particular day, then it might be months before I feel that need again.
Some of my AA friends are understandably wary of any ‘benzos’, of which Valium is one. This is because they are often used to help with addiction withdrawal; because they are themselves addictive; and because they can be used to mask feelings. This latter reason especially applies to alcoholics because many of us used alcohol for that exact reason – to mask feelings, to forget reality for a while.
So I have kept in regular contact with my doctor and have followed her instructions carefully. The drug was useful for me if I was feeling particularly anxious or panicky. I had also previously spent time with a psychologist and a psychiatrist.
One day, quite a few months ago now, I exceeded my doctor’s maximum and took ten tablets over the course of a very anxious and stressful day. I was open with my doctor when I next saw her and said I wouldn’t be trying that again. She rationed my tablets for a while, asking that the chemist not dispense a whole pack at one time but rather a maximum of ten each time I went to collect them. There wasn’t really much else she could do, but she took that sensible precaution.
Just before Christmas 2013, I had a packet of 50 tablets. Just before Christmas 2014 I still had 10 of those left. I asked for some more as I was aware that this Christmas would be a difficult one for me. She could see that I obviously hadn’t been abusing them as I had only used 40 in more than a year, so she cheerfully agreed to give me some more.
The holiday was hard for me. I cried a lot. I attended a lot of AA meetings. I slept a lot.
Two weeks ago, I was having a really bad day and began to use them to try to calm down. I took 20 tablets within about three hours. I had joked previously with my doctor that I would need many more than I possessed if I were to attempt suicide, which is something I consider regularly but have not planned. So I thought that 20 would really be no big deal – and these are only 2mg tablets. This was definitely not a suicide attempt – if it were, I wouldn’t have just taken 20, and I wouldn’t have just taken Valium.
When I got home that evening I suddenly started to ‘second-guess’ myself and phoned the Poison Information Hotline, which I assumed would be more reliable than Google. They said the likelihood was that I would just have a good long sleep. They also said that this was quite a high dose and in some cases this amount could cause coma or even make the heart stop. They told me I should really go to the hospital to be checked over.
My teenagers arrived home and I asked their friend who dropped them off to take me to the hospital. They didn’t ask any questions and took me there. I thought it might be sensible to not drive myself.
After seeing the doctor there, I was eventually told I could either go home or could wait to see someone from Mental Health, but that it might be quite a long wait for that and that I was physically fine to go home. A friend from AA came to collect me and took me home.
I saw my GP on Saturday morning and she knew from the hospital what had happened – although I was going to come clean anyway. We discussed it and I asked her to never prescribe Valium for me again. My request scared me as it meant I wouldn’t have the option of taking them if I needed to. I just felt that I had started on a slippery slope I didn’t want to risk arriving at the bottom of. So now I just have my usual cocktail of relatively ‘safe’ drugs that are non-addictive, etc, etc, and will just have to learn to cope with life as it really is.
I guess it’s going to be like eating an elephant, just one bite at a time.