Caffeine

By | September 9, 2021


Parenthetically, I’m on a caffeine fast. I started on Sunday and am most of the way through a week and am doing pretty well.

This will be the second time I’ve tried weaning myself completely off caffeine. The last time I tried was a decade or more ago when I tried going cold turkey at the beginning of Lent. I had been drinking in excess of a pot of coffee a day at that point and all sorts of bad things were happening, like my nodding off behind the wheel of a car because my sleep at night had been so poor. I wasn’t able to function at all going cold turkey so I cut back to one cup of coffee a day and then went cold turkey again with two weeks to go in Lent. And I survived. My head felt like it was stuffed full of cotton balls for a while there but I managed to tough it out. I stayed off caffeine entirely for six months to a year before slowly adding back caffeinated sodas and tea, but I never did go back to drinking coffee. I’ve managed to rationalize consuming other caffeinated products by saying “well, at least it’s not coffee.”

But with all that said, I can truthfully say that I’m not (currently) the kind of person who needs a cup of some hot caffeinated beverage just to get going in the morning. Some days I don’t have any at all and some days I have a whole pot of tea. But it’s not a “I have to have it to function” kind of thing.

Now, though, I’m trying now to cut it out entirely. No Excedrin, no caffeinated tea, no caffeinated sodas, much much much less chocolate, and so forth. I’m doing this for two reasons:

  1. Insomnia. I have terrible insomnia. It seems to have no direct, obvious connection to caffeine; I sleep just as badly on days I have little to no caffeine as on days that I have plenty. But with my doctor trying one thing after another and in ever increasing doses with little to no beneficial effect, it’s worth a try to see what happens if I just cut caffeine out entirely.
  2. On the way down to North Carolina for our Outer Banks vacation, Carole and I listened to most of an Audible Original audiobook titled “Caffeine: How Caffeine Created The Modern World” by Michael Pollan. Pollan made a good case that without caffeine, the Industrial Revolution and the era of colonization would never have gotten off the ground. (Ask yourself when London suddenly had coffeehouses on every corner and then ask yourself what else got going around that time.) But he also compared caffeine to other psychoactive drugs and pointed out that many of us will literally never know what the world would be like without the brain-altering effects of caffeine in our system. He talked about his own caffeine fast and what it was like before, during, and after and I found myself going “you know, it’s probably time I tried one of those myself.”

I don’t regard abstinence from caffeine as an especially virtuous thing. It’s just that there’s always been a part of me that resents the idea of being chemically dependent on something. I’ve never smoked, never done narcotics, and while I do drink alcohol on occasion, I remember acutely what an ass I was back in college when I drank a lot and consequently try to avoid repeating that mistake. I don’t think my life will suddenly be transformed into something magical and wonderful with bunnies and rainbows and stuff overnight, but I do hope that getting caffeine out from behind the steering wheel could have some beneficial effects.

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