In December 2012 I abruptly stopped consuming caffeine. I used to drink more caffeine than any of you, almost certainly, so going cold turkey and remaining decaffeinated was a major step. (Why did I do this? You can find the story in two blog posts (part 1, part 2)).
So what’s it like to go without caffeine for two years? Let me follow up on this odd health story.
Nowadays I wake up very differently. Mornings used to be dramatic moments, starting off with nightmarish, cloudy fatigue, followed by triumphant redemption by coffee cup. Making and drinking coffee was the ritual for starting a day. No matter where I was, the morning coffee had to occur. The quaffed cup opened the day for business.
Now I wake much more easily. Not having caffeine in my system at night improves my sleep, as does the reduced stomach acid problem. I don’t have to struggle up through clotted confusion. Instead I rise pretty well, with a clear head. Immediately I can do household tasks, my first internet routine of the day, and take care of the animals. It can take me a few minutes to be ready to talk cogently to people other than my wife and children, but after a little while I’m good.
There is still a morning ritual. I make coffee… for my wife. It’s actually more elaborate, since her needs are more complicated (a certain cream, the precise amount of sugar, a cooling delay) than mine were (black and go). I enjoy bringing her that first cup. And the second. For the first month after going cold turkey the smells of ground beans and steamy coffee confused my brain, but that’s dropped away. I don’t feel the desire.
That lack of desire is something which surprised me. I expected to have to shun coffee shops and Mountain Dew displays lest I be tempted to recaffeinate. It turns out they just don’t matter to me. My body associates caffeine with gut-churning pain and proto-cancer, so it doesn’t express any temptation to partake. Walking down a grocery store’s coffee aisle doesn’t make me twitch with reflex hunger, nor cringe in remembered pain. It’s just one more set of grocery items that I don’t need to look into, like bland white bread.
I do miss dark chocolate, which has a bit of caffeine in it. White chocolate makes up for this, to a degree.
What I drink these days is… water, pretty much. Hot water is pleasant, perhaps because it reminds me of part of the coffee experience. I also live in a cold climate, where hot food and drink offers obvious comforts. Otherwise, I drink cold water. Because of my stomach problems, I can’t drink acidic juices or alcohol. I avoid soft drinks for other (dental) reasons. So it’s mostly water. A very limited drinking menu, but one that satisfies.
I don’t feel an evangelical desire to tell people about the glories of decaffeination. This is probably due to the sheer massive excesses of my old habit, which I still cherish retrospectively. I don’t see other people at that level of madness, and so don’t feel the need to lecture them. Or perhaps I’m just being polite, for once.
I don’t wake up full of manic energy for the day. I’m just calm. So I learned one trick for boosting my desire to do stuff in the morning: a little exercise. A quick round of sit-ups, push-ups, pull-ups, or hurling my kettlebell for one minute gets my blood pumping and my mind full alert.
I still get the mid-afternoon sleepies. They used to be far worse during my caffeine years, a full-blown crash that could only be partially mitigated with massive infusions of Mountain Dew. Now around 3-4 pm I just get tired. That’s mostly due to me not getting enough sleep, which isn’t a caffeine thing, but a lots-of-work-to-do thing. So I do a little physical exercise then power through.
I think I’m as productive as I was at my caffeinated peak. I run a business, write, speak, etc., all at what feels like the peak of my efforts. I don’t lose time to crashes.
At this point, caffeine isn’t really something I think about. Preparing coffee for my wife is about my wife, not coffee. Friends and associates’ caffeine habits just don’t connect with me, much like their other disconnected interests (sports, for example). It’s strange to have this separation from what used to be an important bit of my life.
The closest metaphor I can think of is moving. Caffeine is a town where I used to live. I can see the streets and houses in my mind’s eye. I can recall the scents and schedules, the habits and inhabitants. I know where the town is. I just don’t live there any more.