Back From The Decaf World

Well, I made it. 46 days of Lent, without caffeine, and I survived.

I woke up early this morning and brewed a pot of coffee—REAL coffee, not the “decaf” stuff I’ve been drinking for the last six and a half weeks—and set about to enjoy my day.

And it’s a beautiful day. Life with caffeine seems so much more colorful than the decaf world.

And now, having completed the Lenten sacrifice—which was really more in the spirit of scientific experimentation than religious self-denial anyway—I think I’ll return to the world of “regular’ coffee, real tea, and an occasional caffeinated soda.

I won’t return to the same caffeine levels I was consuming before, though. By late last year, I was drinking a couple of cups of coffee at home before going to work, a few more during the morning hours, and then, after lunch, a Monster energy drink to get me through the afternoon. I may just say goodbye the Monsters forever now, and cut way back on those morning coffees.

Because, honestly, I found that I could get myself going just about as well without the caffeine as with it. I’m pretty much a morning person—a “lark,” rather than an “owl,” if you will—so getting out of bed is never a problem, whether or not there’s a pot of coffee in my immediate future. And to be honest, I think I was just as productive, if not more so, without caffeine than with it. Over these last six and a half weeks, I’ve:

  • Worked through six deadline Thursdays, including two oversized “special issues,” one of which kept me at work for 18 hours;
  • attended and covered a huge three-day industry conference in Louisville—and drove there and back;
  • conceived and developed a new writing project that’s going to keep me busy this summer;
  • had my best month of running since last July;
  • gave a speech at a Rotary Club; and
  • participated in a larger-than-usual number of meetings and other events, among other things. It was a very busy Lent for me.

…all without a drop of caffeine. There were a few cups of hot chocolate in there, which arguably might have a wee bit of caffeine, but I never really felt it.

And I managed to stay away from the “Starbucks decaf” option—on Ash Wednesday, a friend told me that SBUX’s decaf is less “de” and more “caf” than other brands of decaf; I kept that knowledge in my back pocket, knowing that if I ever got desperate, I could go to Starbucks and get myself a decaf latte and enjoy the benefits of that minimal caffeine and still claim that I was living up to the Lenten bargain because, after all, I’d ordered decaf. Fortunately, I never got that desperate.

What surprised me the most, though, was that the hardest part of it was the last couple of weeks. I had thought it would get steadily easier as Lent progressed, and in fact, I was pretty euphoric a couple of weeks in when I realized how well I was doing. For a while there, I was thinking I’d never go back to caffeine. But the last couple of weeks, I was really dragging, and looking forward more and more to this morning’s cup. Maybe it’s not a coincidence that that was the time after that awful 18-hour Thursday, which pretty much wore me out.

During that six and a half weeks, I drank an awful lot of herbal tea, probably five or six cups a day. That’s fine; it’s always nice to have a hot beverage nearby. But I began to feel like life without caffeine just doesn’t have the color, the vibrancy, the excitement of life after that first cup of black coffee.

IMG_1715As anticipated, this morning’s brew was a big ol’ cup of fun. Within a very few minutes, I was suddenly more alive than I’d felt since Mardi Gras. The second cup intensified that feeling. But after two cups, however, I was starting to experience the caffeine jitters; I was feeling like my body wanted to turn itself inside out. I stopped at that point, and enjoyed the rest of my day, with just one more cup of coffee with brunch. Sure, there was a bit of a comedown in the afternoon, but that’s all part of the fun. Nobody would ride a flat rollercoaster.

It’s good to be back.

Previous posts on this topic:

So Long, Caffeine

Day 3

The Lent Trap

Inspired By Mitt


Video credit: Michael Podrucki on Vimeo.

Inspired By Mitt

Sure, there are other reasons I wanted to try life without caffeine for a while. Lent was one, sleep issues another. But there was also something about watching this guy perform in the presidential derby last year that was pretty inspirational. He went toe-to-toe with the president of the United States and, in this first debate, scored a clear knockdown. And even though he has multiple hundreds of millions of dollars stashed away, he was able to convince other people to give him multiple hundreds of millions more so he could run for president.

And he never touches caffeine of any kind.

Now, I’m not going to vouch for the veracity of anything he said. Just between you and me, I didn’t even vote for the guy. But there’s no denying that he’s accomplished a lot, and all of it with a kind of energy that I never knew could come from anything but a few pots of coffee.

So, by ditching the java myself, I hope to find, within myself, a bit of whatever Mitt’s having.


Related posts on Shoulblog:

So Long, Caffeine

Day 3

The Lent Trap

Day 3

There's just not a lot of life in life without caffeine.
There’s just not a lot of life in life without caffeine.

I’ve pretty much made it through Day 3 without caffeine, and I feel like I may have turned a corner.

Day 1 was just as bad as I expected: listlessness, inability to concentrate, and a gnawing headache that persisted all day. I was actually planning to post an update here, but I just didn’t have the energy or motivation. The only thing that got me through Wednesday was knowing that Thursday would almost certainly be better.

But it wasn’t. Day 2 brought hardier headaches, which failed to recede in the face of an onslaught of ibuprofen and naproxen.

Today, though, the headache was almost all gone. I was still tired, but it seemed a little more manageable; focus was difficult, but I have found that if I really work hard at concentrating, I can make myself stay on task. But it’s hard and it requires a lot of concentration, which makes me tired—which I could take care of by drinking a cup of…oh, wait…

As for sleeping, I guess I would say I did sleep better the last two nights. I still woke up several times during each night—last night, we could probably blame the chocolate-dipped strawberries consumed not long before bedtime—but at least I was better able to get back to sleep than I was a week ago. So that’s potentially one chalk mark on the plus side.

But on the minus side, I have to say that being caffeine-free is challenging … and it’s just not very much fun. I’m feeling wiped out all the time, and life seems to be more of a chore. I used to love drinking my one energy drink per day, right after lunch, because I always knew it would elevate my mood. I miss that feeling of joy, even knowing it was chemically induced.

I think right now, just one sip of coffee would have the same effect.

I know this is the Day Three Me talking, so my feelings will probably evolve as I get further into this. Today was definitely a better day than yesterday. Perhaps I’ll find the need for caffeine  to recede just as my need for pain relievers did today.

Ultimately, though, I think I can predict the results of this experiment. I suspect I’ll go back to being a regular coffee drinker, although maybe I’ll moderate my consumption. I’m just not seeing a whole lot of upside to the no-caffeine life, and I’m seeing lots of downsides. Maybe that will change as I get further into it, and for that reason I’ll carry on.

So Long, Caffeine

IMG_0887As someone who has never been particularly religious (in the traditional sense of the word), nor Catholic (in any sense), I’ve never felt the obligation to “give something up for Lent.”

Well, I’ve decided that this Lent, I’m going to attempt that sacrifice. Not really for religious reasons, but for personal reasons … which I guess, if we’re discussing senses of words, could be the same thing.

I’ve had a love affair with caffeine for almost four decades now. Mostly, it’s been fueled by the need to do something — I need to stay awake to study for an exam, I need to wake up so I can get to work, I need some fuel to write something, etc. And it’s become close to an addiction, because, as we all know, a caffeinated morning is so much happier than a non-caffeinated morning.

But over the years, I’ve also seen that caffeine can have a dark side. increasingly, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to suspect that caffeine, even confined to early in the day, can have effects that last much longer than I’d always assumed. And yes, the notion of “addiction” has always been a troubling one. I know it’s no heroin; and yet, on days when I’ve tried going just a few hours without a cup of coffee, I’ve felt the inevitable headache coming along—a sure symptom of withdrawal—accompanied by the usual uncaffeinated irritability and grogginess … all of which can be quickly cured by a shot of coffee.

So this year, spurred by too many nights of interrupted sleep (It’s now 2:15 a.m. as I write the first draft of this post, for example), I’m going to try ditching the caffeine. It’s more of an experiment than anything else, but it also coincides nicely with the beginning of Lent and the traditional notion of spiritual sacrifice.

I’m not promising anything to myself  or anybody. I may not even make it through one day. There are some significant challenges ahead: an important interview this afternoon at 1 p.m. (WORST possible time!); a deadline Thursday tomorrow; a huge special issue looming next week. But I’m going to give it a shot.

I’m arming myself with herbal teas and ibuprofen. I expect I’ll be drinking a lot of water, and eating a lot of fresh fruit. I will allow myself to drink decaffeinated coffee, even though I know that it often still has traces of caffeine in it. Ditto for hot chocolate. But to regular, strong, black coffee, I’m saying so long.

It’s probably not forever. Maybe when they roll that rock back on Easter weekend I’ll become a coffee drinker again, if I haven’t succumbed to my addiction before then. Or maybe I’ll decide I like the no-caffeine life, and never touch the stuff again. Possibly I’ll decide on some moderate compromise, like a limit of one cup a day.

But the goal now is to make it through today, and then through this week, and then through the month, and then through Lent (fun fact: I had always assumed—without ever bothering to count for myself—that Lent was 40 days, to coincide with Jesus’ 40 days in the dessert. I was wrong; do the math yourself). Whether I’ll learn anything, or whether this sacrifice will make me a better person, I can’t say now. But I ask for your understanding, your sympathy, your prayers (if you got ’em), if I seem a little slow and cranky for the next few weeks. I’m workin’ on it, Lord.

Early Bird: I’ll Gladly Give Up The Worm If You’ll Just Let Me Sleep

IMG_0667My alarm clock hasn’t gone off all year.

It’s usually set for something like 5 a.m., but of late I’ve been finding myself awake—wide awake, unrecoverably awake, electrically awake—at about 3:30 every morning. I reach over, turn the alarm off so it doesn’t wake up my wife 90 minutes hence, and get up to start my day.

I would love to be able to go back to sleep, and sometimes I try, but it’s a wasted effort. I lie in bed and think about the things I could be doing if I got up, and I’m never able to drift back down into my dreams.

Waking up early does have its advantages. It gives me plenty of time for running (though, to be honest, there have been days when I’ve had too much time … days when I was able to talk myself out of going running;  some days it’s just best to get up and out the door before you’re awake enough to think about it). Ideally, it would be a perfect time for writing, but lately, at least, I haven’t really taken advantage of that opportunity. And sometimes, if it’s a deadline day, I’ll do some work, although I’m really trying to get out of the habit of doing work at home.

Sometimes I’ll check Facebook when I get up. But there’s never anything going on. Maybe I need to get some FB friends in Europe or Africa.

I’ve been most successful at reading. Which is good, because my usual reading time is before going to bed, and with my days starting so early, when I try to read at night, I’m so tired that I just get through a page or so before everything gets scrambled with onrushing dreams. Oh, to be able to maintain that tiredness throughout a whole night!

I suppose caffeine is one villain here. I do drink a lot of coffee during the day, although I really try to avoid it as much as possible after lunch. And for a while there I was drinking an energy drink most days at work. I’ve done it enough to believe there’s some real causation there — the worst nights of sleep are when I’ve had a lot of caffeine the day before. It sounds strange to blame caffeine: I fall asleep just fine, and it’s not until the middle of the night—at least 12 hours after I’ve had coffee or a Monster or whatever—that I find myself buzzing with electricity. I’m guessing that the caffeine has some kind of cumulative, delayed effect.

Someday, I’m going to do an experiment and try to do away with caffeine all together. If I survive even the first day, perhaps it will have a positive effect on my sleeping, and I’ll be able to stay in bed all the way until, say, 5 a.m. Stay tuned…