Norman's been "straight" for about a year. And he's thinking about going back to work soon.
For 10 years, though, he was on just about everything. He recalls the days when he was "an uptight Wall Street stockbroker" and got his first pill. "I think it was a Seconol, but it definitely was some kind of barbiturate."
Whatever it was, he remembers the feeling of "where has this been all my life.
"I loved the feeling . . . I had access to a pharmaceutical house in those days and didn't need a prescription . . . I just tried to get everything . . . I didn't have an alcohol problem, but when I began popping bills I began drinking. It was instant gratification.
"I wasn't looking to get high," says Norman, 38. "I just wanted to feel loved, wanted to feel in place rather than out -of-place . . . It went from bad to worse . . . I lost my family, lost my friends, lost my job . . .
"The pain of living was so great -- I didn't want to kill myself, but there was so much mental anguish, I just wanted out . . .
"I'd down myself out, and then, if I had to seem on the ball, I'd take amphetamines to be up for a lunch date, to see a client. Then I'd have to bring myself down again with barbiturates and alcohol. I'd found a way to cope. I was so strung out I couldn't think . . .
"I should have been dead. I should have died several times."
When Vicki was 24 she started getting "panic attacks," those still little understood episodes, mostly in young women, where the palms sweat, the heart pounds and the victims feel the world is receding, that they are about to pass out, lose their minds, die. Her doctor put her on Valium and the attacks went away.
Now 10 years later -- including the last nine nightmarish months of withdrawal -- she and her husband estimate that she's taken something like 28,000 pills.
Here's what it was like when she started to come off the drug, after a motor convulsion signaled to her for the first time that she was addicted: "I had convulsions. I felt like I was going to die or lose my mind. I couldn't sleep for six nights. You could put your hand on my skull and feel the muscles moving in waves across my head. My body was moving in waves. I had about 12 motor convulsions . . . I hurt.
"The neurologist I was sent to said, 'It's hysteria. Valium withdrawal takes only two weeks. You should see a psychiatrist because it's all in your mind . . .' The psychiatrist wanted me to go back on Valium . . ."
The Kennedy health subcommittee hearings Monday focused on the tranquilizer-muscle relaxant Valium for good reason: It is the most widely prescribed drug in the country. According to estimates from the National Institute on Drug Abuse it is, by its generic name, Diazepam, also the single drug most responsible for hospital emergency room visits, second only to visits caused by a mixture of drugs (often Valium) and alcohol.
In 1978 an estimated 50,000 Valium related problems were brought to hospital emergency rooms out of 286,000 drug related visits.
Valium's manufacturer, Hoffman LaRoche, Inc., and many reputable physicians consider it an important, albeit potent, tool.It is only in recent years that evidence of its darker side is emerging as people unknowingly addicted to it for years are finding, to their anguish, that the happy pill is turning against them.
In a way, says Norman, it's not enough just to talk about Valium alone. "They'll harp on Valium and make it (highly-controlled) ultimately, and forget about all the other goodies around. Roche is under the gun now, but please don't forget Librium, Trauxene, Ativan (more so-called minor tranquilizers of which Valium is the most popular) and it's the same with amphetamines.
"There are so many amphetamine like drugs on the market which do not actually contain amphetamine sulfate that it's a joke because I've used them all myself. If I couldn't get one I'd gladly take the other and that's the way it works. We are a chemically dependent society, be it food, be it alcohol, be it drugs."
Norman is a member of Pills Anonymous, a group patterned after Alcoholics Anonymous, but otherwise totally unrelated. In fact, PA was founded about five years ago by an AA member who was a dual -- or cross -- addict: addicted to both pills and booze. AA helped with the alcohol, but something more was needed for the pills.
Now PA has about 100 members in Manhattan and at least two other branches have been formed; one in Connecticut and one in British Columbia. As with AA, Pills Anonymous is nonprofit and deals only with mutual support for its members from other members and, through Pilanon (as in Alanon), for families of members.
PA members don't look like your everyday sterotype of a junkie. Says Norman, "These are not street people, the people you think of as drug addicts. That's why we call it 'pill-dependent.' Most of the people in PA got into pills through their doctors. If a doctor didn't want to renew a prescription, the immediate reaction was to go to another doctor.
"You don't walk around stoned. Most of us are from middle-class backgrounds, had to be high achievers early in life . . . doctors, judges, models . . . The one thing we have in common is, well, you see people just like yourself walking in through the door."
Vicki, who lives in the Washington area, said she got in touch with PA after she saw an ad, but her problem is principally physiological.
With the solid, even ferocious support of her second husband, she finally found a doctor and a private mental hospital in California where she weathered the worst of her withdrawal.
My husband "slept on the floor in the room with me, in the mental hospital," she says. "I never could have done it if he hadn't been there.
"The trouble is," she says, "there is no place for the pill addict to go. Alcoholics can go to the alcoholic ward. Otherwise you have to go to the psychiatric ward and it's frightening. Even more so with the heightened anxieties the withdrawal can cause. I was scared to death.
"I didn't know that every time I thought I needed a pill I was having a mini-withdrawal."
Says Norman, "What's hard is the psychological withdrawal: Do I reach for something when I get out of bed? Got to a job interview? Do I think I'm going to be under stress or tension?
"Now I'm grateful, living one day at a time . . ."
Pills Anonymous in New York City can be reached by phone: 212-874-0700 or in care of Post Office Box 473, Ansonia Station, New York, 10023.
As Norman says, "Bring your body along and your mind will follow."