Melissa Bond was caring for two toddlers – a newborn and a one-year-old with Down’s Syndrome. It was 2009 and she had recently lost her job at a magazine. Her marriage fell apart, and she spent night after night pacing her home in Salt Lake City, watching the hours pass.
When a doctor gave her a prescription for Ativan — a “potent, fast-acting sedative hypnotic” that he guaranteed would help her close her eyes — she accepted without question.
“I was so desperate I didn’t research the drugs,” Bond, now 53, told the Post.
Bond’s new memoir, Blood Orange Night: My Journey Into Madness (Gallery Books), reveals how this recipe sent her into an abyss of benzodiazepine addiction that lingered for years.
“There were times when I was like, ‘Should I just go into a ravine and take myself out? I don’t know if I can take this anymore,'” Bond said, adding that when she realized her doctor had prescribed her too much, she was to the point that going cold turkey led to psychosis or even led to a seizure. “I didn’t know if I would ever get better,” she wrote.
Bond didn’t expect to get a lot of sleep as a new mother, especially as a mother of a special needs child. But in 2009, when her son Finch was about 7 months old, she stopped sleeping altogether. (She changed her children’s names in the book for privacy reasons.)
Then it happened the next night and the next and the next.
She hoped it was just the pregnancy. But when her daughter was born in October 2009, her insomnia didn’t go away. “It literally felt like my eyes were being pulled back,” Bond said. She started hallucinating. “My physical body started falling apart.”
In late January 2010, she saw a doctor who specializes in hormonal imbalances whom Bond calls “Dr. Great.” He scribbled her a prescription for the benzodiazepine Ativan. “You can’t beat it for sleep,” he said. “It’s an incredible drug.”
It worked – for a couple of weeks. Two months later, Dr. Amazing her recipe from 2 milligrams to 4 milligrams. Within a year, she was consuming 6 milligrams of the stuff daily.
However, Bond still slept only a few hours a night. Worse, she couldn’t remember things every day. She had severe stomach cramps and couldn’t eat until she eventually lost almost 30 pounds – her lowest was 100 pounds, the same amount she weighed when she was 11 years old. She smelled of ashtrays everywhere. She kept falling and had bruises all over her body. Any loud noise — even her children’s screams — would make her feel like “my skin would be pierced,” she said.
After just four weeks of using Ativan, the brain develops a tolerance for the drug — and that tolerance means the patient develops withdrawal symptoms despite still taking it. And unlike other drugs, like opioids, you can’t just stop cold turkey because of the risk of seizures and death.
“It felt like I was in the Wild West, you know, like some other landscape that nobody had documented,” Bond said.
Bond eventually found a board-certified addiction doctor in Utah who specialized in it Helping people overcome benzo withdrawal symptoms. He switched her to Valium – a less potent benzo than Ativan – and slowly reduced her dose. Each time she downed her dose, she would experience the sensation of fire under her skin, nausea, muscle spasms, and anger.
“My mission statement, my absolute determination, was to reduce the impact on [friends] and to my family as much as possible,” she said, adding that she would be spending nights at a friend’s house to protect her children from her illness.
A year and a half after the phase-out, she lost her sight while driving and nearly got into an accident in the car with her two children. Despite suffering from “compassion burnout,” her husband insisted that she spend all her nights at home. She decided to keep her daily Valium intake at 5 milligrams, an amount that allowed her to function safely without causing further cognitive decline and which she still takes every night.
In 2020, the FDA began labeling benzodiazepines with the warning that physical dependence can occur within days or weeks and that abrupt withdrawal can lead to life-threatening seizures. Celebrities like Chance the Rapper and Justin Bieber have spoken openly about their addiction to another benzo, Xanax. Benzo-related deaths have increased tenfold in the US over the past 20 years, and medical professionals still overprescribe these types of drugs.
Bond is now divorced, has a full-time IT job and a new home that she shares with Finch and Chloe, who are now 12 and 11. “There’s a long period of recovery and repair,” she said. But now, “My life is incredibly fulfilling and resilient. I am raising my children and we have a deep connection to each other and we play and there is joy and light in the house.”