Why I Quit Coffee (and Then Quit Quitting It)

coffe-mug-tower

Typical Monday afternoon traffic jam.

I’ve recently wrapped up a historic experiment: for two weeks I abstained from caffeine of any kind. No coffee, no tea, no dark chocolate, no energy pills or drinks. No whatever. I put a stop to all of it, cold turkey.

Why on Earth would I attempt such a thing? Did I lose some kind of bet or something?

Well, the truth is: I’m not sure why I did it. My thinking process went a little something like this: News Flash, kid—caffeine is a mood altering drug, and, technically, you—like most coffee drinkers—am never not under the influence of said drug. You’re a freaking druggie!

Generally I drink three cups a day. I’m talking mug-sized cups, not Starbucks skyscraper cups, but still. Three cups is a lot. Even when you carefully space them out throughout the whole day. Three cups of coffee essentially means that at any point during the day I’m either experiencing a caffeine high or a caffeine low.

Caffeine low. Until the past couple of years, I had openly doubted the very existence of the dreaded “caffeine crash.” Thought it was nothing more than a myth. But then I hit the age where either 1) my body simply doesn’t tolerate caffeine the way it used to or 2) I’m no longer completely oblivious to the physiological changes associated with such a crash. Nowadays I’m like a self-diagnosing Asimov-style robot; via a standard class-A diagnosis, I can identify sudden mental or physical anomalies and trace them back to their source. But maybe this whole time I’ve been experiencing the peaks and valleys of caffeine addiction and had simply never put the two pieces together.

Anywho, I’m never quite “regular” de-caffeinated me, except, perhaps, during the five-to-ten minutes in the morning after I get out of bed and before I brew my first cup. But I’m all groggy and tired and irritable then, so that isn’t quite the real me either.

So who is the real me? I guess that’s what my experiment was about. That, and my sneaking suspicion that caffeine addiction—and its many physiological hazards—was somehow dampening my hidden X-man powers, thus depriving the world of my physic gifts.

Time for the results. Besides the dreaded nine-day-long caffeine withdrawal, how did it all turn out? Well, it turns out that the real me is a sorta depressed, non-productive dude who plays antiquated 1996 PC video games when he should probably be writing or at least reading something. Because that’s exactly what happened; I became randomly addicted to “Jedi Knight: Dark Forces 2” and ended up playing through the entire game as if I was 16 years old. It was sweet. But here’s the thing: I never play video games. For me they’re like deadly sexy Sirens trying to lure ancient fiction-writing mariners into the rocks.

I’m pretty much allergic to “fun” in the traditional sense—or at least the regular, caffeinated version of me is. Normally, when I have some time to myself, I spend it on some creative project like a short story or blog post or whatever. It’s usually some form of creative writing. So no, I’m not exactly livin’ la vida loca.

But a few days without caffeine of any kind? My creative drive plummeted. Zeroed out. The idea of sitting down to work on a short story when I didn’t have to? Much more difficult to ponder. Without caffeine, I ended up regarding fiction writing with a similar level of misunderstanding and disdain as the average non-writer human does. I asked myself: Why do you put yourself through that when there’s so much nothing you can be doing? So much breathing on the couch? So many 1996 PC video games to revisit?

And no, I’m not expecting to win a Nobel Prize for my discovery that abstaining from caffeine adversely effects one’s creative drive. I was in no way surprised by this. Still, for those two weeks I found it very interesting to view the world as most normals do. And seriously, what a boring freaking place! I was like, what the hell am I supposed to do right now, watch CNN or something? Call up a friend and “catch up?” Do some gardening? Just sit here on the couch and lick my teeth? Life without creativity is empty. I’m talking Invasion of the Body Snatchers empty. I’m talking post-lobotomy Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest empty. But I’ve always felt this way, so again, nothing earth-shattering here.

The real benefit to quitting caffeine, I found, pertained to my sleep cycle. After quitting, I found it difficult to not have a completely normal, healthy sleeping pattern. My eyelids would start feeling heavy at around 10 o’clock, and I’d be out by 11:30 at the latest. I assure you this is not the case when I’ve been drinking coffee that day. And the sleep itself? Dude, when you’ve got zero caffeine in your brainstream you have much deeper, more refreshing sleep. I’m talking rapid eye movement. The whole nine yards. A benefit to this benefit is that you stick around in your dreams longer. You freaking have adventures in there! There’s a plot and recurring characters and everything. I remember more than once thinking, in dream, “I can’t believe I’m still in here! Am I trapped? Am I in the midst of a schitzoid embolism a la Total Recall?”

And then the next morning you wake up feeling exactly like a fully recharged smartphone. You’re totally energized and refreshed and ready to fire up the apps. And what are you energized and refreshed and ready for? Breathing on the couch and/or playing 1996 Lucasarts video games. Definitely not work. Definitely not writing. Pretty ironic if you think about it. You end up feeling as clearheaded as you’ve felt in years—much less prone to distraction and doubt and anxiety. And what’s the first thing you want to do with this new serenity? Exactly nothing.

Originally I wanted to do the experiment for a full month, but no. I cut it off at exactly two weeks and two days. I saw what I needed to see—life is much simpler, much easier, much more predictable when you eliminate caffeine from the equation. And it sucks.

How bout you, Reader? Ever attempt to “get on the wagon?” Let’s hear it!

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10 Responses to Why I Quit Coffee (and Then Quit Quitting It)

  1. List of X says:

    Interesting. It sounds like when you’re off caffeine, sleep becomes your mind-altering substance…

    • Bill Carson says:

      Crap, you’re right! No matter which way I cut it I’m always under the influence of something. Some guys are beyond help…

      • List of X says:

        What if for your third cup, you’d go decaf, to get the best of both worlds?

      • Bill Carson says:

        well that looks very good on paper, but you’re forgetting one thing. I’d have to drink two cups of coffee in order to even get to the point where i’d have to pick between decaf or regular. And, since I’d already be drunk on caffeine, I’d be bound to make the wrong decision.

  2. I have only recently discovered coffee, so I can’t really say much about being addicted to it but for the first time EVER, I’m consistently ready to do something all day instead of having a serious case of “fuck-it-itis.” Interesting to see how you went back to drinking it, despite the way it changes your sleep patterns. Maybe try drinking a bit less, or a cup of decaf like List of X suggested?

    • Bill Carson says:

      I honestly think I should be fine drinking two cups a day, with an occasional planned “day off” in order to avoid building up a dependance. Another benefit to my quitting for two weeks is that I feel like I sort of rebooted myself, so that if I choose not to drink coffee one day there won’t be any withdrawal symptoms. (I sorta breezed over this in the post, but withdrawal sucked.) Yeah- coffee definitely inspires you to “do something—anything!” Definitely helps fight off the lazy, which is why I ultimately decided to go back to it.

      Thanks for reading!

  3. Doobster418 says:

    I’m a 3-cupper as well. I grind and brew a pot each morning and it gets me through the day. I did try giving up caffeine once. I suffer from tinnitus, and someone told me that caffeine causes tinnitus. So, like you, I stayed off of caffeine of any kind for two full weeks. Results: daily, severe headaches and no change in my tinnitus. Also, unlike you, no perceptible change in my sleep patterns or dreams. I did become irritable, short with others, and just generally cranky. It was my wife who finally encouraged me to go back on caffeine. Caffeine saved my marriage.

    • Bill Carson says:

      hah, sounds like you made the right choice in going back to it. I mean at least we dipped our toes in the water, eh? But yeah, those headaches were bad. I finally got over them at about 7 to 9 days in, but I was still cranky as all hell. Not fun to be around.

  4. ginjuh says:

    I am of the opinion the coffee is a pretty healthy (or at least benign) drug/addiction, as far as addictions go. I typically have 5+ cups a day: two in the morning, one after lunch, and a couple more when I get home from work. I did give it up for two weeks a couple of years ago, I was doing a coffee fast to pray for a friend, and the main thing I remember is that it felt hard to go up the stairs at work. I always take the stairs, never think twice about it, but for those two weeks I it was all I could do to get up those two flights. And I agree with you that I think it enhances creativity.

    • Bill Carson says:

      wow, you must have been having some killer withdrawal going cold turkey off 5+ cups a day! Last summer I was trying to get an unreasonable amount of writing done, and I was doing 8 cups a day. After a few weeks of that, my body got used to it, and if there was a day when I only had 7 cups, I’d get this splitting headache by the end of the day. That was actually the event that led me to implement my speed limit of 3 a day.

      I can totally get how you had trouble with the physical exertion of walking about the stairs, because I totally felt that same physical depression during my 2 weeks off. I’d have to lie down on the floor and take naps throughout the day.

      Thanks for reading! Cheers [coffee mugs clink]!

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