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Benzo withdrawal sucks. I wouldn’t recommend it.
In my zeal to wean myself off Lamictal, it didn’t occur to me to taper off the Xanax. Instead, I took the remaining pills over the course of a few days and disposed of the bottle. That I could or would experience withdrawal didn’t occur to me until the symptoms descended on me.
I wasn’t quick to recognize the strangeness as withdrawal, which stoked my anxiety as I experienced topsy-turvy perceptions of reality—that’s the best way to describe it: “topsy-turvy.” Everything felt off-kilter, somehow. Even my visual perception shifted. Imagine consuming thirty cappuccinos loaded with espresso. Too much caffeine made “reality” appear as if I were experiencing it through a camera with a foggy lens and the gain cranked too high.My heart raced non-stop and I often felt dizzy and lightheaded. A day or two after I took my last Xanax, I found it almost impossible to fall asleep at night, and I’d wake up every hour only to struggle to coax myself back to sleep.
My mood shifted, too. I found myself irritable, depressed, and I’d humor a suicidal thought every now and then. Feelings of worthlessness consumed me as I felt distant, almost alien, from everyone I encountered.
It’s hard to articulate, but it felt as if something had wedged itself between “reality” and me. I felt disconnected and disinterested. Instead of living, thinking, planning, I coasted through life, from one point to the next, from one moment to the next, detached and oblivious.
Nothing mattered. Nothing. Not even my shivering hands and arms bothered me. My appetite vanished and I’d only force myself to eat small portions—and I didn’t care. My body temperature went haywire around this time: one moment I felt ice cold and the next I felt as if I were in a desert dressed for winter.
And I freaked out. Something must be seriously wrong with me, I thought. I googled my symptoms, which applied to myriad diseases. I wondered if too much caffeine caused my skewed vision and perception so I switched to beverages with zero caffeine and cut all sugar from my diet. But I didn’t improve.
Is this death? I thought. Am I dying? Is something wrong with my heart, my arteries? Is not enough blood or oxygen making it to my brain?
I didn’t mention a word of this—my thoughts or my state—to anyone. I didn’t seek an outside opinion or a rational point of view. Instead, I allowed my anxiety, my thoughts, my state to devour one another in a seemingly never-ending feedback loop.
Every night, lying in bed, I’d imagine dying in sleep. Not waking up. Disappearing into nothingness. And every morning, on waking, I’d break a Lamictal in half and swallow it.
Then it occurred to me: Xanax.
I didn’t taper off. I just quit cold turkey.
I did it out of desperation, to be honest. Poverty imposed its will on me, crushed me, and in my vague attempt to conquer it, to flee it, I made an irrational decision—another thing poverty inspires: irrational thinking.
My wife and I were sitting on the couch, watching TV—or using it as background noise. I tried to fight through my withdrawal symptoms and read a book, but I couldn’t pay attention and I ended up reading and re-reading the same page over and over. She sat beside me, surfing the internet and browsing social media.
My hands trembled. I set the book down and held up my hand, palm parallel to the floor, and examined it. They shook. Bad. More like tremors than shaking. My wife glanced at me and I dropped my hand, pretended to scratch my collarbone. Then she pointed her phone at me, showing me a Facebook post, and said,
Mike says they’re hiring.
It’s a parts store.
Car parts? I said. I don’t know shit about cars.
She sent Mike a message. He responded seconds later.
It’s a delivery job, she said, reading the message. He said you don’t have to know anything about cars. All you’ll do is deliver parts to mechanics.
What’s it pay?
Eight an hour.
Eight fucking dollars an hour.
It’s better than nothing, Alice said. Mike’s certain he can get you the job.
Fuck it, I thought. What do I have to lose? Eight dollars wasn’t enough to support a family but neither was my dwindling unemployment allotment. Plus, driving could prove interesting. I’d never held a delivery job. I’d never even humored the thought of applying for one, to be honest.
So, with my wife’s encouragement, I took a shower, hopped in my car and drove over to the part’s store—which was only six minutes away. I sat in the car in the parking lot, nervous. My hands trembled and a feeling of lightheadedness had fallen on me earlier, which I now tried to shake by scarfing down a beef stick—hoping a shot of protein might help. It didn’t.
I took my resume and a pen and ambled to the store. It was locally owned, not a corporate franchise. Inside, it looked as if it belonged to a different age, an era before corporate streamlining homogenized everything. This place had character—nothing matched: the counter, the shelves, the wall and ceiling decors. It seemed as if someone had cobbled it together piecemeal over a number of decades. And it smelled like a general store nestled in the middle of nowhere, one of those stores with items on shelves covered with dust.
Mike nodded as I approached the counter. He and my wife were friends. I only knew him through stories and his online activity. He gestured to me as I landed at the counter and a long-haired man said hello. I replied. Then he handed me an application and I sat at the end of the counter and filled it out.
I slid the application across the counter when I finished and waited for the man to scan it over. A short older woman sidled next to him and glanced at the application. Then she grilled me: have I delivered before? Was I born here? How well did I know the city? I answered as best as I could. I didn’t know the backroads or the country at all but I didn’t let her know that. I pretended to know every square inch of the city.
Then, without any form or preamble, the man, whom we’ll call Dave, said,
Since Saturday’s a holiday, we’ll start you Friday so you can get a feel for the job. Then you’ll really start Monday.
It was as simple as that. No drug test, no background check, no going home to wait for a phone call. They hired me on the spot. It was only part-time and it only paid eight dollars an hour, but it was something. And something was better than nothing.
Daulton Dickey is a novelist, poet, and content creator currently living in Indiana with his wife and kids. He’s the author of A Peculiar Arrangement of Atoms: Stories, Still Life with Chattering Teeth and People-Shaped Things, and other stories, Elegiac Machinations: an experimental novella, and Bastard Virtues, a novel. Rooster Republic Press will publish his latest novel, Flesh Made World, later this year. Contact him at daultondickey[at]yahoo[dot]com.