Boulder writer Matt Samet chronicles his benzo hell in Death Grip

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You said eventually it wasn't your doctor who helped you quit, but some people you met. What kind of a situation was that and how did it come about?

I was finally taken off benzos at a hospital; however, they put me on three other pills and told me I was majorly depressed. Basically, I called a number I'd seen on a wall in Boulder for a benzo support group. The group wasn't meeting any more, but the woman who organized it, Alison Kellagher, said she'd be happy to talk to me. It was in speaking to her and seeing that she'd gone through the exact same thing -- had actually tried to quit four times before it finally stuck because the same thing happened to her. They'd tell her it was her, they'd put other meds on. Meeting someone else and finally hearing what was the truth basically is what allowed me to get better. Also, finding some support groups online, connecting with people who had gone through or were going through this, was hugely helpful.

So it was really just a matter of hearing that you weren't nuts, or depressed, or whatever, and that it eventually got better?

Yeah, I think exactly it was. Hearing that the symptoms, because the symptoms are very profound and strange and troubling. They're things that probably sound, to a psychiatrist, like manifestations of anxiety, but they're basically a thousand times worse and last a long time. To hear other people enumerate these symptoms themselves, to compare mine to theirs. Yeah, that's what gave me the perspective that this was a very real syndrome that had a beginning, a middle and an end. And that I was in the middle of it, and that was what was going on. I didn't need to keep looking for other solutions anymore, I just needed to give myself time to heal.

You're a hardcore climber and former editor-in-chief of Climbing magazine, but I understand this interfered pretty severely with your climbing, right?

Yeah, I didn't climb for about a year and half. I didn't do much of anything for about a year and a half, couple years. As the taper got harder, then afterwards, I was very, very sick. I could do a little bouldering, where you're climbing close to the ground, with crashpads. But I was often so dizzy and shaking sweaty and kind of confused that being on a cliff was completely overwhelming. Not to mention being just physically fatigued.

But now you're back to climbing? No lingering side effects?

No, I still have a little trouble breathing, which has kept me from going in the high mountains, but nothing else. It's all gone.

You've got another book and have been writing about climbing and some other stuff for years, but this seems like a bit of a departure. Was writing it part of moving past it, or did you just feel like it was a story that was important to share?

It was definitely tough to write a different genre. I don't know if I pulled it off or not, I guess we'll see. I had the germ of the story, because I'd written a feature article that ran in Outside in 2010. That helped me sort of get my mind around it, but to be honest I didn't write the book as any sort of catharsis. I worked through all that stuff a long time ago. I wrote it in the hope that someone who's going through this, or is seeing their life fall apart while they're on psychotropic meds, understands that there's another perspective here. There's not just the one they're being told during those fifteen-minute med check-ins, and there's not just the one that are in those pharmaceutical commercials they're seeing during the nightly news. There's potentially a huge downside there, and you can get trapped, I think. I got trapped in a way that I never would have imagined the first time I took a benzo. Had I know where I would end up, I certainly never would have gone down that road.

There can be healing, but you have to be very patient. The doctors told me I would feel a little funny for two to four weeks [when I quit], but for me it was two to four years. I think their timeline is a little skewed -- a little overly optimistic.

Before we wrap up, is there anything else you want to say?

I just urge anyone who's reading the book -- the book is maybe pretty frightening for someone who's in a withdrawal state, or on the drugs -- but I just want people to understand that I absolutely have gotten better. It's been six years since I've taken a med and I'm the happiest and healthiest I've been in my life. I'm glad I made the choices I did, even if I had to go through hell to get here.

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Matt, I am reading your book.It is gripping, and tells an important story about the path back to sanity.Thank you.

I have another story.Mine is similar but different.I was confused and anxious, and possibly a bit depressed.An MD who had visits by multiple pharmaceutical reps had been sold on a drug ‘nicely called’ Wellbutrine.This MD, not a psychiatrist, decided in 3 minutes that I was depressed, mainlybecause I used that word as a possibility.I went home with that drug, used it, and the anxiety intensified, not two fold, or for fold, but ten fold.Fortunately, my daughter consulted WebMD and in that description, a discussion of the generic form of Wellbutrine indicated it was an anxiety intensifier, and in some people, actually increased the symptoms rather than reduced them.The doctor’s response was, if a small dose wasn’t working, than doubling the dose would help eventually.My symptoms went from ten fold to a hundred fold almost immediately.My mind was being shredded by super anxiety and torment, and I rapidly dove into a delusional hell that I would not wish on the worst person I have ever met.Matt, a few days following that experience, I fortunately went to see a real psychiatrist who knew the pharmacology of wellbutrine being a known anxiety intensifier, who dropped me off that drug and put me on a very low dose benzo to calm my nerves through the withdrawal.I thank the heavens that I ran into a knowledgeable PhD with a realistic understanding of pharmacology.My anxiety and all other symptoms vanished.

I want you to know that my panic attacks and acute anxiety were quenched by the ‘low dose benzo’ however, having read your book, I am now of the understanding that increasing a benzo dose can be just as bad over the long haul.Thanks for letting us know.

Here is a piece of my story that differs from yours.I had some chest pains, went to a doctor and was given a heart exam.I passed that, so they did a more thorough exam and found I had the Widowmaker blockage in my heart.My left main was 99.99 percent constricted, and I should have been dead.They put in stints and saved my life.What is interesting is that when I filled out a questionnaire about my heart, there was one question that asked, “do you suffer from bouts of high anxiety?”That question perplexed me as I thought anxiety was only a ‘mental’ condition.Not so Matt, I learned from my cardiologist that when the heart has a fatal blockage like that, the body communicates a lethal threat message to the subconscious mind, but since there are few pain receptors on the heart, the conscious mind can not link the fear/threat message with the condition, so the brain is left with unattributed and increasing anxiety.This is very important to know.A number of people with anxiety may also be walking around with a Widowmaker or another fatal physical ailment, and are being misdiagnosed as ‘mental’ illness, who are actually on a time clock, as I was, to an eventual fatal heart attack or major cancer.

Your book is important, as it points to the compounded affect of benzo addiction resulting in further anxiety, and that is important.It will keep me from increasing a mild dose and will hasten my timeline to become benzo free.However, I want you to know Matt, that at least in my case, for a short period of time, benzodiazepine saved my mind, and that mind was present just long enough to help me identify a major underplaying cause of my personal anxiety rooted in a physical condition resulting from a lethal heart blockage.

Best regards!



Thank you for this article on Matt's book. It's a gripping tale. Matt did a superlative job writing it. I absolutely could not put it down. The book will inform you about benzos, what withdrawal looks like for many of us, as well as give you a peek at the underbelly of modern psychiatry. Matt's book is a blow the lid off look at the mental health system.

If you or anyone else you know swallows a Benzo on a fairly regular basis ( Ativan Klonopin Valium Xanax Librium) you owe it to yourself to read Matt's book and educate yourself. Sadly, the chances are very high that the doctor who prescribed them doesn't know the damage they do to the brain, nor will they know how to safely get you off of them. These drugs do serve a good purpose for emergency life threatening situations. However, they are not meant for frequent or daily consumption. Doctors ignore this and put people on them for weeks, months, years, decades. Getting off of them is a living hell. For months. Years.

Read Matt's book. It's amazing.

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