Get Well: An Interview with Musician and Benzo Warrior Kraig Rieger
As many of you know, I was profoundly injured by long-term benzodiazepine use. In 2014, while disabled and mostly homebound, I began writing about my experience with benzodiazepine withdrawal in my online blog.
Five years later, Kraig Rieger found my blog.
Suffering from hundreds of horrifying symptoms, he read that I’d healed and reached out to me via email for support. Though we live thousands of miles apart in completely different time zones, we’ve been communicating for close to a year, and it brings me great joy to share this interview I did with him about the CD he has managed to produce despite the fact that he is, in fact, very sick.
GET WELL chronicles the horrors associated with a syndrome that is not recognized by most medical professionals. Like so many of us who have been harmed, Kraig hopes to raise awareness about the dangers associated with medications commonly prescribed by physicians.
RASJ: What were you like pre-benzos? What were your interests?
KR: Most of the interests that I had pre-benzos have stayed the same. I’ve always enjoyed NBA basketball, pro wrestling, reading, different genres of rock music, exercising, movies, etc. I played sports in high school, including basketball and soccer, and I have continued to follow basketball throughout my life. The hard thing about life pre-benzo and life now is I find it much harder to connect with hobbies and interests and mustering the energy to care about things can be difficult at times. I sort of have to force myself to care about things. One of the most difficult things for me is my interest in going to concerts has completely disappeared. I always think about buying tickets, and then I worry about how I’m going to feel on that particular day and decide it’s not worth it.
RASJ: What brought you to benzos in the first place?
KR: About ten years ago, I had some sleep-related issues that were a result of anxiety because of a job I took after college. Initially, the medication helped, and then it didn’t.
RASJ: How did you end up deciding to go off the drugs? How was it handled?
KR: I was off and on benzos for many years, and I quit taking them cold-turkey several times not knowing you aren’t supposed to do that. At one point, after I abruptly stopped taking them, I became terribly depressed. I started having crying spells and feeling like I was genuinely losing my mind. Looking back now, I would do things very differently.
RASJ: What is your life like now? What are your greatest challenges as you move thru this weird healing?
KR: It’s been about two years since I quit taking the medication. I still struggle with inexplicable anger when forced to confront any stress and oftentimes for no discernible reason; I also have bouts of severe depression for no apparent reason. I have burning sensations in random places on my body, most noticeably my face and my calves, and my vision is blurry. Anhedonia – the absence of joy — is another tough symptom I’ve had the entire time. I bought a new guitar during this recovery, and my wife was like: “You’re not even excited.” The lack of joy and happiness has been the hardest thing to cope with on top of other tough mental symptoms.
RASJ: What motivated you to create this CD?
KR: I tend to gravitate to a guitar regardless of feeling good or bad, so I just started working on songs regardless of feeling bad. It took me about a year after quitting the medication to even have a tiny spark of desire to compose anything new. While going thru this process, people tend to become completely consumed by terrible, dark thoughts, and I figured it would be a good chance to write a concept album all about the same subject. Overall, playing guitar and writing songs has been a good distraction throughout the misery.
RASJ: Which songs do you connect with most deeply?
KR: I wrote “Walks” in about a day. It’s a really simple song, but the bridge has a pretty interesting chord progression that is fun to play. The opening line references taking walks outside, which I’ve done throughout this process to ground myself and feel some semblance of normality.
“Seasons” is one of my favorite songs on the album. I almost didn’t record it because we had nine songs done at that point. I like how my voice sounds on this track, and the song details how long the process of feeling better can take as you pass through season after season, year after year, not feeling well.
“Mirrors” is the first song that I wrote for the album. It details how devastating an invisible illness can be. I look at myself in the mirror, and the bizarre thing is that I don’t look like anything is wrong with me at all. On the outside, I even look pretty healthy physically. It’s amazing how appearances can be so deceiving.
RASJ: What else do you want people to know about this CD?
KR: The most interesting part of recording this album is I worked on it with Nate Smith, another person currently going through benzo withdrawal himself, someone I met on a forum. I would send Nate the recording with rhythm guitar, vocals, and sometimes bass, and he would finish the songs by adding drums, vocal harmonies, and other instruments. He made the songs sound really good. I would send him the bare bones stuff thinking ‘these songs aren’t very good,’ and then he would return them to me, transformed. It’s been a cool collaboration.
RASJ: Tell me about the awesome cover art.
KR: A friend of mine from high school designed the cover art which depicts a man standing in front of a mirrored medicine cabinet. The viewer understands that this man is exhausted and his reflection reveals the face of a skeleton. The cabinet is filled with empty bottles, and the man knows that nothing can really save him from the misery. That’s what we were going for. Mundi’s work can be found on Instagram @mundi.art.
You can listen to GET WELL on BANDCAMP, AMAZON, SPOTIFY & YOUTUBE.
And if you search Come Back K! on iTunes, you can buy the entire CD there.
Thank you for letting me share a little of your story here, Kraig. I’m incredibly proud of you for finding a way to transform your horrifying experience into something beautiful and relatable. I hope you find yourself on the other side of this injury very soon. Trust me when I say that healing is possible. It just takes a very long time.
Feel free to contact me if you’d like to share your Benzo Warrior story on my page.