Book Review

Blood Orange Night

Blood Orange Night: My Journey to the Edge of Madness

  • Author: Melissa Bond
  • Genre: Memoir
  • Publication Date: June 14, 2022
  • Publisher: Gallery Books

Thank you to NetGalley and Gallery Books for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

CONTENT WARNING: addiction, thoughts of suicide, gore, blood

Brain on Fire meets High Achiever in this visceral, propulsive memoir detailing a woman’s accidental descent into prescription benzodiazepine dependence and the life-threatening impacts of the drugs’ long-term use.

As Melissa Bond raises her infant daughter and a special-needs one-year-old son, she suffers from unbearable insomnia, sleeping an hour or less each night. She loses her job as a journalist (a casualty of the 2008 recession), and her relationship with her husband grows distant. Her doctor casually prescribes benzodiazepines—a family of drugs that includes Xanax, Valium, Klonopin, Ativan—and increases her dosage on a regular basis.

Following her doctor’s orders, Melissa takes the pills night after night; her body begins to shut down and she collapses while holding her infant daughter. Only then does Melissa learn that her doctor—like many doctors—has over-prescribed the medication and quitting cold turkey could lead to psychosis or fatal seizures. Benzodiazepine addiction is not well studied, and few experts know how to help Melissa as she begins the months-long process of tapering off the pills without suffering debilitating, potentially deadly consequences.

Each page thrums with the heartbeat of Melissa’s struggle—how many hours has she slept? How many weeks old are her babies? How many milligrams has she taken? Her propulsive writing crescendos to a fever pitch as she fights for her health and her ability to care for her children. Lyrical and immersive, Blood Orange Night shines a light on the prescription benzodiazepine epidemic as it reaches a crisis point in this country.

So, before I became disabled, I worked in mental health and addiction treatment, so the information provided in this read wasn’t news for me, but it definitely provided some amazing insight into the experiences that people who are dependent on benzodiazepines go through, and highlights a lot of shortcomings in the treatment and medical fields.

With this book, Melissa paints a vivid picture of her life before, during, and after this harrowing experience. Her writing is lyrical and beautiful, and it isn’t surprising at all that she is a poet—she has managed to carry that with her into this book. 

We first meet Melissa when she’s giving birth to her firstborn child, a son who is diagnosed with Down syndrome. She opens the door of her home, her brain, and her heart to her readers, giving us carte blanche to poke through every aspect of her life. There is no having to come to terms with her son’s Down syndrome, and it is incredibly endearing to see her love for him shine through on the pages of the book, as well as her husband’s love for their son. While there are some ableist comments made to her by well-meaning loved ones, she completely shuts them down in the most beautiful ways, standing up for her perfect, beautiful child. 

But things quickly go downhill, and Melissa experiences horrific insomnia, followed by many doctor visits, and then even more horrific and negligent treatment by a medical professional. We are taught that if we don’t feel well, we go to a doctor and they help us. We’re told to follow the doctor’s instructions, which is what Melissa did. However, the doctor never told her about the risks associated with benzodiazepines, possibly because he wasn’t even aware of them. After struggling with the effects of these medications, she starts to do her own (reputable) research. And she discovers massive issues with marketing and prescribing practices, which she experienced firsthand:

“So while Ativan and Xanax aren’t medically recommended for use beyond one to four weeks, they’re marketed for treatment of chronic conditions. Prescribing habits followed the marketing push and long-term prescriptions have skyrocketed.”

I have seen people struggling through benzodiazepine withdrawal, and it isn’t a pretty sight. However, this book provides firsthand insight into exactly how damaging these medications are, even when taken exactly as prescribed and under the supervision of a medical professional. She explains the concept of tolerance withdrawal, which is what happened to her—at some point, the dose isn’t enough to sustain the body’s need for the drug, and even while taking the medication as prescribed, the person can experience the most awful, debilitating withdrawal symptoms that I’ve ever heard of. And the thing that most people aren’t even aware of is that withdrawal from benzodiazepines can be fatal.

“Instead of a fire burning your house down, benzos are the thief that steals everything you won a piece at a time.”

Bond honestly takes us through her journey into benzodiazepine dependence (which is very different from an addiction, or substance use disorder). Despite following instructions and continuing to take these medications exactly as prescribed, she descended into the hell of dependence and withdrawal, struggling out of the abyss over the space of more than a year. She talks about her love for her children and the support of the people who stood by her, even as her mind and body shut down through the agony of withdrawal. I was hooked, and read the vast majority of this book in a single sitting, wondering how her story would end. And through it all, I couldn’t help but love her inner strength, devotion to her children, and her willingness to do whatever she had to, no matter how bad things got. 

She’s honest in this memoir—she talks about the damaged relationships, the shame, the judgment, and all the ways in which her mind and body were hijacked by these drugs. I loved her ongoing fight to speak out and educate others, even as she was struggling through the worst of things, yet never lost her focus on her children. I’m so blown away by her story, and hope this becomes an incredibly widespread read. For regular people, those who have been affected by benzo dependence, and within treatment and medical communities. 

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