The Center let no stone left unturned. They addressed all of my issues which included my physical addiction and withdrawal, social welfare, psychological health and environmental adaptation when treatment was over.
For the first time in a while, I am taking time to consider my situation. I am sitting in the airport waiting for my flight to Phoenix, Arizona. At this moment it fully dawns on me that I am on my way to a rehab center located in Sedona, Arizona. The enormity of my situation is pressing upon me. I am seventy-seven years old and in need of help for withdrawals from an anti-depressant (chlordiazepoxide and amitriptyline) aka Limbitrol aka Librium, given to me over twenty-three years ago. The doctor who prescribed the medication for my insomnia called it a little pill which was effective for aiding sleep.
Ever since I was a little girl, I have lain awake until dawn not able to sleep. When I went to college I was prescribed seconal for sleep and given another drug to keep me awake during the daytime. I was aware then of the pitfalls of drugs, so I did not take it long enough to create an addiction. Later in my thirties, I went to a doctor who called himself an expert on sleep. He prescribed valium and another hypnotic medication taken together. In the middle of my treatment, the doctor decided he was not successful treating sleep disorders and decided to change his practice. He wrote the protocol for getting off the two medications on a legal pad and sent me out on my own. When I stopped taking the two drugs, I had a nervous breakdown lasting 21 months. From that time on I was necessarily worried about taking a drug that would have recreated that experience. I told my story to this doctor and she assured me that this pill would not be like the valium that I took. Take just half a pill each night before bed the doctor said, assuring me that this little pill, as she called it, was helpful, insinuating that it was harmless. There was no mention of the fact that It would be necessary to take increasing amounts of the pill as time went by as it was to decline in effectiveness.
I am sure I did not ask whether it was addictive as I trusted the doctor. Back then I do not recall that there was much talk about prescription drugs being addictive, I, at least, was not fully aware of the risk. I moved out of state and did not get in touch with that doctor when the drug was no longer effective and I needed to have a replacement. Similar drugs for sleep were prescribed by other doctors which were also anti-depressants. I suspect, but for some reason or another I was unable to stay on them for very long. Eventually, when I was again having trouble sleeping, Limbitrol was prescribed since I was able to take it with no derogatory side effects. I thought it was okay since it was really only one pill at bedtime. The gravity of the effects of this drug did not come to me until I attempted to stop taking it. In the past few years as my ability to sleep was getting worse, I was told, “just take twice as much”. Following this advice seemed counter productive because the drug made me feel lethargic and anxious when I had not slept, and taking more made me feel even worse during the day. My alternative as I saw it was to get off the drug completely and try other treatments for sleep. There seemed to be many herbs and amino acids that might be helpful in aiding sleep that were risky to take while still on this medication.
I tried to decrease the amount I was taking and the results were not to sleep at all for days. I would lay awake at night totally unable to feel sleepy, even though I was extremely tired, I could not move, and I could not sleep. I would say prayers, listen to music, meditate and try relaxation techniques to no avail. Finally, I had to go back on the pill. This time the amino acid glycine taken along with the pill produced sleep with the one pill. After a few months, this combination was no longer effective and my course of action was to get off of the pill. I was angry with myself for being so trusting of doctors. You see them, tell them your symptoms and all they do is write a prescription. There is no attempt to find out why the patient has the symptoms. They just treat the symptoms until you get another symptom and then they treat that symptom and the prescriptions go from one to another. This has been my experience.
I decided that no matter what it took, I was no longer going to take a pill that did not work and what’s more made me feel bad. Getting off the pill was going to be a challenge. I also knew it would take time even though it was only one pill. I had to cut a little off of the pill a week at a time. The process began in April, on my own, since my doctor told me just take half a pill and then ¼ and be done. He admitted he knew nothing about the problem of getting off a pill. I knew that his method, having tried it before, would not work. I continued to cut a portion of the pill until August. By the end of July, I was fully in withdrawal mode. The anxiety began to worsen. I felt shaky. In the morning I had severe stomach cramps. At night I was thrashing back and forth in bed sweating, sometimes sleeping and waking with a start. I had dry mouth, blurred vision, palpitations and dizziness. There were nights where I stayed awake because it was hard to breath. Paranoia set in and I was unable to stay active and meet my obligations. I kept my symptoms to myself for I did not want anyone to know why I was going through such misery. I told my son what I was doing since he worked at a rehab detox center. He tried to direct me to supplements to help get me through my pain. My withdrawal symptoms became worse as time went on. He became alarmed and consulted with the detox center on how to deal with my problem. The answer was to put me in treatment. I did not want to think of myself as someone who needed to be detoxed. Just thinking about it made me feel some sort of shame even though I knew that I had tried to avoid being addicted to any drug. The fact was that I was addicted, and although I was no longer taking this drug, the high cost to my health was now an issue.
.I was feeling worse the day the case manager called to interview me. The late morning was spent trying to remember how I managed to perform a task of which I had no memory completing. It was frightening as this was the second episode of losing time. I told her my situation and she said that my symptoms made me a candidate for rehab treatment. I had seen a psychiatrist a week before to get help for the withdrawal symptoms. He prescribed a medication that he promised would not be addictive. It turned out to be another antidepressant (trazodone). It was disgusting to know the treatment was to add another chemical to my body and I did not take it. She told me it was important to start sleeping since sleep came in fits of one or two hours and many nights not at all since late July and it was the middle of August. My instructions were to take what was prescribed until arriving at the center where they would get me off of that medication and help with my withdrawal symptoms.
So, here I am waiting to board a plane to take me to a place where celebrities go to get sober. I could not be like them, I was not like them. I was frightened because I realized deep down that we are all the same; although, I felt my addiction may not be as great as some, nevertheless the addiction had to be treated.
I arrived at Alternative to Meds Center (Alternative to Meds Center), August 26, at 7 p.m. having slept very little for the past three weeks. The Center offers Orthomolecular and Naturopathic medicine which is a nutritionally based program. The primary treatment at Alternative to Meds Center uses naturally occurring nutrients in the body along with vitamins, amino acids and minerals. They also practice Environmental medicine, the art of determining how the environmental toxin burden accumulates within a person. They deal with how it affects our physiology and neurochemistry and how to clean up the burden so that normal function may be restored. They offer a biochemical correction of addiction and an alternative to psychiatric drugs. The mission for me was to free my body of toxins and then help my body heal itself while relearning how to sleep. We arrived at what looked like a neighborhood home giving the sense of privacy for the residence. I was a little dazed as I was led into a gate and to a door of the office. Inside was a female doctor and a female staff member who did the intake. The doctor asked many questions concerning my health status. I signed papers regarding liability for the treatment.
To my surprise someone went through my one piece of luggage and my purse confiscating my cosmetics, hair products, and all medications. This was a place of holistic medicine and what was in my bag was not acceptable. The doctor gave me an overview of the treatment and even though I said I understood, I do not remember to this day what was said. Once the intake was over, we went into the main house and introduced me to a number of people who were staff and residents. I remember thinking I was not able to tell the staff from the residents as everyone smiled pleasantly. A pert young lady told me what was going to happen the next 24 hours and I nodded that I understood so that they would not think that I was dense. My roommate for the next couple of days reminded me of what I was told that night and guided me from task to task. Before retiring to my room, I was given supplements in the form of powders and capsules.
My greatest concern with the treatment was taking the supplements that I knew about from information online. I was not sure my body could handle them, and I also have a problem swallowing large pills and capsules. I was able to open the capsules and ground the pills. I remember thinking that they seem to have my concerns covered. After I took the supplements, one of the staff members showed me to my room and bed where I would spend the next 28 days. I was extremely tired and a little confused. The one feeling which prevailed from the time I arrived was that I was safe and I would be taken care of. It was a long time before I was able to fall asleep that night. Finally, after telling myself “this is my opportunity to get well and I will surrender to the process” I went to sleep.
We were awaken at 7:00 a.m. for breakfast. After breakfast, we had the morning meeting where we expressed what we were grateful for and what our goals were for the day. Later we were driven to the detox center which was separate from the residence. There is where we took additional supplements that focused on chelation which is extracting the heavy metals from the blood thru the skin. This process expedites liberating stored toxins. We exercise for 20 minutes to increase our heart rate to assist in the chelating process while in the sauna. The goal of the sauna treatment is to sweat out the toxins that are made water soluble by the supplements that are given. While in the sauna, we are given electrolyte (salt/potassium) replacement as well as kelp to help in sweating. After the sauna, a shower is necessary to cool the body and wash the odors and toxins off the body. Our blood pressure and pulse are taken and again there are necessary supplements to rebalance nutrients lost during chelation in the sauna.
Before treatments could begin, I was given blood tests and a thorough exam by the doctor which included an EKG because of my age. The first day, since my tests results were not in, the only treatment for me was an hour massage which was wonderful as my body ached all over. After the sauna I was given glutathione nebulizer treatments and a foot bath to also help with detoxing. Acupuncture was available to help my withdrawal symptoms. For the next few weeks I along with the other residents had twice weekly the choice of massage, Reiki or B.E.S.T, a Bio Energetic Synchronization Technique for mind/body healing.
At one o’clock we were taken back to the residence for lunch. There were three chefs that rotate around three meals a day. The food was nutritious strictly in keeping with holistic values having no gluten, no dairy, soy free and low glycemic. We were not allowed sugar or caffeine as both create stress in the body depleting serotonin. For me the lack of serotonin may have been the primary reason I was unable to sleep. After lunch we attended classes on nutrition and supplements to understand how important taking them is for the process of the body healing itself.
After class we had counseling sessions while some residents went to the gym to work out. At six p.m. was another nutritious dinner consisting of fresh fruit and vegetables along with protein. Residents with special diets were accommodated with care. It was interesting to note that this was not a one size fits all program. If the resident has special needs, or desires regarding treatment, the case manager or medical director did all possible to accommodate them. After dinner more supplements were given and meds for those who needed them. At seven p.m. we had art and music or group counseling. Nine o’clock meds and supplements for sleep and lights out by eleven, all this on my first day was exhausting. The rest of the week we kept the same schedule alternating healing modalities like Tai Chi and Yoga, soul retrieval and psychological counseling. Some of the most enlightening periods were the group sessions. We learned about the insidious nature of addiction and how to overcome some of the pitfalls that lay in waiting for the most earnest desire to stay sober.
Every night my experience of withdrawal from the drug was different. I was given herbs for sleep some of which I could not tolerate. There were nights I slept well, and many nights, in spite of the special sleep supplements, sleep eluded me. After receiving my blood tests results, it was evident that I had a bladder infection. The doctor had a natural supplement to treat it. It seemed there was a natural medicine for most ailments and rarely a chemical was given unless it was necessary to treat a resident’s health problem.
My sauna treatments started gradually with only 20 minutes the first day. I increased my time in the sauna daily with five minute breaks of a cool shower every 15 or 20 minutes. Because of my age, I was only required to spend one hour daily in the sauna, but the average resident was to do at least two hours daily. There were sometimes three of us in the sauna cubicle. We entertained each other with jokes and music provided by the detox staff person. This activity made the sauna time bearable as it was difficult to stay in there because many times we were not feeling well as the detoxification was running its course. My experiences were not pleasant the first week as my body was reducing the toxic load. I experienced heart palpitations, shortness of breath, diarrhea and sleeplessness which the staff treated rigorously. My every need was attended to as there was a medical person on duty every day. There was a person trained on supplements at night to tend to our needs as most of us were up late in the night for one reason or another.
Besides taking supplements and tinctures for sleep, my treatments centered on spiritual guidance as well as psychological counseling. So much of my sleep problem was deep seated as not sleeping had gone on most of my life. It was related to stress and trauma experienced throughout many years. It was also habitual and I had to break the habit of expecting not to sleep. I learned about serotonin and how important it is for our health. It is necessary for the brain to be brimming with serotonin molecules, an antidepressant by the way, at all times. Serotonin is a potent substance from which your brain can produce melatonin, the essential knock out drop for sleep. With adequate serotonin, the brain will cheerfully fire away with the fuel supply, transmitting positive feelings and thoughts.
A decrease in serotonin can cause depression and insomnia. Serotonin is synthesized in your body from tryptophan, an amino acid (protein building block) found in most foods like turkey, beef and cheese. Tryptophan first converts into a substance called 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan), which then converts directly into serotonin. This information regarding how serotonin works is according to The Mood Cure written by Julia Ross. This is a book given to each resident as we registered for treatment. Serotonin production can be inhibited by chemicals in your food such as caffeine, alcohol, or artificial sweeteners like aspartame. It can be disrupted by not enough sunlight or exercise. Loss of serotonin can come from bouts of extreme stress or having inherited a genetic tendency to underproduce serotonin. The lack of serotonin may have caused my depression and insomnia. Increasing Serotonin was one of the nutrient repair strategies the center used in my treatment getting off the drug and addressing my sleep problem.
The next four weeks were filled with saunas five days a week. I used the various modes of healing such as massage, Reiki, acupuncture, foot baths, group and one on one therapy. We enjoyed field trips in the surrounding extraordinary beauty of Sedona, shopping and being outdoors in the sunlight. Once a week we had culture nights with local artists in which we sometimes were able to participate. The best part about the stay was the graduation ceremonies each Friday. This was a time when we gave our appreciation to the staff and each other for our progress. The words expressed by staff and our fellow residents were essential for regaining esteem as we pushed our way back to health. The graduates would leave with glowing certificates for their hard work and positive affirmations about themselves. The feeling of family was prevalent as it took a family of resources to bring about the positive outcome of the graduate who will return home with a new outlook on his life. I left knowing that it was going to take time before I would get all of the toxins out of my system and establish a normal sleep pattern of at least 5-7 hours a night.
The Center let no stone left unturned. They addressed all of my issues which included my physical addiction and withdrawal, social welfare, psychological health and environmental adaptation when treatment was over. My case manager, the sauna, the exercise, and all of the healing modalities came together through highly competent staff for our successful recovery. My heartfelt thanks to Lyle, and the entire staff at Alternative to Meds Center for giving me the tools and start to get my life back.