Lena Dunham: Benzos Decimated My Decision Making, Hurt My Creativity

Lena Dunham: Benzos Decimated My Decision Making, Hurt My Creativity

(Novus writes inspirational stories of people in the news who have overcome addiction. This is not to imply that these people are connected to Novus Medical Detox Center but simply to provide hope and encouragement to those fighting addiction.)

Lena Dunham, best known for creating, writing and starring in the multi-award-winning HBO series Girls, announced recently that she has "been sober for six months."

Speaking with Dax Shepherd, host of the popular podcast Armchair Expert, Dunham said she's never publicly discussed her suffering from substance use disorder. So the revelation came as a surprise to her millions of fans as well as to Shepherd, the actor, writer and director best known for starring on the NBC series Parenthood.

Shepherd expressed his surprise at the revelation, and then asked if he could "guess" what the drug problem was about. Shepherd knew that Dunham suffers from anxiety, and since benzodiazepines are so widely used in such cases, he suggested that benzos were probably the culprit.

Dunham replied that he "nailed it" - that she's been dependent on benzodiazepines, particularly Klonopin® (clonazepam), for years. "When I was having crazy anxiety and having to show up for things that I didn't feel equipped to show up for I was like, There's no reason for me to ever suffer. And when I take a Klonopin, I can do it."

Klonopin, she said, made her "feel like the person I was supposed to be...and I didn't have any trouble getting a doctor to tell me, No you have serious anxiety issues, you should be taking this. This is how you should be existing."

She added that although she was uncertain about sharing her long-term dependency and recent sobriety because she "didn't want to seem like 'you're so proud of yourself,' she decided to discuss it on the podcast "to let others know they're not alone."

From a creative family

Dunham was born in New York City on May 13, 1986 into an artistic and creative family. Her father, Carroll Dunham, is a painter known for his range of styles and interests. Her mother, Laurie Simmons, is an artist, photographer and noted filmmaker who has exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art. Dunham's sister, Grace Dunham, is a writer and activist.

Dunham was schooled in NYC, and in her teens was already writing and creating short films. She was experimental and even bold, and her writing, acting and subject matter has continued to be fearless - and often controversial.

Dunham was only 24 years old when HBO bought her hit series Girls which made her a major star. A $3.5-million book deal with Random House soon followed, and the book became a best seller. A second book is in the works, she continues to write and act in films, and has signed a new production deal with HBO. She also continues to generate a large devoted following (and controversy) in interviews and on social media.

The meds started young

Dunham said she was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) as a child and suffered from anxiety. She was put on antidepressants, and recalled her mom telling her, "We're going to get you on medication because there's no reason to ever suffer."

That message continued to be an operating basis for her life. Things got out of hand when it stopped being, "I take one when I fly" to calm down, to "I take one when I'm awake."

Her fear of getting even worse led to years of "misusing" benzos. Klonopin became the go-to panacea. "I took it on and off and then I was diagnosed with pretty serious PTSD. I have a few sexual traumas in my past and then I had all these surgeries and then I had my hysterectomy after a period of really extreme pain," she explained. "Basically, it stopped feeling like I had panic attacks and it started feeling like I was a living panic attack. The only thing that was notable were the moments in the day where I didn't feel like I was going to barf and faint."

After years of painful physical and emotional conditions including the anxiety, and 10 abdominal surgeries for endometriosis, she agreed last year to an hysterectomy, which caused "the deepest grief I've ever had in my life." These life experiences have ensured that Dunham is very familiar indeed with prescription drugs, especially benzos and opioid painkillers.

Trapped by her own decisions

"Even though it was all quote unquote doctor prescribed and I had convinced somebody to tell me that this was the way, I can recognize now the way my own manipulation played a part," she told Shepherd. "My thought was like, 'I'm not in pain because I take pills, I take pills because I'm in pain. And I'm not anxious because I take pills, I take pills because I'm anxious.

"I look back at how I thought that medication was allowing me to be more myself and I actually see all of the things that the world sort of wrought on me. I don't blame myself for my illness. I don't blame myself for the sexual abuse I experienced. I don't blame myself for the physical abuse I experienced. I don't blame myself for the challenges of being a woman in this world and an anxious woman in this world and living in this body. But I do see the way that I medicated myself negatively impacted people around me, decimated my decision making, hurt my creativity. And so I just feel literally, like, on my knees grateful every single day."

"We think PTSD is reserved for Iraqi soldiers or whatever, but tons of women are experiencing incredible amounts of trauma," she added. "Having survived and by the grace of God surviving every day and staying clean and staying in the world, I feel like my job is to try and give a voice to that story."

After the podcast, Dunham tweeted about it, saying: "It was actually during this interview I realized that if I'm an advocate for anything, it's decreasing shame and emotional transparency. I've been through a lot and I've learned a lot and I love to talk. I love connection. I love you!"

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