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Ten years ago, I no longer recognized my big sister Erika Dodd. Her life spiraled out of control. Prescription drugs turned my joyful, energetic, effervescent, and successful sister into someone checked out, isolated, and miserable. The drugs designed to help her and prescribed by doctors caused Erika to fall down a deep, dark emotional hole.
It started innocently enough. Erika pursued her Master’s degree in Wildlife Sciences and was asked to speak at conferences to defend her research. Public speaking felt intimidating, and she started suffering from anxiety. Taking medicine to calm her nerves and help her sleep on the nights before speaking engagements seemed like a good idea. Erika went to her doctor. He prescribed Clonazepam, a strong medication used to treat panic disorders, certain types of seizures, and give short-term relief from anxiety.
Initially, the pills worked. Then Erika suffered a miscarriage shortly after her dream wedding to her best friend in a breathtaking castle in Scotland. Erika felt heartbroken. She became consumed with getting pregnant again. Each month when it didn’t happen, she battled sadness, failure, shame, anger, and anxiety. Because her anxiety was increasing, her doctor increased her dosage of Clonazepam. He also prescribed an antidepressant.
Over the next three years, Erika tried to keep everything together. She completed her Master’s and was invited by her advisors to work on her doctorate. They saw what a thorough researcher and hard worker she was. This was a dream come true, and she jumped at the chance.
Then two devastating events derailed Erika’s life. One day while horseback riding, the horse bucked her off. She slammed to the ground, and the horse landed directly on top of her. Doctors added painkillers and muscle relaxers to Erika’s daily medicine regimen. A year later, Erika was on the highway to conduct field research when the university truck had a blowout. The vehicle flipped several times, and witnesses thought Erika died. My sister was airlifted to the hospital. Miraculously, she had no broken bones or serious internal injuries. But she was battered and bruised.
After these two accidents, Erika experienced chronic pain. Chronic pain hurts the body, but it also causes emotional fatigue and hopelessness that sucks life out of the soul.
“At this point, I was on benzos (Clonazepam), antidepressants, painkillers, and muscle relaxers,” Erika recalls. “Doctors prescribed all of them. I took them all as prescribed, so I never thought I would have a problem. At first, I didn’t. Then it got to the point where I just wanted to knock out all of life’s troubles. I didn’t know how to function without the pills.”
Erika now sees she became addicted. The medicines that were supposed to help made things worse. She developed a tolerance for Clonazepam. When her normal dose wasn’t curbing her anxiety anymore, her doctor continued to increase the dosage. This depressed her, so he increased her antidepressant as well. This crazy drug cycle went on for ten agonizing years.
Erika gained weight because she rarely moved around, and it got to the point where she hardly ever left her house. She checked out of life. She was unable to deal with daily interactions and lacked coping mechanisms to face anything difficult or uncomfortable. Everything overwhelmed her. The drugs affected her memory, her drive, and her vocation. She felt like nobody understood what she was going through. She shut out family and friends and became isolated and alone.
“I was miserable, and the drugs weren’t helping,” Erika says. “They were no longer working, and I knew that for them to work, I’d have to keep increasing the dosages. I didn’t want to be on the drugs my whole life.”
With the unwavering support of her husband and family, Erika decided to wean herself from all of the prescription drugs that robbed her of the joy of living.
Under the supervision of her doctor and therapist, Erika began the arduous climb out of the dark hole. She felt imprisoned, and it was not easy to escape. It took so much strength to endure the physical symptoms of withdrawal, and even more fortitude to endure the emotional pull the pills had over her life. At one point, Erika went to the ER for relief from acute withdrawal symptoms, including constant shaking and twitching. The doctor on duty did not rescue her that night by giving her more medications. Instead, he challenged her with life-changing words. After running tests and hearing her story, he told her there was nothing medically wrong with her.
“The only way you’ll get through this is to get through it,” the doctor said. “And the only way to get through it is to get angry. You have to get so angry it motivates you and pushes you to get off all of this.”
Leaving the hospital that night, Erika was mad that this doctor had not acquiesced to her demands. For the first time, a doctor sent her away empty-handed. But his words stuck with her. Later that week, she hit rock bottom. Erika fought an overwhelming sense of darkness. She had never felt suicidal before, yet in that moment she thought death would be easier than fighting through withdrawal. She screamed a guttural, furious shout in her bedroom that night. She got angry. She turned a corner emotionally and determined to fight. Erika decided she would win this incredibly difficult battle and get her life back from prescription drugs.
Erika endured an excruciating month of severe withdrawal symptoms, followed by seven more months before she started feeling okay. Then she was introduced to CBD oil. She did her research, tried it, and noticed a difference immediately in managing the normal, daily frustrations of life. Because of its strong anti-inflammatory properties, CBD oil also helped her manage the residual chronic pain from the horse and car accidents. She is so grateful to have a natural remedy that works with her body to heal it rather than just masking the symptoms. CBD oil now plays an integral part in her healing journey every day.
“Coming off all these meds, I had no coping mechanisms,” Erika shares. “CBD oil brought me to a place where I could think rationally through things and learn how to cope with life. Now it provides the peace that gives me the space to figure it out. CBD oil gives me the level head to think on these things and move forward.”
Erika believed she was doing the right thing when she started taking each medicine. She took them under doctor’s advice. She never dreamed the result would be addiction. When Erika realized how much the overdependence on medicines robbed her over the years, she began to wonder what else she could be wrong about. She started to ask questions, read the Bible, and learn about God.
She recognized that the turning point night in her bedroom when she got angry was a spiritual battle. She now believes that emergency room doctor was like a guardian angel pushing her towards freedom.
“Faith saved me,” Erika says. “For the first time in my life, I feel a personal Savior, a God who is personally invested and involved with me. I’ve started deliberately being thankful. Once you become grateful, it’s hard to be a victim.”
Ten years after she first started sliding down the slippery slope of prescription meds, Erika stands humbly on the other side. She is rebuilding relationships with family and friends. She is finding her life and herself again. Life is not perfect. Since her miscarriage more than a decade ago, she still has not had children. However, she chooses daily to trade anxiety and heartbreak for faith and joy. Erika knows her long, terrible journey to freedom was not a waste. She resonates with the psalmist who declared, “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book” (Psalm 56:8).
I saw this transformation happen. I watched Erika struggle to function and interact on high doses of many heavy medications. I worried, prayed, and tried to talk to her as I watched her disengage from life. Seeing where she is today makes me so proud of her. She is a warrior. She is stronger than she even knows. Erika worked incredibly hard to pull herself out of a very dark place and found faith in the God who had her securely in the palm of His hand the whole time. I know God collected all of my tears and prayers during Erika’s journey as well. Today, I have my big sister back.
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