The piece below was generously contributed by guest blogger, Nan Kirkeby, my mom.
My daughter Alane’s friend Jess remarked recently that all her funny family stories begin with “one time Aunt Jeannie took an Ambien...” My recent travel to Australia prompted my own experience with this most entertaining and quirky drug.
I know I am not a drug addict or an alcoholic by the same litmus test I use for the “drugs” I am addicted to. Think yeast, sugar, butter and heat in one package. Think bakery. Think donuts. Think Homer Simpson. I have never been able to take it or leave it. I have never been able to take a half of some sweet yeasty item and not finish the entire dozen. That is not, however, how I behave when it came to liquor or recreational drugs.
Since I can take or leave them, I leave them. Simple. In my past I might have sipped on a Sloe Gin Fizz or even (yuck) a beer at a college party and left it alone after a few tastes. I could sit in a circle with friends, pass a joint and listen to Neil Young albums with the best of them, but I didn’t particularly care whether there was another joint coming, or whether I planned to do it again the next night.
In my 12 step recovery program (think Donutholics Anonymous) the use of recreational drugs (mind altering) or alcohol (liquid sugar) is verboten and I abstain from those substances, but it actually remains a non-issue out of lack of desire. I can remember a restaurant meal from 37 years ago in graphic and delicious detail, but I can’t recall the last drug participation or sip of alcohol other than a champagne toast at my daughter’s engagement. And, yes, that was a slip. So, I know that I am not going to abuse Ambien, but I am just the teensiest bit interested in what will happen the next time I injest that tiny little rest pill. Remember Mick Jagger singing about Mother’s Little Helper?
The first time I heard about Ambien was when some Kennedy goof off attributed his irresponsible behavior to the side effects of this “sleeping pill”. At that time, I considered the press release ludicrous and concocted out of blatant spinelessness. He claimed to have driven under the influence and didn’t know he had done it. Jeez, really, just how gullible do those Kennedy nephews think we are? Our parents may have bought Chappaquiddick, but I’m not falling for that one again.
The television ad for Ambien I heard just this morning mentioned possible side effects. Something about “eating under the influence” caught my attention. Reading between the lines, this begins to sound a lot like sleep walking, a vague awareness of action and yet a place of not being really responsible for one’s behavior.
Recently, I decided to ask my physician for a prescription of Ambien in order to adjust to a 14 hour flight and a 17 hour time difference in Australia. Qantas knows how to do their job and appears to follow an unwritten rule that once airborne, everyone is on Australia time. We might actually be somewhere over Catalina, but we were “Downunda” now. The dinner trolley came down the aisle relatively soon after takeoff, and never one to miss the opportunity to rationalize an extra meal, I ordered. “Chicken, please.” I had popped the Ambien on takeoff and remember discarding the roll and dessert from my tray. I may have taken a pill that caused some people to eat in their sleep, but I wasn't going to throw away my recovery program on such nonsense.
Sometime later I had an awareness that time had passed. The travel agent from Washington in the seat next to me peered curiously at me. She gently offered the information that she hoped she hadn’t offended me when she took the fork out of my hand and the meal from my chest. Evidently I had paused, fork mid air, while eating salad, and drifted off to dreamland. Oh yeah, I thought, something, something had happened, time had passed. What an odd experience. Rather like when I had my wisdom teeth out and asked the nurse if I had told any secrets while under. Also somewhat like post colonoscopy. You mean it’s over? Wow!
I looked down at myself and noticed the bits of salad that remained. Oil smudges darkened my favorite plum tee-shirt; the one I had dropped 40 dollars on. I have seen my own babies in high chairs fall asleep like this. They may have been eating Cheerios or melba toast, but when those little eyes blinked verrry slowly and they dropped their precious little heavy heads, they were down for the count. I headed for the lavatory and took off my damp, dirty, 40 dollar tee shirt, turned it inside out and put it back on. The matching plum jacket was zipped up a little higher, and I felt sheepish but presentable.
In that first rush of hugging and reunion joy, my daughter and I noticed that we had dressed in the same color and laughed. I told her the story of the Ambien eating and we laughed at the absurdity.
When we traveled to Canberra a few weeks later, I took another Ambien late one night after a marathon day of sightseeing, museums and walking. I don’t always sleep well in a hotel and felt this was a safe thing to do. My plan was to unwind with a little tennis on TV followed by a restful night in a hotel bed. The Wimbledon Championship is a favorite of mine and both Alane and Mickey follow it enthusiastically each summer as well. With London/Australia time differences, the high profile matches just get going around 1 a.m.
I don’t remember Wimbledon that night, I don’t really remember going to bed that night either. Reminiscent of my recovery friends who were formerly blackout drinkers, I asked the leading questions one does to find out just what had happened last night.
Uh, did I do something odd last night?
Uh, yeah Mom. (odd look)
Well you fell asleep with your head on your chest and we tried to get you to go to bed.
I didn’t go?
No, you said you wanted to "notch" Wimbledon.
Notch Wimbledon? What was I doing, carving it into my belt?
We let you go for it but eventually had to walk you into your bedroom to make sure you got in there okay.
Our roles were suddenly reversed. I remembered when this lovely, accomplished young woman was a toddler who fell asleep at play with her pretty “My Little Ponies” spread about her on the blue carpet in her room. Her splayed legs indicated she had been kneeling and simply leaned back and gently passed into that other place of consciousness/unconsciousness. That night I was the caretaker. I lifted her into my arms and placed her in her bed and smoothed the hair from her face. My precious daughter, I am not ready to be the child to her adult.
Before they expire in a year or two, an occasion of travel or insomnia may arise and I might choose to try Ambien again. I am going make my own prescription label though:
Take with water,
While in bed,
With jammies on,
Prepared to sleep.
Post toilette . (Friend Jess’s Aunt Jeannie reportedly had an Ambien sleep experience involving a toilet, a hotel, a locked door, angry roommates and security break-in)