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

The Lent Trap

Quick, how long does Lent last?

If you’re like most people, you’ll say 40 days. It commemorates Jesus’ self-imposed 40-day exile in the desert, when he foresook all food, etc., etc.

Unfortunately, you’d be wrong. Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on the day before Easter, is actually 46 days, if you include both of those days.

From Wikipedia:

Lent is traditionally described as lasting for forty days, in commemoration of the forty days which, according to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus spent fasting in the desert before the beginning of his public ministry, where he endured temptation by the Devil. However, different Christian denominations calculate the forty days of Lent differently. In most Western traditions the Sundays are not counted as part of Lent; thus the period from Ash Wednesday until Easter consists of 40 days when the Sundays are excluded. However in the Roman Catholic Church Lent is now taken to end on Holy Thursday rather than Easter Eve, and hence lasts 38 days excluding Sundays, or 44 days in total.

If that’s not confusing enough, the full Wikipedia entry, which talks about Sundays being in, not of Lent, is here.

Excluding Sundays? C’mon! Did Jesus come back into town and have a meal on Sunday, and then go back out to the desert? I don’t think so.

This is bad news for those of us who stored up 40 days’ worth of willpower. Having just suffered through six days of sacrifice, we find that as of today, we STILL have 40 days to go. It’s like running a marathon, and finding out, five miles into the race, that they’ve lengthened the event to 31 miles, so you still have your 26 to run.

Sigh. I guess it’s just another one of those “mysteries of faith.”

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.