When I read the news of Chris Cornell’s death, I wanted so badly to believe that there was some justice to it. I wanted to believe that he had made a choice with eyes open. Then I read that he was taking Ativan (lorazepam) for anxiety or depression. I felt sick. I think that anybody who has an accurate understanding of the nature of benzodiazepines knew right away that the depression-led-to-suicide story was likely bollocks. Hats off to his wife Vicky for speaking up immediately to challenge the merit of the suicide claim, and, thankfully, placed the question of the connection to Ativan in the public sphere. It appears that she was beginning to wonder about the effect Ativan was having on her husband. Oh, how badly those of us who are trying to spread awareness about benzodiazepine dangers wish that our efforts had reached Cornell and his family sooner. How we wish every day that we could reach anybody and everybody who is suffering from harmful benzo effects, how we wish to reach anybody and everybody who is unaware that their mysterious symptoms, their strange anxiety, their unexplainable depression, is actually caused by their doctor-prescribed benzodiazepine; caused by the drug that’s supposed to be making them feel better, not the drug that is secretly destroying their lives.
Benzo hell is difficult to understand unless you’ve been through it. We have been fed a narrative about drug addiction as a lifelong disease that asks us to accept the notion that all drugs that create a physiological dependency also create the disease of drug abuse and addiction. The unlucky benzo-harmed can testify that the benzodiazepine narrative is not about addiction per se; except for a limited sub-set, it is not about wanting to get high or making a chemical escape from the world. Damn, so many of us feel nothing and prefer it that way. We took a medication that our doctors said would help us; we took something that we were told would benefit our health and well-being, something that was supposed to be safe. The true benzodiazepine narrative is about outrageously high numbers of drug harm stories — about profound CNS damage, brain change, and physiological dysfunction. It is not a story about addiction.
Yes, yes, I realize that Chris Cornell had a history of drug abuse that fits the common addiction narrative. But I believe his family when they speak about how satisfied he was with his life at this time. He had success and purpose and love on deep levels. And he seemed to have an awareness and feel a sense of gratitude about making it through years of dark times. The demons that remained were old familiars that could be tamed. But, so typical with recovering addicts, some ill-informed doctor was happy enough to prescribe that harmless little anti-anxiety agent Ativan, something that could help with occasional panic attacks and the pressures of touring and playing to audiences of 50,000. When the show was over and the pressure was off, he should have been able to restore balance safely; he should have been able to head home and be with his family, his heart.
He had suicidal thoughts, they wrote. Suicidal thoughts? That’s not strong enough. That’s not accurate. Suicidal ideation. That’s what it’s called. I think you have had to experience it to understand how ordinary and measly a suicidal thought is compared to suicidal ideation. Suicidal ideation. Something that happens too often when the unlucky are dealing with benzo tolerance, benzo kindling, even during a safe benzodiazepine taper. Try to convince me that this is not exactly what Chris was dealing with. Sure, I’ve been there, but I was much more fortunate. I knew that that particular cruel trickery was part of the benzo experience. I could find that on BenzoBuddies. It’s a common topic of discussion there as well as in the benzo Facebook groups. I weep thinking that Chris had little knowledge about what he was thinking and feeling, about the horror he was experiencing. I have a cynic’s hunch that his doctor never talked to him about suicidal ideation and Ativan.
And so we lose another beautiful soul, another amazing talent, another who made our lives better, another who leaves behind a family who loves him and needs him. How common is this story? In the world of non-celebrity, it is a daily occurrence. The benzodiazepine epidemic is real. And the information that most doctors tell their patients about these drugs is wrong, skewed, and keeping the epidemic alive, causing heartbreak and loss and death every day. Yes, every bloody day.
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