Melissa Bond was caring for two infant children – a newborn, and a year-old toddler with Down syndrome. It was 2009, and she had recently lost her magazine job. Her marriage was disintegrating, and she spent night after night pacing her house in Salt Lake City, watching the hours tick by.
When a physician gave her a prescription for Ativan – a “strong, fast-acting sedative hypnotic” that he guaranteed would help her get some shut-eye – she accepted it, no questions asked.
“I was in such a state of desperation that I did not research the drugs,” Bond, now 53, told The Post.
Bond’s new memoir, “Blood Orange Night: My Journey Into Madness” (Gallery Books), reveals how that prescription sent her into an abyss of benzodiazepine dependence that lasted for years.
“There were times when I thought, ‘Should I just go walk into a glen and take myself out? I do not know if I can handle this anymore, ‘”said Bond, adding that when she realized her doctor had overprescribed her, she was so far in that quitting cold turkey would have led to psychosis or even a seizure. “I did not know if I would ever be healthy again,” she wrote.
Bond did not expect to sleep much as a new mother, particularly one with a special-needs child. Yet in 2009, when her son Finch was about 7 months old, she stopped sleeping at all. (She changed the names of her children in the book for their privacy.)
Then it happened the next night, and the next, and the next.
She hoped that it was just the pregnancy. But when her daughter was born in October 2009, her insomnia did not go away. “It literally felt like my eyes were being peeled back,” Bond said. She began hallucinating. “My physical body was starting to fall apart.”
In late January 2010, she saw a physician specializing in hormonal imbalances whom Bond refers to in the book as “Dr. Amazing. ” He scribbled her a prescription for the benzodiazepine Ativan. “You can not beat it for sleep,” he said. “It’s an incredible drug.”
It worked – for a couple weeks. Two months later, Dr. Amazing bumped her prescription from 2 milligrams to 4 milligrams. Within a year she was imbibing 6 milligrams of the stuff daily.
However, Bond was still only sleeping a couple hours a night. Worse, she could not remember things day to day. She had severe stomach cramps and could not eat, eventually dropping close to 30 pounds – at her lowest, she clocked in at 100 pounds, the same amount she weighed when she was 11 years old. She smelled ashtrays everywhere. She constantly fell and had bruises all over her body. Any kind of loud noise – even her children’s cries – would make her feel like “my skin was getting pierced,” she said.
After just four weeks of using Ativan, the brain develops a tolerance for the drug – and that tolerance means the patient experiences withdrawal symptoms despite still being on it. And unlike other drugs, like opioids, you can not just stop cold turkey, as there is a risk of seizures and death.
“It felt like I was in the Wild West, you know, like, in another landscape that no one had documented,” Bond said.
Bond eventually found a certified addictionologist in Utah who specialized in helping people go through benzo withdrawals. He switched her to Valium – a less-potent benzo than Ativan – and slowly reduced her dosage. Every time she dropped her dosage, she experienced the feeling of fire under the skin, nausea, muscle spasms and rage.
“My guiding light, my absolute determination was to reduce the impact on [friends] and on my family as much as possible, ”she said, adding that she would spend nights at a friend’s house to shield her children from her illness.
A year and a half into the tapering off, she lost her vision while driving and almost got into an accident with her two children in the car. Although her husband was suffering from “compassion burnout,” he insisted she spend all her nights at home. She decided to keep her daily intake of Valium at 5 milligrams, an amount that safely allowed her to function without causing further cognitive decline, and which she still takes every night.
In 2020, the FDA began requiring benzodiazepines to be labeled with a warning that physical dependence can occur within days or weeks and that stopping them abruptly can lead to life-threatening seizures. Celebrities such as Chance the Rapper and Justin Bieber have spoken openly about their addiction to another benzo, Xanax. Benzo-related deaths have increased 10-fold in the US in the past 20 years and medical professionals still overprescribe these kinds of drugs.
Bond is now divorced, with a full-time IT job and a new home she shares with Finch and Chloe, now 12 and 11. “There’s a long time of recovery and repair,” she said. But now, “my life is incredibly full and robust. I’m raising my children and we have a deep connection to one another and we play and there’s joy and light in the house. ”