Into the Mild: A New City, New Job, and New Overdose

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Salvador, Brasil


I’ve never touched a drug in my life. The only possible exception would be when we tried to make a delayed-fuse piccolo pete bomb by poking a hole in a cigarette, putting the fuse of the piccolo pete through the whole, then inhaling to try to light the cigarette. It didn’t work. Instead I just coughed a lot and learned to hate the smell of tobacco. I don't drink alcohol. I even avoid caffeine when I can. Despite this, I ended up overdosing on legally purchased sleeping pills while using them for their stated purpose. Life’s a bitch, eh?

The sign at the entry to our hostel
  • The sign at the entry to our hostel
My first job in Brasil was at a holistic retreat in Arambepe. I worked daily from 7 a.m. to noon, handling anything from construction to helping at ayahuasca ceremonies. A month later, I went to coastal Salvador to work at a hostel. Overnight, I went from starting work at 7 a.m. in Arambepe to working nights and ending at 7 a.m. in Salvador. I enjoyed the night shift quite a bit. I only worked thrice a week and spent the first three hours of my shift hanging out with amazing people that I would be hanging out with at night anyways, then spent the rest of the night ironing sheets and watching Breaking Bad.  

In addition to working when I usually slept, I also started sleeping in a very active dormitory. These changes in my sleeping pattern completely threw off my internal clock. I was lucky to get four hours of sleep in a day. It started to catch up to me quickly so I went to a pharmacy and asked if they had anything light that could help. I declined the first thing offered and took the cheaper of the two medications. The recommended dosage was one pill, so I took them for a couple mornings. I looked up the pill online to see why it wasn’t working better and found out that it was generic brand valium. Normally I would worry about that but I still struggled to get more than four hours of sleep and I was exhausted all the time. I figured that valium or not, if I wasn’t getting more than four hours of sleep a night with it, it couldn’t be too dangerous to up the dosage. I finally felt horrible one night and took two.

I woke up in the middle of that night and felt groggy. I didn’t want to get out of bed, but I didn’t want to pass out and wet the bed either so I got up and walked the 12 feet to the bathroom. When I washed my face an indescribable fear came over me. I’ve been to “war,” waken up in ambulances, and been hit by multiple cars, but nothing prepared me for this. I sat there gripping the sink and leaning over it as if I was on the edge of a cliff and the sink was the only thing keeping me from falling off the edge. I looked over and saw how close the bathroom door was, but I felt that I would somehow be doomed if I let go of the sink. The open bathroom door was visible from the street and I was quite nervous that someone would see me, but at the same time I was a little bit hopeful that someone would come by and help. No one did. After probably five minutes of sheer terror I let go of the sink and leaned on the wall until I got back to the dorm.

Sometime during the day, I woke up again and didn’t feel too bad. I decided that I needed a hot shower to wake me up. My legs felt wobbly but not terribly bad in the shower until I finished and started to dry off. My legs and willpower completely disappeared before I could leave the bathroom, so I did another round on the sink. I was wearing only a towel and sandals and leaning with all of my weight on the bathroom wall. I was too terrified to move. I was certain that I would pass out face down and naked on the bathroom floor and have a guest find me and call an ambulance. I would wake up talking to a paramedic again and my Brasil adventure would be over. This time I wanted no one to see me. I stood with my entire body leaning on the bathroom wall paralyzed. I can’t imagine how crazy I looked, breathing heavily with my chest and face glued to the wall and my arms hanging straight down. I don’t know how long I was there. Maybe five minutes. Maybe 30. I eventually gathered enough courage to hug the wall as I inched my way back to the room.

When I woke up again, I had slept for 18 hours. I spent that weekend with a friend from Arambepe, but still felt pretty wobbly. It’s hard to explain to someone that you had lots of fun and enjoyed their company, but were wobbly and disoriented for most of your time together because you had overdosed on valium the day before. We didn’t hang out again.

I flushed the rest of the pills down the toilet as soon as I got back.

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