When I published a recent Blisstree post called Drug Addiction: I Was an Ambien Junkie and Didn’t Know It, I didn’t get into specifics about how I acted when I was out of my head on the prescription sleep aid Ambien (other than acting asleep). This was mostly because, at the time, I didn’t actually remember how I acted when I was out of my head on Ambien. (Turns out, Ambien can erase memories like shaking an Etch A Sketch makes your painstaking on-screen drawings disappear. Who knew?) Of course, I’d also forgotten about these Ambien antics because they occurred almost a full decade ago. But now that I’ve taken some time to recall one of my finer Ambien-fueled moments in particular (perhaps “finer” isn’t the right word — how about: would-be-hilarious-if-it-weren’t-so-disturbing), I’m ready to overshare, as any respectable blogger should know how to do.
As I mentioned in my original post, I started taking Ambien (which my genius doctor had told me wasn’t addictive) to help when flying around the world on frequent work trips. (I was a magazine travel editor.) So there I was in Peru with my good friend and traveling companion on that particular work trip (a gay man, not that it matters), which had involved visting Lima, Cuzco, and Machu Picchu for something like seven days. Now, I have no recollection of our departing flight to South America. It may well have been completely uneventful, or, thanks to too much Ambien, I may well have done something completely moronic while half-asleep that would’ve made a good Blisstree post ten years later. Win some, lose some.
I do, however, now (almost) fully recollect our return overnight flight from Lima to New York City (via Miami). Pre-flight, much Ambien was taken (by me). At least 40 mg, maybe more — far more than my doctor and that little orange bottle suggested. By this time, I was very good at timing the popping of my pills so that I would pass out immediately after dinner. Luckily for my game traveling companion and myself, our flight wasn’t at all full. In fact, there were so few passengers on that jumbo jet that as soon as we began boarding, the flight attendants told everyone to feel free to spread out an take an entire row to themselves. My friend and I headed toward the back of the plane (there wouldn’t be any aisle congestion when we disembarked, so why not?), where we each took an entire row of four middle seats together — and he and I were several rows apart with no one in between us. To me, this arrangement was almost like being up in first class: The flight attendents would have plenty of time to dote on the very few passengers onboard; we could fully stretch out and sleep; and there would be more than enough booze to go around for everyone. (Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed combining my allegedly non-addictive prescription meds with my beloved alcohol, though I fully realize that this practice is dangerous, unhealthy, and ill-advised. Do as I say, not as I did, okay?) Anyway, right from the start this was an unusual (and unusually pleasant) flight situation, and I intented to take advantage of all it had to offer. (Almost as unusual as the early morning many years ago when I flew from New York City to Buffalo, New York on a small commercial jet and was the only passenger, but that’s another post entirely.)
But on this night flight from Lima back to the U.S., things were good. We had water, we had space, we had privacy, we had what was practically our private bathroom, we had cold, cheap white airplane wine, and we had our trusty friend Ambien.
Around eight hours later, I awoke as we were about to start descending into Miami, curled up on my four airplane seats, with my entire lower body soaking wet (please tell me that’s water), and no memory of what had happened in-flight. After we deplaned, while I was still squarely in my by-then familiar Ambien fog, my friend regaled me with the story of exactly what had happened at 39,000 feet.
I took my Ambien. I wolfed down my dinner. The plane’s interior lights dimmed. I promptly passed out. My friend fell asleep. But then, about three or four hours later (when the flight attendants were also resting in their jumpseats behind curtains), I got up. I made so much racket doing so that my friend also waked up. Now, I wasn’t fully awake, nor was I still completely asleep. At this point in my newfound addiction, I believe I was becoming too tolerant of my pal Ambien, so much so that he was unable to successfully knock me out with the usual dose that used to work so well.
Apparently, in my sleep-stumbling state, I told my friend that I needed to go to the bathroom. I did just that, and he kindly stood by the door while I managed to get myself locked in there for half-an-hour, as he and a flight attendant (he’d summoned her from her slumber) repeatedly banged on the door pleading with me to unlock it. (I really don’t think I’d locked myself in on purpose, because I would’ve been all to eager to get back to my faux-first-class seats. But then again, I don’t remember this happening at all.)
Finally (I have no idea how), I was freed! Relieved, my friend and the flight attendant led me back to my seats. But before they knew it, I was up again and this time I was heading straight for the rear airplane door. Apparently, I was positive that it would be a good idea to open it mid-flight somewhere over the Carribbean Sea. My companion and this poor flight attendant (along with, by this point, a few others) needed all their collective muscle, quick thinking, plus several minutes to wrest me away from the locked door handle and stop us all from experiencing certain death at my shaky hands. (Apparently, on Ambien, I’m strong like Superwoman!) Finally — and thankfully — they succeeded; I didn’t.
Back to my seats they carried me. My friend did some explaining. My seatbelt was snugly buckled for me. Flight attendants parked themselves in nearby empty seats. At some point, I either drank almost a gallon of water from my various water bottles and peed my pants, or poured the contents of said bottles all over me in a vain attempt to take a drink. (My friend assures me it was the latter, not that I had much to be proud of either way.) Which explains my soaking wet clothing and seats when I finally awoke. (Sorry, American Airlines!)
Why didn’t my Ambien antics get me arrested, you may well ask? Well, this was pre-9/11, and, as you may remember, flight rules — and everything else — were a lot different back then.
That morning, after my friend had apologized profusely to any flight attendant who would listen (at that point I had no idea why the hell he was apologizing to them), I got off the plane. Then, a few months later, I got off Ambien. Which turned out to be a good decision all around. And I feel that, in my own small way, my doing so made my own world, and the world at large, a much safer place.
photo: The Monkees TV show