The essay below was written in April 2013, shortly after I had made a commitment to conquer my addiction to caffeine (and just a few months after I started this blog). I decided to document how caffeine was negatively impacting my life so I would never forget why I decided to break the hold that it had over me. I decided to re-read what I had written today, as I have been backsliding into using caffeine as a prophylactic for my migraine headaches on a regular basis. I wanted to remind myself of why it’s not a good idea for me to bring caffeine back into my life.
Now I know that most of you probably don’t have a problem with caffeine like I did. However, I think you can read what I wrote and see other addictions or compulsions you may have in my words, including shopping. I actually wrote about my compulsive shopping problem toward the end of this essay and share that conquering my caffeine addiction was giving me strength to better face my shopping demons.
I never planned to share this with anyone. I had written it just for me, but I think it may possibly help some of you to read it. Also, if you have a problem in your life that you want to overcome, including overshopping, it can be useful to write about WHY it’s important that you do so. This can be a very helpful practice, both for increasing your motivation to change and for reigniting resolve during times of relapse. As many of you may be contemplating New Year’s resolutions, I thought it might be timely to share my 2013 writing and to encourage you to write something similar about an addiction, compulsion, bad habit, negative relationship, or life challenge that you would like to overcome. I plan to share a similar essay soon about another issue in my life that I would like to face head on in 2016.
About a month ago, I made the commitment to dramatically reduce my caffeine intake. I have made excellent progress in this pursuit and I’m about halfway to my goal of only having coffee in the morning each day. I’ve made this journey before, but I’ve always seemed to backslide into excessive coffee consumption. It’s a slippery slope, but I’m hoping that if I chronicle the negative effects of my caffeine addiction, that might stop me from going down that road again in the future. Before these effects disappear and fade from my memory, I wanted to get them down on paper (or at least on screen).
History of a Caffeine Addict
For my entire adult life, I’ve enjoyed my morning cup of coffee. I’m a “night person” who has difficulty waking up in the morning and the coffee has always helped to give me the jolt I needed to get going each day. I also enjoy the taste and consider my morning coffee an enjoyable ritual and a part of my day to which I look forward.
If I stopped at just morning coffee, it wouldn’t really be a problem. I’m usually home in the morning and even if I’m not, it’s generally easy to get coffee at one’s hotel or nearby when travelling. My morning coffee fix has never really adversely impacted my life. About the only problem I’ve encountered was when I had surgery and was given the “nothing by mouth except water after midnight” edict. When I emerged from anesthesia after my January 2008 foot surgery, my first word was “coffee” and I had the requisite caffeine withdrawal headache that came from postponing my fix.
Caffeine and Migraines
Ah, the headaches. Headaches are the main reason I’ve allowed my caffeine addiction to get so out of control. I’ve suffered from migraine headaches since age eighteen and their frequency and intensity has increased since entering my pre-menopausal years. Caffeine is a double-edged sword when it comes to migraines. In the throes of a headache, a dose of caffeine can cut or eliminate the pain, hence the inclusion of caffeine in Excedrin Migraine and other similar drugs. However, a rebound effect can occur and migraine sufferers have more sensitive brain chemistry than those who don’t get migraines. Increasingly more caffeine is required to keep the headaches at bay.
My fear of the intense pain of a migraine led me to consume increasingly more caffeine, such that I was ingesting the substance four or five times each day, to the tune of a 600-700 milligram daily total. This is around three times the maximum dose recommended by most medical professionals. Not only that, it wreaked havoc on many of my other physical symptoms. The acidity of coffee is horrible for my LPR (laryngopharyngeal reflux or reflux in the throat) and interstitial cystitis, plus the caffeine started to really interfere with my sleep patterns. I’ve been living on less than six hours of sleep for months now, and the sleep I do get is not very restful due to my racing heart and mind.
The Impact on My Freedom
The physical effects of too much caffeine are bad enough, but my coffee habit has also dramatically impacted my freedom in life. It got to the point where I was planning my life around coffee. When I’d make plans with someone, I’d do a quick mental accounting to see if the plans interfered with one of my usual coffee times. If so, my heart would skip a beat or two. My first thought would be, “How am I going to get my coffee?” I took to carrying canned coffee drinks in my purse, along with powdered coffee mixes as a stop-gap measure, just in case I needed more. I’d mentally note the coffee establishments in the area where I’d be to reassure myself that I could get my “fix” at the appropriate time. I’d sometimes refuse or shift plans because I just couldn’t see a way to get my coffee at the necessary intervals.
For a long time, I didn’t see anything wrong with planning my life around coffee. I saw it as a “necessary evil” in my fight against migraines. I’d try to decrease the caffeine, but then a migraine (I get an average of 7-8 per month) would lead me to increase my intake once again. A vicious cycle ensued – one step forward, one step back, always ending up right back where I started or in an even worse place. I was frustrated, but I didn’t fully grasp how much my caffeine addiction was running my life.
The Parallel with Alcoholism
A while back, a friend of mine dated an alcoholic. She didn’t realize he was an alcoholic at first. She just thought he was like her, a person who enjoyed having a glass or two of wine each evening. It wasn’t until they became more serious that she noticed how much his wine habit was running his life. It dictated so much of what they did together as a couple. I remember her telling me that they’d always end up at a wine tasting or a wine bar every time the evening rolled around. He’d turn down plans that didn’t involve drinking and sneak alcohol from her kitchen when he stayed at her house.
Since so many people drink alcohol in our society, it can be difficult to realize someone close to us is an alcoholic. It can even be difficult to see our own alcoholism when everyone around us seems to be drinking as much as we are. The same is true with coffee. After all, isn’t there a Starbucks on pretty much every corner these days? A lot of people drink coffee and I am definitely not alone in my caffeine addiction. But even if I have lots of company in my dependency, it’s not okay.
More on Freedom and Caffeine…
A recent values exercise revealed “freedom” as one of my top four life values. I’ve planned a lot of my life around this value and my need for freedom is a large part of why I haven’t had a “regular job” in a number of years. It’s also a large reason why my husband and I live in a small rental apartment and don’t own expensive cars. We don’t want to be hampered by debt. It’s also part of the reason why I didn’t have children, although that decision was much more complex.
Yet this freedom-loving woman allowed herself to become both physically and psychologically addicted to caffeine. My caffeine addiction limits my freedom as much as any job ever has. I plan my life around coffee as much or more than many people plan their lives around their jobs, and at least the employed typically have weekends off!
The Decision and the Journey
I finally decided to end caffeine’s hold over my life, even if it meant I had to suffer during the withdrawal process. After a month of concerted effort, I’ve reduced my coffee fixes from four to five times per day (even as late as 11 pm sometimes) to just twice per day. I now have a cup of coffee in the early morning and the early afternoon. My goal is to get down to just morning coffee by the end of May. I now feel strongly that I will reach this goal!
I’m gradually regaining my freedom. The hold that caffeine has over me is weakening. I can make plans in the evenings without worry over when and how I’ll get my coffee fix. I look forward to being able to do the same with morning and afternoon plans. I’m somewhat impatient to reach my end goal, but I know I need to reduce slowly in order to avoid intense withdrawal pain. Fortunately, the pain I’ve experienced thus far has been less than I anticipated. While I’ve experienced a few more headaches than usual, the frequency and intensity is far less than I feared. I wish I would have done this long ago, but I’m glad I finally bit the bullet.
The Aftermath… and Facing Other Addictions
I’m proud of myself for reducing my caffeine intake. I’m glad I decided to take the more difficult path instead of continuing on the easy road. In truth, that road wasn’t really easier. I just didn’t realize how much caffeine was hurting my body and my life. As my coffee intake decreased, the fog began to clear and my awareness of its impact increased.
I never want to go back to being a coffee addict again! I’m also facing my shopping addiction and I’m beginning to believe I will slay that dragon as well. My life is getting bigger as I clear the cobwebs that my compulsive behavior had built within my mind and my life. While I miss both coffee and shopping and feel a void in their absence (or at least their minimized presence), I feel the possibility for “more” in my life. I am stronger than I thought I was, and becoming stronger every day. My life is about to become more exciting and my impact on the world is about to become greater. I can feel it, and it feels better than the best coffee or the best shopping binge will ever feel!
While I originally set out to decrease my caffeine intake to only morning coffee, I eventually decided to cut out caffeine altogether. I achieved that goal shortly before my 47th birthday in August 2013. Through reading a book called “Heal Your Headache,” I learned that caffeine is really a bad thing overall for migraine sufferers, even in moderation. Because my migraines had become so bad and I had also developed migraine associated vertigo (MAV), I was desperate for relief.
Sadly, I continue to suffer with migraine headaches (and actually worse than in 2013), but removing caffeine from my diet did help to reduce the vertigo. Coffee is also bad for other health issues with which I suffer, including acid reflux, so it’s just better for me to avoid it. I do enjoy a decaf latte once every week or two, but I mostly avoid coffee these days. Surprisingly, I don’t really miss it anymore. When I had to have an endoscopy and colonoscopy recently, I didn’t freak out about having to avoid my morning coffee, and I didn’t get a migraine that day, either.
I’m getting to the point at which I have almost no vices, but that doesn’t mean I’m perfect by any means! I still have some bad habits that I need to address and I’m still a recovering shopaholic, although I’ve made some good progress there. In addition to continuing to work on my shopping, wardrobe and style in the coming year, I will also be focusing on some life habits during 2016. Stay tuned…
Now it’s time for you to share your thoughts about what I have written or on your own issues and experiences.
- Is there an addiction, compulsion, bad habit, negative relationship, or life challenge that you would like to overcome in the coming year? Why is it important that you do so?
- Have you overcome any such issues in the past? What did you learn about yourself in the process?
- What helped you break the hold that a substance, behavior, person, or habit had over you?
I’d love to learn about your experiences, lessons, and challenges. You never know who you might help with your sharing.
Thank you for reading and have a wonderful weekend. I will be back soon with my style retrospective post, my December “grab bag” of useful links (see previous installments here), and another “story of recovery” from a longtime reader and frequent commenter.