Quitting coffee cold turkey = abject failure

I have a problem.

It’s not something that’s as frowned upon by society as hard drugs or alcohol, but caffeine addiction, as I discovered, isn’t something to laugh at. And the realization that you are in fact “addicted”, I.E. physically dependent on the chemical, is a strange one at that. It’s not the sort of thing that will keep you up at nights… I mean metaphorically speaking, but it will make you consider what would happen if you can’t, for whatever reason, get your fix.

Keep in mind, at this point I can actually still fall asleep after drinking coffee. I can’t stay asleep for very long, but I’ve always chucked that up to insomnia (something I’ve struggled with since the age of 12) and work. These days, It’s pretty normal for me to get around 4-5 hours of sleep every day. And I do mean “day”, not night since my schedule is often reversed. This hasn’t affected my work at all because I won’t let it, but it has affected my life away from it.

I used to drink 9 cups of coffee a day roughly between ages 17 – 27. This, coupled with my crazy schedule, may have contributed to having a heart “episode” a while back at which point, I was forced to severely curtail my intake. It turned out to be not as big a deal at the time, since I could still manage with “a number” of cups far less than 9. For the last few years, I’ve reduced that number to 4 and then 3.

When I say “coffee”, I don’t always mean the black stuff you find at work, but this was a special blend of mine some of the time.

The day schedule

Back when I had the “day” schedule, I would start the morning around 4:30AM with a full two cups of milk (in my favorite Pyrex measuring cup, which broke recently) to which I would add one teaspoon of instant with three sugars. This is the “special blend” after which I have breakfast. Around 5:30AM, I’m on the road and I would have another coffee (that’s the black stuff) as soon as I’m at work before I start at 6:00AM.

At 8:00AM, that would be when the first two doses start to lose effectiveness, it’s time for my third. Then at 11:00AM, I could just squeeze in one more before lunch at 12:00PM. Lunch, of course, means time for another. Around 2:00PM, those will start to fade, and it’s time for one more. At 3:00PM (after that painful meeting) it’s time for yet another.

When I’m finishing up stuff for the afternoon at 4:00PM, it helps to sip a cup with one hand while typing / clicking / writing (and may God help the reader) with the other and I learned to alternate hands because I actually didn’t like putting my cup on my desk. I always used to have a folded paper towel on my desk that kept disappearing (I guess the cleaning people didn’t read “don’t throw this away”) and I didn’t like having a coaster on my desk because it clashed with the way I arranged the Post-It notes and the stapler. Uh, yeah, mild OCD.

5:00PM is time for final Q&A and a cup would be handy about then. Something about having folded arms not good for communication and I appreciate directness when people speak to me. Having something in your hands is good to prevent that from happening even subconsciously, so why not let it be a coffee cup?

Out of work after 6:00PM and on the road again. Around 7:00PM, I’m home and it’s time to have one big measuring cup full of that same “special blend” before dinner.

You may notice I didn’t mention eating much. This was a big problem because, even though I definitely don’t have an eating disorder, I’ve always considered having to eat, drink or go to the bathroom as “getting in the way”. This is not to say I don’t enjoy food and I do eat well when I’m not working, but when I’m not working, I also have more of the “special blend”. It wasn’t unheard of for me to go through a gallon of milk in 3 days or less when I’m at home, just on the “special blend”.

That was before work switched to the night schedule

Mercifully, I’m no longer working at the other place. I don’t always need to go to the city and do sometimes miss the interesting vignettes I come across. That’s not to say that I enjoyed the times I was expected to conform or be treated like rubbish or the times I inadvertently revealed, I’m slightly nuts. I certainly don’t miss the pollution. I can’t even believe most people consider the semi-opaque poison they breath in to be air.

There are more instances that allow me to work from home, which may or may not be a good thing from a health perspective. Working from home also means I don’t have to meet the same standards of appearance (I.E. wearing pants) as long as Skype isn’t involved. TMI?

The times I do have to venture out for work, I find it easier because I do have time to prepare materials and keep offsite backups. But each time I do travel, I switch again to the black stuff and not even my “special blend”. There goes the dosage restriction.

Time to quit bucko!

Uh, yeah. I was getting to that.

Let’s just say that I’m not unaccustomed to headaches. I’ve had to deal with migraines most of my life so a plain ol’ headache is something I’ve managed to give presentations with, go to office parties with and even hide in pleasant conversation. A migraine is a different beast altogether and I have them like clockwork if I don’t have coffee.

Maybe you can imagine the genuine fear I had before setting about at least reducing the caffeine dosage further. That’s not the sort of war wound I was willing to experience, but in the interest of saving what’s left of my health, I decided to do just that. I wasn’t really prepared for the migraine that followed. Then again, you can’t prepare of a migraine. Not really.

For those of you who don’t know what a migraine feels like, go to your kitchen and take the biggest knife available in your hand; hold it there and mull over it a bit. Now imagine that knife is embedded in the middle of your skull. Imagine that knife is being moved back and forth, being twisted and jerked, being generally messed with when you desperately want it to be taken out, but can’t grab a hold of the handle, no matter what, to pull it out.

Imagine someone who loves you dearly comes over and wants to talk to you while the knife is being fiddled with (still in your skull) and offers to make dinner or to take you to the doctor or asks if there’s anything she can do. All the while, the knife is invisible to everyone, except you, but you can’t pull it out, she can’t pull it out, and you can’t find the words to express feeling. In fact, you can’t find the even actions to mime the experience at the time. All you can do is hold your head with both hands and stare ahead with your eyes closed.

Now you kinda-sorta-maybe know what it’s like talking to your mom while having a migraine.

End result : Failure. The above was the exact reaction I had last night after cutting down that 3 cup diet to 1 and possibly zero.

At the time, I thought “right, that’s it, I’m never doing this again”. But I’m not quite sure I want to give up now that the pain is gone and I can see straight.

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10 thoughts on “Quitting coffee cold turkey = abject failure

  1. Yikes.

    This is partially the reason coffee and I keep each other at arms’ length: being a graduate student is a situation that has copious amounts of coffee (and uh, alcohol) dripping from it. I have coffee a couple times a week max to 1) preserve its effectiveness for when I really need a boost, and 2) prevent any sort of dependence situation.

    I get migraines too whenever I don’t take care of myself, be it adequate sleep, the right food, or even a lack of exercise (though it’s usually a result of some terrible combination of all three). I used to get them randomly when I was younger; thank God they’re at least predictable now. But if you really want to kick the coffee addiction…things might have to get worse before they get better :/

    • That’s true. Sometimes a kick in the pants is a good thing.

      I’m going to take it slower next time. Maybe keep it three cups, but reduce the volume for each. Interestingly, due to the volume of milk, I don’t seem to have issues with vitamin D or calcium deficiency.

      • Those are actually very good things, especially for those of us who spend more time basking in the glow of computer screens than under the sun :P

      • Haha! Plus being indoors during the day.

        I think if it weren’t for the milk I would have grown fangs and started hanging upside down from the ceiling.

  2. Egad. This sounds quite challenging. Seriously, SOME coffee is actually good for you, so perhaps a taper down to three cups/day would be about right. Plus all that milk…..I think you can actually have four with no ill effects and some positives. Real coffee maybe? I know, another bunch of work but still. The rewards are great. And migraines- actually have something to do with serotonin levels; this is the first time in my life I haven’t had them one to four times a month. Coffee really didn’t have much impact on them, but the astringent effects of it do make all those other veins in the cranium stand up and screech if withdrawn after generous and lengthy application. So. Easy does it. Brave man, E! It’ll get better. And you can still have coffee, really. It’s like so many other things- less can actually be not just more but quite enough. Having said that, I’d probably DIE without coffee- two large cups of plain black wonderfulness that generally entices me into facing the world.

    • Thank you! :D

      I was told that as well. It’s like driving down the road and suddenly taking the keys out of the car. Yeah, it might stop the car, but you’ll do some damage. The brain is such a weird and wonderful organ, I’d rather not treat it as a catchers mitt for a bit.

      When I’m home, I’ve never had real black of black coffee; it’s always milk + instant, and it’s been that way for quite a while. I guess I can do without the afternoon cup and still manage with 2 for a while. But I do need to cut down on caffeine since that was one of the key suspects in my lack of a proper sleep cycle (well, aside from work).

  3. I just quit coffee cold turkey!! A few days ago I decided to quit due to some health reasons and the fact that I have a young daughter and another baby on the way. I drank as much as 9 cups a day with lots of sugar and milk. Two days ago I just decided not to have coffee that day. the result was that by 11am i had a mild headache. By 2 pm I had a bad headache, so bad that I could not function at work and i had to go home. Just driving home was a horible experience. The next day, when I woke up, my head stilll did not feel right but it was not as bad as the day before. so I went to work prepared with some advil. I also read somewhere that drinking a lot of water would help, so i did that.
    however, I still had a headache. it was bad, but I managed to stay at work the whole day. So today, I have a mild headache and I’m just hoping tomorrow will be even better.

    • Hi Joe, I your feel the pain!

      It should subside, but you shouldn’t go by me because I had a relapse. Not as bad as going back to the previous volume, but I’m working on it. Plus it doesn’t help that everyone around me is sipping away.

      All I can tell you is to bear with it for at least another few days and you won’t need to go back.

      Hang in there, man.

  4. Pingback: Heating the Cabin | This page intentionally left ugly

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