Sunday, April 1, 2012

Coming Clean

Oh caffeine. Light of my life. Source of my strength.

How I despise you.

We are through, you and me. I know, in moments of weakness you will tempt me, taking all sorts of seductive forms. Earl Gray. Dark chocolate. La Columbe. You are omnipresent. In my freezer, in the hand of my dinner companion, on every street corner. I cannot escape you.

I have to change so much inside me me, so much around me, to inhabit this new caffeine free self. I have to recognize the cues, the triggers, resist and avoid. I have to substitute old, faithful and comforting behaviors with new, dissatisfying, untrustworthy ones.

I have to learn how to be without you.

I can. I can. And I will.

I hadn’t even realized I was addicted. I do not use that word lightly. My addiction was a serious thing. But like most addicts, I did not think I had a problem.

It is only clear in retrospect:

When taking a drive with my father, my heart fluttered in my chest. I had to cough to resettle it. And then it happened again. I coughed. And again. Cough.

“Something’s weird with my heart.” I told my dad. He looked alarmed. But I had asked a doctor about it, who said it was palpitations. Completely normal. Nothing to worry about. No link to disease. I assured him of this.

Even though, deep down I felt there was nothing normal about having a butterfly where your heart should be.

I was irritable. Impatient. I snapped at everyone I loved. Misinterpreted too much of what they said. Treated bids for connection as intrusions and demands.

And then there was the erosion of sleep. My bedtime crept back later and later. I would lie in bed, wide awake, feeling panicked for a million no good reasons. Fretting over everything that I had to do the next day. The thought of waking filled me with dread. I could forestall the morning by keeping my eyes open. On some nights, I simply felt as though I had forgotten how to fall asleep.

Maybe I am depressed again, I wondered.

I took medicine to remind my body how to turn off. And the next day, would wake up groggy. Because as far as I could push my bedtime, my wake time was immutable. Held in place by the forces of work and school and an irrepressible four-year-old, who sat in bed with a stack of books waiting for her clock to turn from blue to yellow, the signal that she was finally allowed to wake me and end the interminability of her morning alone.

The dread would hit me full force, a blow to my chest, as soon as I wiped the blear from my eyes. It sucked my breath out of me. How was I going to make it through another day feeling this way, lungs filled with lead.

Coffee was the answer. The aroma alone revived me, gave me as sense of possibility.

How imperceptible the fall had been. It started with one cup. Then a larger mug that I was able to justify as still one cup (two). Then I would refill the larger mug twice. Only two cups (four). Then I started brewing more. I could drink the leftovers iced the next day, I rationalized. But pretty soon there were ten cups in the pot in the morning and none left at night. I drank throughout the morning (six). I needed a cup at lunch to keep me going (eight), one at three to pick me up (ten).

I had a rule never to drink past four, so I never linked my caffeine intake with my inability to sleep.

Then the inevitable happened. My immune system ground to a halt. Went on strike. No sleep, no work. I got sick. Everything was infected--my sinuses, my ears, my eyes. And, as is generally the case when I am sick or pregnant, I suddenly was repulsed by coffee.

I left her that morning. I had no plans to stay away, but something miraculous happened. The sense of dread evaporated. Nothing had changed in my life, but my anxiety, which had felt so paralyzing just days before, had suddenly vanished. The change was dramatic. Remarkable. I felt like the person I wanted to be.

And I started sleeping again.

I must have gone through withdrawal, but I was already so miserable, a crushing headache was just another symptom to endure.

Coincidentally, I was working on a chapter about consciousness at the time and came across some information about the evils of excessive caffeine consumption. It was the nail in my coffee-filled coffin: Physical dependence on caffeine begins with regular use of about 350 mg (about 3.5 cups per day). About 20% of the US adult population are in this club. Withdrawal effects at this level of usage include severe headaches, tiredness and irritably.

But there is addicted and really addicted.

Additional adverse effects of caffeine use can occur when use exceeds 600 mg per day (about 3% of the US adult population). At this point, one may experience chronic sleep problems, enduring anxiety and depression and irregular heart beat.

Oh. That’s was me. I was doing this to myself.

I’ve been 30 days clean. Life with Melissa is a lot less bitter.

1 comment:

Atlanta Green Mom said...

Best of luck with staying clean. I am trying to kick my daily chai tea and chocolate habit...not successful yet but hoping to kick it soon. I have such a love-hate relationship with caffeine.