I’ve had a number of requests from people wanting to read “Coffee Detox;” in the interest of ease of access, I’m reposting the story here. It’s a short tale of my experience proving to myself that I’m only psychologically addicted to caffeine, and that my willpower is stronger than this fake addiction. Enjoy!
I like the idea of being dependent on something about as much as I like the idea of acupuncture. So when I realized that drinking my Autumn Roast coffee (specifically: Autumn Roast Coffee in my large, refillable mug from Einstein’s Bagels between 8:45 and 8:47 M-F, depending on how slow the apartment elevator is; I am a creature of habit if nothing else) wasn’t getting me anywhere except to the bathroom to pee, I decided to stand up to psychological addiction.
I was convinced that this was all a mind game. I wasn’t really addicted to coffee, at least not any more than I was addicted to Reese’s peanut butter cups. Though they are delicious and sometimes necessary to maintain my sanity, I could easily live without them. I think.
Thus began, with dramatic fanfare, my Week of Caffeine Detox. This meant no coffee, no soda (not that I drink soda anyway), no 5-Hour Energy, no MEGA-ENERGINATOR-MONSTERDRINK or whatever the scariest shit out there is nowadays.
The following is a chronicling of the highlights and lowlights of my journey toward (briefly) freeing my neurotransmitters from a small but steady overdose of adenosine. Yes, I looked that up. Notably, my Caffeine Detox begins on a Friday morning in lab – yes, that very same lab I have already written extensively (if privately) about…
Friday, October 22
Woke up at my usual 7:30 hour. Went to Einstein’s for my everything bagel and cream cheese, toasted, to go (Rupert knows my order, yes Rupert is his real name, yes Rupert is a 280-lb black man with a lisp). I had to tell the cashier, “Actually, no coffee today,” to which he responded, “well, you’re not going to be very friendly.” Truer words, my friend.
9:00am: I may or may not have mentioned this previously, but my Fridays consist of a largely intolerable two-hour meeting, followed by two hours of supervision (think parent-teacher conferences, but for adults) with the only other Testosterone on the study, a clinical psychologist named, oh, let’s say Steve.
The first meeting consists of going over the material for the coming week. Since a substantial portion of this time is spent arguing over salad dressing, flavored milk, and Go-Gurt, I only need to pay attention to approximately 13.7% of this meeting. I cannot recall the specific details of this meeting, because generally I drink coffee during this time. My body – my brain – expected coffee, and was not receiving it. It was thus extremely pissed off, and expressed its displeasure by making me unable to focus or perform complex tasks like speak, or appear civil. People generally avoided my glare, and I’m pretty sure I melted a plastic spoon with a ray of sheer rage.
11am: Supervision with Steve begins. At this point, it is just him and I as the other members of our group are otherwise indisposed. Which is kind of a good thing, really, because my deprived brain simply could not handle estrogen right then. I was maxed out after 2 hours. Not good, considering my workday is just beginning. I run through my families as fast as I can, then excuse myself to go sit miserably in my office until it is time to go home. (All in all, a relatively tolerable day.)
Saturday, October 23
Wake up at 10am after a night out with friends. Actually, because of the late night/wake-up, this was not so bad. I am not surprised since on weekends my brain does not expect caffeine. Hmm. Maybe this psychological addiction thing isn’t so bad – and it’s DEFINITELY not physiological. No no no. I can totally handle this. Let’s skip to the interesting part, shall we? The work week…
Monday, October 25
Wake up at 7:00. Wait no, scratch that. 7:20. Wait no, scratch that. 7:40. Out the door for my morning run at 8:00. Oh yeah, there’s a good decision. I had this idea that if I ran in the mornings (something that, to my credit, I’ve actually been doing with a fair bit of regularity), the endorphins produced from my run would mitigate the caffeine withdrawal symptoms. We’ll see about that.
I make it exactly .8 miles before my head starts to pound. Mind you, I normally run about 5-6 miles on a good day. But this is not easy. This is like trying to run through a wading pool of molasses while wearing a lead suit. This is totally not for me. The fabled endorphins didn’t show up for work today. Maybe I should follow their lead. So now I’m not only extremely tired, but I’m sluggish and dehydrated. This is a great combination to start the week.
8:57am: I mumble hi to Rupert as he mercifully remembers me today – he sometimes forgets – and begins making my order without any questions. Questions today are like nuclear missiles to my brain. They destroy everything and make it impossible for any life to grow. Once again, I tell the cashier, “no coffee for me.” I try to make it peppy, but I obviously sounded more like someone who just received a sex offense conviction. Downcast is an understatement. He looks at me sympathetically and gives me my bagel for free. A rare bright spot.
9:15am: I attempt to compose my first email of the day. I make seventeen typos before completing a sentence. My head goes down on my desk.
10:24am: The jig is up. Coffee is overdue, and my brain has figured out what is going on and is punishing me with a fierce headache. It is located directly between my eyes, and feels like there is a Brain Gremlin in there with a Very Sharp Knife just poking away at individual neurons. Slowly, I can feel my thoughts dying.
11:09am: In desperation, I look up the mechanism of action for caffeine on Wikipedia. I edit the part of the page that falls under “Tolerance and Withdrawal” and write in, “Caffeine withdrawal, in the words of one chronic user, ‘really fucking sucks.’”
11:10am: My Wikipedia edit is deleted, and I receive a warning popup on my screen alerting me that my “pointless and inflammatory” edits will not be tolerated. Asshole editor.
12:30pm: I am finally waking up! This day is looking up. Time for data entry.
12:31pm: I cannot remember my password. Fuck.
12:33pm: I thought too hard about my password and gave myself a headache. Down goes Friedman. The Brain Gremlin strikes again.
12:49pm: I am resuscitated, in a shock of anxiety, by an unshakeable belief that it is 5:29 on Thursday and I need to see a family. After checking, it is confirmed that this is not the case. I moan and sink back into my chair.
12:50pm: I almost fall over as the office chairs utilized by our lab were created to discourage slouching. When you slouch, they lurch backward and give you the heart-racing impression that you are about to make close friends with the carpet fibers. Sometimes, you actually do.
Let’s skip ahead. Tuesday was actually a fairly easy day. Sorta.
Tuesday, October 26th
The morning passes uneventfully. I am dealing with the usual headache-between-the-eyes, but my office mates have now realized my detox is not sunshine and roses, and are learning to avoid me. People are generally leaving me alone by this point. Until…
3:30pm: The “RRV Call.” The Relative Reinforcing Value of Food Task is part of an assessment package we put all our families through. There has been a long-standing issue in how we are entering this stuff into our data analysis program, the minutiae of which I will not go into here. Mainly because it’s so boring it will literally – literally – cause your brain to melt.
Anyway, I have been dreading this conference call with our sister site in Seattle ever since it was scheduled 2 weeks ago. I was anticipating a lot of “circular discussion” (aka arguments) and bracing myself for a “decisions made” count of approximately 0.
When it came time for the call, I led off. I introduced the subject, summarized the problem, and suggested a possible solution. Then I sat down, as the Brain Gremlin returned with a vengeance. Thankfully, I was the only person in the room. I thought all was going pretty well!
Until Seattle decided, no, my idea sucked. Others on the call disagreed. What ensued was a 27-minute discussion – I counted, and I am not joking – on headers. Let me say that again. We argued about the abbreviation on the top of a piece of paper for TWENTY-SEVEN MINUTES. At minute 24, I put my head down on my desk. I needed coffee. I NEEDED COFFEE, GODDAMNIT!
But I didn’t get coffee. I was googling how many highlighters you’d have to eat to get a toxic dose (and was lining up our supply on the counter), but I didn’t get coffee. Four days sober and counting.
Wednesday, October 26, 2010
3:00pm: The powers that be, decided that we need to have a monthly meeting with the people that control the analysis side of the data (I’m on the entry side, which makes my job way less awesome). With my customary pounding headache – but hey! it’s less painful today! something’s working! – I take my seat.
Things are rolling along swellingly – by which I mean I am sitting quietly, keeping to myself and ignoring all conversation – when one of the data analysis people begins to speak. His name is Chuck, and he.
Every. Word. Is. Enunciated. Quite. Carefully.
Now, Chuck is a very smart guy, and he is making a very valid point – namely, we need to stop changing things 6 months into the study. Probably a good idea. But it’s impossible to pay attention to WHAT he’s saying. Instead, I am hearing this:
Chuck: What… needs… to… happen… is…
<Brain Gremlin: coffee coffee coffee coffee coffee>
Chuck: We… have… to… stop… changing…
<Brain Gremlin: NOW! GET UP AND GO DOWNSTAIRS NOW!>
So yeah. The whole meeting kind of went like that. I was once again looking for sharp objects that I could end my short, coffee-deprived life with. Maybe that would make a statement.
As the week wore on, my symptoms slowly disappeared. I was still tired in the morning, but the Brain Gremlin eventually tired of stabbing me and left.
Let’s skip to Sunday morning – also known as the Day The Drought Ended, because the rest of the week pretty much went like that, and this piece is long enough as it is.
Sunday, October 31, 2010
The morning after a fairly excellent night out, I met my friend Kristen for our tradition – an omelette from the 12th Street Diner, aka The Most Delicious Goddamn Omelette You Will Ever Taste. Along with this omelette came… you guessed it… COFFEE!
As I lovingly added creamer and Splenda, the theme song from “Free Willy” began playing in the soundtrack that is my life – you know, the triumphant part where the key changes constantly and all you can think of is that little kid standing on a rocky pier while an eleven-thousand pound killing machine arcs overhead and you’re not really sure if he’s going to clear the pier, because if he doesn’t, they’re going to be scraping Jesse off of the rocks until Michael Jackson stops inviting five-year-olds to sleep over – and in slow motion (Michael Jackson in the background: “CARRY ME… LIKE THE RIVER JORDAN…”), I lifted the cup. Whatever Kristen was saying faded away – sorry, Kristen – as Man and Coffee were once again united in glorious harmony.
I cannot describe the feeling of joy as the first bitter taste of coffee touched my lips. It was like all of my sports teams winning the championship at the same time, plus skydiving, plus finishing an amazing book, all rolled into one. I could NOT have been happier.
So that was that. Amazingly, I was riding a caffeine buzz for like seven hours. It’s amazing what breaking tolerance will do to you.