Caffeine, Part 2 of 3: Life Cold Turkey

Ask yourself what it would be like to get through each day without the need for any mood adjusters. I call that, life cold turkey….

So, to review the main point of the first Caffeine post: lack of sleep promotes caffeine addiction. It’s that old vicious-circle thing. The circle is created and then propelled by the desire to quickly exit an early morning depressed state of mind. The depressed state of mind stems from lack of sleep and caffeine withdrawal. A cup of Joe instantly removes the depression and “wakes” one up. Here in the Northwest, where caffeine is a religious incantation, the alternative to a-cuppa-black (or a foo foo latte-type concoction) is an infinite array of heavily caffeinated pseudo-macho energy drinks each of which, in addition to a massive quantity of caffeine, contains approximately one railroad car of sugar.

Defeat the addiction and get proper sleep every night. Protect sleep. Make sleep priority-one, not just something that happens if there is enough time. Also be careful you don’t see sleep deprivation as some kind of heroic statement. Getting enough shut-eye is mandatory for having a decent life, so if we are to be coining a new religion let’s make sleep itself the new creed.

Some typical sleep-interrupters:

  • Caffeine, of course
  • A sleeping partner’s snoring
  • The dog and/or the cat in the bed. (I don’t get that)
  • The new baby in the bed. (“Leave them Kids Alone.” -Pink Floyd)
  • A bad mattress
  • The damn traffic outside the window
  • Awesome (or horrible) late night rock and roll, at home or next door
  • Toxic thoughts that get inside the head during the day and refuse to leave at night. Some call this “worry.”
  • Late night and/or too much screen-time (TV, computer, iPhone, whatever)
  • Alcohol, nicotine and just about any other drug
  • Sleep apnea
  • Lack of exercise or excessive exercise
  • Lots of sugar late at night

I could list dozens of other sleep interrupters but you get the point and can decipher other examples easily enough.

Recommended ReadingCaffeinated, by Murray Carpenter (no relation). It’s balanced, as it looks at the pluses and the minuses. Carpenter ends with a thank you to the caffeine that allowed him to finish the book itself…

See your caffeine addiction for what it is: an addiction. Reject the feel-good fantasy that suggests morning caffeine is an intriguing delicacy or some kind of cultural rite of passage into the new day.

Never mind those doctors who say drinking one to two cups every day is “beneficial for you.” That’s feel-good opinion (and I am not required to be a doctor to arrive at that conclusion). Someone is always saying something, and for whatever you want to hear, health, politics, relationships, whatever, “a study was done.” Almost never mentioned are the details of “the study,” or how it was conducted. So, ask, who was sampled? (probably college kids). What were the questions asked? (The questions themselves can dramatically channel the results). Was the sample big enough to be statistically significant? (probably not…). Those details are never mentioned. It’s always, “a study shows…” and most of us just accept the stated results as fact. Arrrgggghhh.

The Work the System Method is about YOU making up your own mind about things, with confidence and aplomb. Be judgmental. It’s OK.

In the spirit of beating important points to death, I’ll again mention the key mental posture: See caffeine for what it truly is: an addictive stimulant drug, and not some inviolate holy grail. The key to seeing this is to separate the addiction into the most elemental equation: It’s a drug that makes you feel good right now, but there is a subtle price that must be paid back later.

Here’s what it’s been like for me to go caffeine-free. To be sure, people’s individual reactions vary so I emphasize this is my experience:

  • I sleep longer at night
  • There is an element of calmness and control that follows me around. I’m more patient. (People around me tell me this…).
  • Knife-edge decisions are made correctly a larger part of the time
  • My focus and concentration are more keen and enduring
  • I find myself girding against interruption by taking the time to choose a quiet place to work
  • Sometimes I take an afternoon nap, regaining energy that carries me on into the night. This couldn’t happen with a bellyful of morning coffee. Keep the nap under 30 minutes so nighttime sleep can go deep
  • When I go to bed at night, I sleep DEEP. There simple isn’t anything better than Delta sleep (OK. Maybe there is one thing, but that isn’t the topic of conversation today…)
  • I’m more often a peace-maker and less often an instigator. Anger can’t get a grip
  • I enjoy a relaxed conversation with someone, rather than feel I must interrupt it to rush off to whatever is next
  • Late-afternoon nervousness/anxiety is non-existent
  • Because I’m less jittery, I eat less. That’s always a good thing.
  • I’m better at finishing what I start and then cleaning up after myself
  • More frequently, strokes of intuition and insight erupt out of nowhere
  • On longer-term tasks, I take patient, thoughtful, incremental steps rather than slamming things through
  • There is an on-going feeling of flow. I “ride the day,” actually noticing the energy of the morning and the slower flattening-out of the afternoon. Then, the slight depression of the evening hours followed by the delectable deepness of unadulterated sleep. This grasp of the cycles-of-the-day never occurred when caffeine propelled me
  • Per the above, I spend more time – pardon the cliché – in the moment. Each slice of day-time slides by fully-addressed and I am there and not wrapped up with the past and/or the future which, BTW, simply don’t exist. (If you haven’t already, read the works of Eckhart Tolle to explore this stunningly profound perspective)
  • I negotiate each day “cold-turkey.” As I bail my self out of the inevitable mood downturns without the crutch of a mood-enhancer, I feel more in control of my life. Tony Robbins speaks adamantly about conquering negative emotions without the ingestion of state-changing chemicals
  • Emotional highs are longer and more satisfying, while lows are brief annoyances. (When heavily into caffeine, this effect was reversed)
  • I have a deeper appreciation of the beauty all around
  • I’m just happier

With the above, I risk sounding preachy and oh-so-put together. What I’ve described is the way it is for me most of the time when I’m not under the influence of caffeine. Caffeine or not, my state of mind and demeanor are not always optimal! I’m human.

Once one quits, does the caffeine-craving go away? Does the immediate desire for a pick-me-up completely evaporate in the face of the above advantages? Yes, but it takes months. Caffeine is a powerful drug and so the craving lingersThen, after that, there’s the incessant peer-group pressure. Keep up your defenses….

The downside of quitting caffeine? Only one: In the first stages of quitting, the emotional/physical self will scream in revolt. The mental depression can be epic; the headaches severe. There are BAD DREAMS AND SLEEPLESS NIGHTS…and IRRITABILITY.

How bad can the addiction get? I used to have mornings where I thought, metaphorically speaking, that my only two life-choices were a cup of coffee or a bullet in the head. Not a good way to start the day.

We’ll discuss tactics for dealing with the withdrawal ordeal in Part Three.

One last thing: How much caffeine do I ingest? Probably about 2% of my previous intake, maybe 100 milligrams per week average; too small an amount to invoke addiction. (If you are moderately to heavily addicted you are ingesting 800 or more milligrams per day.) So, yes it’s a drug, but I like it sometimes and, for example, I’m just not going to visit Italy without an early morning espresso. On those long-distance trips I go to 100 to 200 milligrams per day, and this engenders a benign a mini-addiction to knock down upon my return: Maybe a week of withdrawal, the same amount of time to disburse the accompanying jet lag…not a big deal.

Here is Part One: Scratching the Itch
Here is Part Three: You are The Terminator