What It's Like To Get Addicted To Sleeping Pills & Not Sleep For A Week

I once dated a man who couldn't sleep without a belly full of alcohol and a fist full of prescribed sleeping pills. After a few months tossing and turning by his side, frustrated by the distance between us, I asked if I could "just try one pill," just to see what it was like — to end the day so severely and sleep so heavily. His face lit up in response to my question. He had offered to share countless times, and was always disappointed by how judgmental my declining felt.

We crawled into bed and pulled the sheets up to our necks with nervous excitement. I had taken other health-related pills before, but never a sleeping pill — I was worried I might sleepwalk or say something strange or snore. He had taken his wine glass with him from the kitchen and placed it over the three-dimensional looking sphere of purple rings on his white night table. He nodded to it as he twisted the cap off the orange pill canister. "You can wash it down with some wine, I do," he said, offering me a small, oblong pill. "It's fine," I said, flipping the chalky pill onto my tongue. I struggled to collect spit and help wash it down. I was no good at swallowing pills without water but I didn't want to seem square for turning down wine. It quickly became bitter as it slid slowly down the back of my throat, leaving an acidic trail. I winced and turned to him with a bashful smile. "Now what?" I asked, turning to face him. "We wait, and then we sleep like the dead!" He reached across my chest for his wine glass and emptied its remains down his throat like a garbage shoot.

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After a few minutes, I noticed a slight buzzing between my ears. My head felt weightless yet rooted and my thoughts became fluttery and tangy. I remember looking at his collection of framed photos on his wall and watching the white wall behind them move toward me like a grid, and then a net, and then a trap. Before I had a chance to register the fear, I was out. That night my dreams were like movies, filmic scenes, one after the other. Each laced with intensity and high stakes. I awoke to cacophonous sound of the coffee grinder, and was surprised by how easily I rejoined the living. I didn't feel groggy or heavy. The fog of my dreams had lifted. I felt good, I felt rested, and I felt closer to him.

"Just one pill," turned into "just one more," which turned into my palm outstretched on a nightly basis. He'd place one pill in the center of my upturned hand and I'd watch it teeter in the grooves while I tried to ignore the voice inside of me screaming "this is unnecessary". I didn't have a problem sleeping, but before I knew it, I did. After many months of sharing his pills as casually as two kids might split a cookie, I couldn't sleep without them. I'd try for an hour or two, but the heavy drag of his breath and the limp of his body only made my heart quicken with anxiety. I felt left behind. I knew our relationship was the problem, but there wasn't a pill for that.

We could forget that our relationship wasn't working when we were sleeping like the dead, but we couldn't avoid it when we rejoined the living every morning. When we broke up, he left me with a handful of pills — severance. There were eight pills and I had hoped that the eighth would be my last, ever. On the ninth night, I watched my ceiling turn from ash, to grey, to purple, to pink, to yellow, but I never found sleep. The next day I felt anxious and scattered. My heart raced and my eyes burned. I was so tired, I felt confident I'd sleep like a baby that night. But as the hours went on, I felt more wired and less sleepy. I tried yoga and meditation. I downloaded an app that swore to put even the most troubled mind to sleep. Alas, I lay blinking into the dark, listening to my heart pound out of my chest. The next morning, I looked up a psychiatrist — I would have to get my own prescription. The soonest appointment I could make was in five days. Surely I'd sleep that night, I told myself. I'd never gone more than a day without sleep and feared what the deficit might do to me. It was already screwing me up at work, I was forgetful, clumsy and irritable.

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For the next four nights, I'd lie wide awake until the early morning. Around 6 a.m, I'd doze off for 45 minutes to an hour. Sometimes I wouldn't realize I was sleeping — the dreams were so lucid — I'd dream I was exactly where I was, doing what I was doing, but someone would enter the room. The night before my appointment, I didn't sleep a wink. I called in sick to work and planned to fill my prescription (which I knew I'd get) and sleep for the next day or so. But when I walked into my psychiatrist's office, eyes blood-shot, face pale and transparent, hands shaky and cold, I was met with something other than sympathy. "I'm not going to add to the problem," he said, taking his glasses off and resting them on his desk in front of him. I left like I was in trouble. "You'll get a week's worth of halved pills and another week's worth of quartered pills," he said, as if delivering a sentencing. I tried to hide my terror, but it was no use. He'd had so many other young professionals in that very chair, petitioning for drugs when usually, they weren't the answer.

I tapered off, as my sentencing permitted. I was fully addicted to the chemicals and needed to ween my body off them, properly. That night I slept for a few hours. The next night I slept for a few more. I traded in my psychiatrist for a psychologist and have kept my distance from small chalky pills and irresponsible partners since.

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