When the minor
tranquilizers were introduced, a good many people (the drug companies,
doctors, and patients included) thought that the last word in
anxiety control had at last been discovered.
We were wrong.
Because we misunderstood
the minor tranquilizers. We under estimated their potential for
abuse. And we were just plain wrong about the role that drugs
can and should play in helping people come to grips with their
No one’s to blame.
But we’re all responsible — then, for making the problem happen;
now, for making it go away.
is no magic answer to the problems that plague human beings.
(Yes, the problems that plague us now, and the ones that have
plagued us since the moment we stepped furtively — and probably
fearfully — down from the trees.) The only magic there really
is is the magic that happens when people take responsibility
for their lives and feelings and go to work on making things
And there’s any
number of ways to make better the conditions that contribute
to the abuse of “minor” tranquilizers. Nerves are only
a problem if we say they’re a problem. And helplessness only
rules our lives if we let it.
And that’s probably
the most exciting discovery that’s come down in the decades since
the minor tranquilizers were introduced — the understanding
that we are capable and we aren’t helpless, that the actions
that we take (even reluctantly) determine the feelings we experience
as surely as our feelings determine our thoughts — and the quality
of our lives.
the internal body systems that tranquilizers unlock have shown
us that activities can change our moods — and diminish our fears.
Jogging, aerobics, meditation, even cooking or enjoying a book,
can turn on the same relaxation circuits as Valium or Tranxene
— more effectively, in fact, and at a much lower price.
So the last word
on the minor tranquilizers is simply this: Treat them as drugs,
not as medicine. They don’t cure anything. They just buy time
and disguise symptoms.
And even though
buying time and disguising symptoms can be beneficial to people
in times of temporary stress or pain, if you live your life buying
time and disguising symptoms, you’ve got a problem. Another problem.
If you think
you might be addicted to one or another of the minor tranquilizers
— or are too dependent on them, however you want to say it —
why not get some help?
it is possible to get better all by yourself, it’s also possible
— maybe even more possible — to get worse.
We’re not talking
about just the possibility of relapse — that’s a factor in the
recovery of anyone who’s ever been addicted to anything — we’re
talking about fully resolving the feelings of fear or inadequacy
or shame that contributed to the tranquilizer problem to begin
fully back from a tranquilizer addiction doesn’t mean simply
learning to not take tranquilizers — it goes without saying
that you have to give up tranquilizers if you’re addicted and
want to stop.
back involves learning to be yourself again — the real you,
the vulnerable you, the happy you, the sad you, the you you always
wanted to be — and not the bundle of neuroses and frozen feelings
and personality quirks and helplessness that Valium or Ativan
or some other “minor tranquilizer” helped you to become.
And the best
place we know of to discover that you is in other people
— in learning from them, caring about them, and ultimately learning
to see yourself in them, and letting them see themselves in you.
That’s the unpaid
political announcement in all this. If you have a problem, get
help. And if you don’t have a problem, remember some of the points
we’ve made and don’t let one get started.
you’re dependent on them, living without tranquilizers is tough.
And it can be uncomfortable.
And coming back — all the way back — can take a lifetime.
But when you
stop and think about it (and you should stop and think about
it if you think you might be dependent on one of the minor tranquilizers),
what else are lifetimes for?