I have had a long and tumultuous relationship with uppers, downers, and a sleeping pill called Ambien. Ambien has been my best friend during times of stress, used during the nights, between those restless nights, as a way to “bank” sleep, and then there were long bouts of time when I would just take it because it was there. I would be brushing my teeth looking up at the bottle thinking, hmmm…guaranteed good night sleep tonight? Hell ya! Pop, swallow, snooze, wake up feeling pretty damn good. With practice, I eventually discovered how long I could push staying awake after popping the pill, knowing that I could get a bunch more stuff done but that regardless of how stimulated I was when I hit the pillow, I would surely fall fast asleep. I also have to admit that I kind of enjoyed the feeling as I transitioned from awake to “awake like” before I passed out. It was a version of a buzz that I hadn’t ever explored and I am no stranger to substances. These were the glory days when Prince Ambien was my perfect sleeping partner. He could do no wrong and was the perfect balance to my “A” Type personality. Later it got a little ugly.
I think the first time I was prescribed Ambien was when I was marathon training. I trained with a local group and the training schedule entailed short runs during the week and long runs on Saturday morning. The long runs ultimately built up to 20 miles in preparation for the grand finale, 26.2. As the long run mileage climbed, so did my anxiety the night prior to the run. I had to keep the wine consumption to a minimum which was my standard means of coping with anxiety (well that with my Lexapro since as my shrink says I am “biologically impaired”). I had heard about Ambien and thought, what if I took a half a pill once a week, just on the nights before my long run? So I asked my primary doctor and I think he prescribed me just that – 4 pills per month (1 for every Friday night) for the duration of my training including the eve of the marathon. Seemed harmless to me and it was effective.
At this point I considered my relationship with Prince Ambien relatively healthy. I still had the upper hand and I was getting exactly what I needed. There was one itsy bitsy red flag before my 20 mile run. My best friend was flying into town to visit for the weekend. Her plane arrived on Friday which meant we would catch up over a couple glasses, I would take my pill and then by the time she woke up I would be finished with my run. Training was in the middle of summer so we took our long runs early to beat the heat. When her plane was delayed I started to get nervous because I had to have a full 8 hour sleep so the Ambien would be out of my system by the start time for my run. I don’t remember all of the details but my solution was to take the pill a little earlier. Nothing dramatic happened but it was a bit scary when I realized that I had no recollection of going to bed that night, nor of showing my BF her accommodations. I swept that experience right under the carpet. That was my earliest experience with Ambien.
Years later after a baby and some stressful life transitions, I re-approached the subject of a prescription for Ambien but this time with my Psychiatrist. He was happy to adjust my regular medication as well as add Ambien to help me sleep and Xanax for the crippling anxiety that would occasionally rear it’s ugly head during the day. I was a happy camper. I had solutions in a bottle. Again, I remember experimenting a little when my husband wasn’t traveling to make sure that I would be able to wake up and be aware should our son need me. I was testing to see if it was something I could take while my husband was away which was also a very anxiety provoking time for me as I was fearful to be alone in the apartment with the baby.
Fast forward about a year when I would consider myself pretty much addicted to the pill. If it wasn’t every night, it was most certainly 4-5 nights per week. During that period of time I couldn’t think of a reason not to take it. It would ensure me a good night sleep and if for whatever reason I had to get up in the middle of the night, I could do so easily and get back to sleep right away. I knew it wasn’t healthy because I did enjoy my wine and I may have heard a few whispers of warnings about the drug and it’s interaction with alcohol which I selectively dismissed. One of these “whispers” came from a concerned friend.
Then an “incident” occurred that left me no choice other than to break up with Price Ambien. I may have had a few extra drinks that night and without giving it much thought, I popped the pill and washed it down with an enormous glass of water. Next thing I knew it was the middle of the night and I was squatting on our bedroom rug peeing like a racehorse. I probably wouldn’t have even woken up had my husband not sat up like a thunderbolt and yelled “what the fuck are you doing”. I quickly realized what I was doing but by then the damage was done.
I had destroyed our bedroom rug and managed to terrify both my husband and myself. Then there was the shame and humiliation. The next morning I called someone to haul the rug out of our bedroom and toss it. I needed to remove all evidence of the filthy incident. With great shame and some capacity to laugh at myself, I shared the incident with a close friend (not the concerned friend) who was happy to take the rest of my prescription off my hands. He enjoys his wine too but maybe since he lived alone he wasn’t as worried about the warning it came with.
To this day I feel shameful about the whole incident, but I will admit to occasionally taking a half a pill maybe once a month if I am desperate for a good night sleep. The more I reflect on it the more I realize how much more I could use some clarity with my regard to my relationship to easy solutions, including prescription and over the counter medication, as well as my perspective on sleep in general. Every once in a while my friend or my husband bring it up, just to poke fun at me for losing control in such a humiliating way. I laugh alongside of them but am still mortified.
Though the enemy still lurks in our medicine cabinet, you will never catch me taking the combination again.