Death Grip: A Climber’s Escape from Benzo Madness

His hammer swung wildly at the bolt. It was binding up in the hole, and he demonstrated little patience for the stubborn installation in the hard rock.

I had first met Matt Samet a month earlier while developing a new crag outside Carbondale. His slovenly appearance didn’t seem to match his impressive record as a climber, clad in loose fitting sweatpants, sporting grisly facial hair, and looking a bit soft around the midsection. Nevertheless, as soon as he tied into a rope, he displayed the careful grace of an experienced climber on every route he tried. He didn’t fit the profile of a 5.13 climber, but I also had nary a clue that when I met him he was going through the living hell that is benzodiazapine withdrawal. Later that year, he would try to take his own life, the story of which forms the beginning of his memoir, Death Grip: A Climber’s Escape from Benzo Madness.

Death Grip is a powerful story, shaped by Samet’s engaging narrative of his life. Readers may recognize Samet’s name from his days as editor of Climbing magazine, or as author of The Climbing Dictionary, and he has long been renowned as one of the leading climbing writers of our day, which is certainly apparent throughout the book.

From a climber’s perspective, it was fascinating to read about his climbing exploits and how his ruthless pursuit of success contributed to his underlying issues, as the real meat of the story is Samet’s struggle with anxiety, his increasing dependence on a line of drugs called benzodiazapines, and his long battle to break free of their hold.

I think non-climbers will still enjoy the story because climbing takes more of a backseat to the central issues, and Samet also takes effort to explain climbing lingo and the importance of climbing to his issues. And whether you climb or not, it’d be hard not to find his struggle with anxiety, benzos, and the psychiatric world to be riveting.

If you are in the Carbondale area, and happen to climb Van Loomavision, you’ll notice a couple of studs next to the second bolt. Occasionally, I hear talk about why there is a mess of botched bolts on such a new route. After reading Death Grip, I came to understand the literal mess at that bolt is a tiny representation of the much bigger issues Samet was dealing with when he was taking out his frustrations on a couple pieces of metal that weren’t lining up like they were supposed to.

I thoroughly enjoyed Death Grip and would highly recommend it as a powerful, personal tale. Samet’s writing is vivid and descriptive, and his story is unique, with enough twists and turns to leave you blurry eyed from long nights of turning the pages.

Death Grip retails for $25.99 (Hardcover) and can be purchased at Amazon.

For more info, see Matt’s Facebook page, and be sure to check out a recent interview with Samet on the Enormocast to hear more about his book and the process of bringing this story to the world.

Mike Schneiter is the owner of Glenwood Climbing Guides.

2 Responses to Death Grip: A Climber’s Escape from Benzo Madness

  1. Since reading an old article about his addiction I’ve wanted to know the final story. Can’t wait to read and hopefully the purchase helps him out.

    Chris April 1, 2013 at 6:33 pm
  2. As a follow up, I read the book and loved it!

    Chris June 22, 2013 at 12:16 pm
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