Our #2 yoga teacher is the lovely, soft-spoken 36-year-old Shannon S. She recently celebrated one year as an employee of Malibu Beach Recovery Center and the third anniversary of her decision to walk through our front doors and end her addiction to Xanax (she had successfully stopped drinking on her own several years earlier).
As part of her commitment to increase awareness of this country’s prescription drug epidemic, Shannon has previously given interviews to Voice of America and NBC News. Because her abuse of alcohol and pills was not just recreational, we recently asked her to also share her story with readers of the Malibu Beach Recovery website and blog. Hard to believe from looking at her now, but from age 18-33 Shannon drank, or drank and also took pills, or just took pills as part of a quest to feel “normal.” I have not yet shown Shannon’s interview to our advisor on neuroscience, Dr. Kenneth Blum PhD, but I have no doubt he would say “a classic case of depleted dopamine levels.”
The drinking began when she was 18. Three wine coolers and “I was like…Oh, my God. This feels amazing. I feel so good. I have so much energy.”
By 22 she had added ecstasy and prescription drugs to the equation, but mostly, it was still about drinking because “I loved the way it made me feel. I loved to go out dancing with my friends…It made me wanna do things.”
Then came the hangovers, nausea, headaches and black outs. She noticed that her body was processing alcohol differently, which briefly scared her into sobriety and Alcoholics Anonymous. She relapsed on a trip to Las Vegas and resumed drinking -- but less than before because now she was drinking primarily to relieve social anxiety. “Without alcohol I felt inadequate. I felt I couldn’t speak to people. I felt like I was boring, inept. When I drank I thought this is my normal self. This is how I am supposed to be. This is what makes me, me.”
Shannon finally stopped drinking for good on July 22, 2007 but started using Xanax and Vicodin “excessively and abusively.”
“Vicodin gave me energy and Xanax balanced me out. It calmed me down. So I would take one to get energy and the other was supposed to keep me steady and even.”
Eventually her anxiety skyrocketed and her drug of choice became Xanax. “It wasn’t about getting high,” she reiterates. “It was about the relief that I got and the normalcy I felt when I took it…it really did answer every problem I had at the moment.”
She went to a doctor. “I really believed I was crazy and had an ADHD brain and I needed something to fix it.” He prescribed Xanax. Soon she was so dependent on her prescription that she was helping herself to her mom’s two Xanax prescriptions as well.
“I would take all 90 pills (three prescription's worth) in two weeks and then I’d have to go cold turkey, but still I did not think I had a problem. I said to myself: ‘I can only quit one monster at a time. It was a huge thing just for me to quit drinking.” At AA meetings, loaded on pills, she would share about her new found sobriety.
Finally it was a teacher, a “normie” who pulled Shannon aside and told her she needed treatment. “He was so earnest and sincere,” she says, ”but I thought it was not that bad, even though I was already experiencing Xanax blackouts.”
Her AA sponsor also suggested treatment. Then Krissie Bergo, an MBRC alumna Shannon met at a Pills Anonymous meeting, made it her mission to bring Shannon to Malibu. She began by suggesting Shannon call Dr. Kamyar Cohan, an MD who was then seeing MBRC clients. Shannon had been taking only one Xanax a day for 29 days, so was surprised when after speaking with Dr. Cohan for only a few minutes he told her to check in.
“I was in tears,” says Shannon. “And I said, ‘I am going to talk to Joan. Joan will see through it. Joan will listen and she’ll know my story is not that bad, that I’m not bad enough of an addict to warrant me coming into treatment.”
Before beginning the journey to Malibu, Shannon spent several hours cleaning her apartment -- and took 4-5 Xanax. "All the way to Malibu I kept thinking, they’re not going to keep me. But they did. And you know, one of the great things I learned at MBRC was that it is not the amount that you take. It is your inability to stop. I realized that on my own, I could not stop.”
Shannon also remembers finally deciding to let go of her fears because she felt safe, surrounded by people who were taking care of her medically, emotionally and spiritually. She credits Dr. Nick Techentin, PhD one of her first break through moments. "He was the first to tell me that addiction is a “disease of perception.”
As for the Xanax, she quickly discovered the yoga breath work could slow her down and let her “be in the moment.” She quickly became an apt and enthusiastic yoga student.
Here is the story of how Shannon left her anxiety behind, and became a person who now feels normal, calm and happy about life. And a yoga teacher to boot.
Photos: Shannon after 3 years of continuous sobriety (top). Shannon after one year of teaching yoga (bottom).