I used to be a caffeine junkie. Any lull in my day called for a cup of coffee (or three). I once felt actual rage at a friend's island house, far from a grocery store or coffee shop, because the only available caffeine was in the form of a full sugar soda, and I couldn't handle the sugar. I was near tears in a restaurant with my children when I realized the only diet soda they served was also caffeine free. And by "near tears," I mean that I wanted to kill someone. It is not an exaggeration to say that caffeine ruled my life, and I needed a break.
My habit started in high school and, during my first pregnancy, heavy caffeine was the hardest thing to quit. (Everyone thinks alcohol is going to be tough, but I found it easily replaced by ice cream. Ben and Jerry should be my children's godparents.) Throughout my pregnancy, I fantasized about coffee, and the occasional Diet Coke. I slept a lot, not only because I was tired, but because I had nothing to keep me awake. As soon as my son was born, I started guzzling coffee. I felt human again.
Years later, I took a break from caffeine, and it opened my eyes. About five years ago, for one entire week I gave up alcohol, caffeine, dairy, gluten, sugar, anything artificial, nightshades and a host of other delicious things. The first day, I thought I would die. I actually threw up (gross, sorry). I cried.
Day Two was worse. I questioned my sanity. I cried and had a headache for the entire day. I questioned my status as "not an alcoholic," because my symptoms were not unlike those of alcohol withdrawal. I eventually dismissed that thought, because I don't drink alcohol every day, and I don't experience those symptoms on the days I don't. That night, I couldn't sleep, because my headache still raged and I was sweating.
On Day Three, I felt scared. I was still sick and weepy. By Day Four, I felt more energetic and found myself falling asleep easily, something that had never been normal for me. And I slept well, enjoying delicious dreams and waking up without cursing the daylight, my alarm or my children. (I still occasionally curse my husband, because he is one of those loud, SUPER HAPPY people in the morning, much like my father. Maybe we do look for partners similar to our parents. Huh.)
My week of eating well was lovely, after the first few rough days. At the end of seven days, I made a date with cheese, wine and bread, embracing them like dear, old friends and appreciating them in a new way. Never again would I take them for granted. Never had they tasted so good. But I left coffee behind, at least the high test stuff. Switching to decaf, with just a little caffeine, nothing too aggressive, I stuck to one or two cups in the morning, rather than an all day drip.
Recently, my husband accidentally put his "real" coffee in my decaf container and I had a few cups by accident. I ended up spending my day nauseated, weepy and feverish, the same way I felt the first time I eliminated caffeine. And I didn't sleep well for a few days. Lesson learned. Large doses of caffeine are not for me!
A lot of mothers up their caffeine intake, while I've lowered mine. Here's why I won't go back:
- I sleep better, and get out of bed in the morning without needing something to get me going. A mug of decaffeinated coffee or cup of tea can be savored, because I don't need to gulp it just to clear the dust from my eyes. By improving the quality of my sleep, nearly eliminating caffeine gave me more energy.
- Coffee tastes better, because it's a beverage now, not a drug.
- My anxiety has lessened, because my heart isn't constantly beating a little harder than it should.
- Caffeine is no longer available as a crutch, so if I'm tired, I have to take better care of myself, rather than delaying the inevitable crash with another cup of something stimulating. And if I'm really tired? Sometimes a nap is in order.
- Exceptions are fun! I have yet to find a cup of decaffeinated coffee in France, and the deliciousness of a steaming cup of French coffee should not be denied. Every now and then I have one, and it feels like an illicit drug, something we parents have usually eliminated from our repertoire. How cool is it that one little cup of coffee can make me feel like a wild and crazy rebel? Who likes to party? This gal right here! Pass me a cup of your finest espresso, just make sure I can walk it off when the cup is empty, and please don't let me have another.
Is caffeine your friend or your captor? Have you ever tried to give it up?
(Image credits: Anne Postic)