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I Love Xanax


I love Xanax.

Is that wrong? I hope not. Because I have no plans to give it up. And don't you try to make me, either.

I would hardly say my usage is yet at the criminal level; when it's high stress around here (deadlines mounting; two year old channeling the devil), I tend to wake up in the night and can't get back to sleep due to the relentless, throbbing vision of my rather robust to-do list. The remedy, then: I pad into the bathroom, break a pill in half, break one of the halves in half, then use my teeth to break one of the half-halves in half because at that point hands are too big and hammy to do the job and I'm not about to go get a razor blade and a cutting board.

Then I down that tiny shaving, that dusting, that 1/8th of a low-dose pill. And within 20 minutes I'm asleep for the rest of the night. Oh sure, in the morning I have a distant, dull ache in my head as if someone had my skull in a vice grip for the night (which essentially they did), but so what? It's a small price to pay. I'm busy; I can't afford to not sleep through the night.

Of course, my inner priss-priss culls through popular culture from the 60s, 70s and 80s and hurls images at me to make me feel bad. Needless to say, scenes from the movie Valley of the Dolls ricochet around in my head. Those talented ladies and their "dolls" (translation: old-time-y sedatives like Demerol, Seconol, Nembutol), flinging their heads about and screaming as they run their lives into the ground. Next: The scene from Trainspotting where a baby dies in the crib because its basic needs are not being met by its heroin-shooting mom. Then, the line from David Sedaris's piece "Seasons Greetings," about a neighbor: "She's on pills, everyone knows that."

Well, everyone wouldn't know that about me if I didn't tell them. But I do tell them. All of them. I feel I owe them that. What kind of friend would I be if didn't help people get to sleep at night? So I not only take Xanax, I try to ensure that my loved ones do as well.

It was the mid-1990s when drugs like this first entered my consciousness (but not yet my mouth). My dear pal had procured an engagement ring for his recently ultimatum-issuing girlfriend. He loved her, he had the ring, it was time to go -- and yet, he couldn't. He walked around for weeks stuck, arrested by fear. He popped a few Ativan he had lying around from a previous panic attack, then easily popped the question. They have been married 10 happy years. The sedative is to be thanked.

A few years later, just before my own wedding, I began waking at night, springing up and away from the sheets like a Jack-in-the-box. Then for hours I'd lay there thinking about the caterer (would he show up?), the champagne fountain (would mosquitoes die in it?) and the floating candles (would five of them be enough for an Olympic-sized swimming pool)? I thought about my friend whose life was able to go forward due to Ativan. I called my primary care physician. His response: "Your wedding is three weeks away? I'm surprised you didn't call me sooner."

And right then and there, in August of 2001, the doctor hooked me up. Not with Ativan but with its sexy cousin Xanax.

I didn't dig it right away. I remember taking it with much frenzied excitement, much froth. But then I soon found that yes, it cut the bride-oriented stress levels, but it also seared the top off my bride-y joy. I was sleeping at night and not conniptioning over the contents of the welcome bags, but I also wasn't going all ecstatic over the perfect flower girl dresses I'd found or the, you know, lovely man I was about to land. All that stuff was just... well, ok.

Not one to compromise ecstasy levels, I pitched the Xanax into a linen closet and forgot about it.

Until we adopted Eve. Oh lord. After five years of unsuccessful attempts to have a baby, one suddenly landed in our lap. It was the most amazing gift the fates or the universe or whoever could have tossed us, and yet, the whole thing wigged me out. I was bursting with mirth, but felt completely disjointed, disoriented. We suddenly have a ... a ... baby? What? As a result, I couldn't sleep a wink. But sleeping on command was more essential than ever, as one had to sleep when Eve did, which was at the oddest hours, for the shortest durations. She'd pass out and I'd hurry and lay down, but despite murderous exhaustion, I couldn't will myself to doze off. And then bam, the baby'd be crying again. I think I lost about 15 years off my life during those months.

Re-enter: Xanax (generic name: alprazolam). Despite being long past its expiration date, that prescription from 2001 worked like a charm in 2006. Tiny Eve would nod off, I'd run into the bathroom, pop a half pill or a quarter pill, and I'd slumber, but then be able to spring back up whenever she did, going forth into successful consciousness, just being responsible all over the place. It was a miracle. A true miracle.

Before Eve came along, as my husband and I would get ready for bed, I was in the habit of announcing, "Marty? The greatest gift awaits..." Sleep is what I was talking about. Sleep had always been one of my huge joys in life, and I was really good at it. But then all of that started heading right into the crapper. Eve's first few months were just the beginning of the end. After she graduated from wrinkly, red infancy, sleep still wasn't her strong suit. Even at about a year old, she was waking up five or six times a night, and I had an extraordinarily hard time falling back to sleep after each.

Competing with Eve, I guess, our golden retriever then decided it was ok to nudge us with his 20-lb. head multiple times as we slumbered, oh and also to freak out during middle-of-the-night thunder storms. Not to be outdone, my old, old cat became demented and decided to try to orient himself in the night by using me as a treadmill. When I removed the ottoman that helped him get on the bed, he spent the nights standing there screaming. And as Marty's job got more and more stressful, his sleep talking and sleep walking got worse. In fact, I swear his brain stem has a sensor. It knows precisely the instant that I re-achieve sleep (anywhere from 20 minutes to 1 hour from the last disturbance), and that's exactly when it says to him, "Go ahead! Start yammering! Really loudly!"

I banished the cat and the dog from the bedroom. But there is no banishing Marty nor ignoring Eve. Xanax -- my friend, my savior -- allows me to shrug off the disturbances that needn't be acted upon, and pass back out within a minute or three. Without Xanax, you see, I'd surely be dead.

"Don't you just want some sleeping pills?" my doctor asked when I told her what was happening.

"No. Well, maybe. Can you give me both?"

I tried what the doc was offering. Sonata it was called. Definition: composition for a solo instrument; bland and low-priced Japanese car; drug that knocks you out for eight hours, potentially causing child neglect and missed deadlines. Taking that stuff, I found, was like putting a cast on a paper cut. And woe be to you if you took one in the middle of the night instead of at bedtime. You'd be asleep under your desk at work till at least 11 a.m., drooling on the garbage can and showing everyone your underwear. I'm busy; I don't have time for that.

Next, I experimented with how little Xanax I could ingest and still get the K.O. effect. One-eighth of a pill was my answer, although really it could be less than that -- I'd have to hire insects to do the pill cutting in order to find out.

To make sure I'm not physically addicted, I experiment with taking it only in times of tremendous and terrible need. When not taking it, do I crave it? No. Am I sweaty? No. Do I have muscle cramps, nausea, diarrhea, slurred speech, loss of appetite? No, no, no, no, no. How's about drowsiness, lack of coordination and/or loss of concentration? Yes, yes and yes. But only from being awakened 160 times in the night by the dog/cat/man/toddler and being too mad to go back to sleep.

Though I know this is its intended use, I don't use Xanax to chill a jittery brain during day light hours. I'm afraid that if I employed it to try to, say, more calmly get through delivering a public reading, my association with it as Superstar Sleep Aid (SSA) would ensure that I simply pass out on the dais and roll to the floor. So I'm not messing with that.

My doctor, she feels my pain. She keeps me steeped in the stuff now. Though my steeped is probably different from another guy's steeped. I get a prescription for 15 pills every six to nine months. Herbert Hoover's 1928 campaign expression was "a chicken in every pot." In my house, it's: Xanax in every bathroom. That is the symbol of rest and calm around here, as well as the continued daily productivity that flows from it.

Xanax, you have allowed my dreams to come true, making it possible to raise a child, have a fulfilling work life and also not tear the heads off of any other living creatures.

You are the most, Xanax.