The personal blog of Frank Lesko. Award-winning writer. Non-profit entrepreneur. Activist. Religious professional. Foodie. Musician. All around curious soul and Renaissance man.

See also my professional blog: The Traveling Ecumenist.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Life of a Caffeine Addict

I was 18 years old the last time I remember being free from caffeine addiction. I had been addicted before that, but managed to break it for about a year. I started up again in college and that was it. All told, we're looking at 15 years under a caffeine addiction, most of that an unbroken line.

It is more than disturbing to consider that I have been under the influence of a drug almost consistently since that time. Caffeine has been a constant presence in my veins. I have seen life through the lens of a drug for the past 15 years. Those are heavy statements.

It is not a strong drug, they say. But caffeine does have mood altering features. It often brings me a rush of euphoria. It cures depression and makes the world seem right. It makes me jittery. We all know it helps a body wake up and stay up. It does affect your personality, even if you don't realize it. The hook is that I get severe headaches and intense lethargy when I go without it. (Is “intense lethargy” an oxymoron?) While caffeine in the form of coffee and tea does bring healthy antioxidants into your system, they can also bring prostrate problems and other health concerns, especially when consumed in large doses. You know you have an addiction when you are willing to harm your body in order to continue getting that chemical in your bloodstream.

Every few years or so, I have tried to quit. I’ve even made it for a couple of months on a couple of occasions without any caffeine. The problem is that I would get into a serious fog that I just could not shake. I was worried that in my multiple-year dependence on caffeine my body lost the ability to completely function without it. Is there some chemical my body can’t create on its own anymore? I have seriously wondered. Why couldn’t I snap out of this mental haze even though--from a physical standpoint--I should have been clearly weaned off of the drug? Was my body’s response some kind of self-imposed pouting that I need to grab by the reins and bring in line?

Exercise helps. It brings the same rush of endorphins, but in a healthier way. Caffeine probably doesn't bring anything I can't get off a natural high. When I exercise regularly, my desire for caffeine usually goes down naturally. But it is so hard to break that dependence on my morning cup . . . er . . . pot of coffee. Well, it's a mini-pot, let’s be clear. And the booster shot around 10:00. Then another at noon. Then about 4-5:00 is my last. I'd love more, but I can't fall asleep at a reasonable hour if I do.

As you can see by that schedule, I keep a steady stream of caffeine in my body. I schedule my days around coffee breaks. I plan ahead to make sure there will be coffee available around those specified times. I make sure I can get away from work or stock the supplies on hand. Caffeine is considered any time I plan any excursion of any kind. Hypothetically speaking, If I were certain I'd have no access to caffeine on a particular excursion (which is very rare), I simply wouldn't go.

For many years, I didn’t even drink a lot of coffee. It was rather weak and it was only 1-2 cups daily. But the addiction was no less real. Periodically, I have been able to reduce my coffee significantly, but those 1-2 cups have been a bitch to shake. I've been drinking exceptionally strong coffee lately and getting sick of it. It really hasn't been giving me much of an "up" anyway. The effects have clearly diminished, and I drink it mostly for the hopes of a pick-me-up that only partialy comes and just to stave off the withdrawal headaches.

I’d like to quit again. Being addicted to something is not much to be proud of. I do think that any addiction limits the availability of a person to the people around them. Any addiction fills a “gap” in a person’s life which makes them less open in relationships. My belief is that it is probably unlikely to have fulfilling relationships when addicted to a substance. And I know it can’t be doing my spirit any good to have convinced myself that I need a drug for enjoyment . . . to feel complete. I know I can break the physical addiction, headache or not. But the mental addiction is worse.

Due to the recent power outages, I couldn't roll out of bed and immediately make that morning pot. I had to pick it up on the road or else make it at work. I've liked that. Going a few hours in the morning without coffee may be a way to chip away at it. In the past, I have always tried to quit by reducing my evening doses, not daring to tamper with that morning shot until I had reduced my daily intake substantially. Perhaps delaying the morning dose is another way to go.

Mornings without caffeine lately have been nice. Everything seems fuller. Caffeine has a narrowing effect--it makes me more intense, more driven. Without it, I feel like I can breathe more . . . in an existential sort of way. I see more around me and take in more. I am in the present more. I probably do physically breathe better, too.

I had some coffee this morning at home, though. Power's back on, I woke up tired, so coffee was on the agenda. I think I need to remove the coffee fixin's from the house in order to be successful at this.

ADDED LATER: I have experienced a burst of energy this weekend: Creativity, emotions, just enthusiasm. I can't credit caffeine, it was due to my intense physical exercise and exuberant fun chopping wood. So there is hope!

1 comment:

  1. By the way, I just thought I should note here that you were my pusher. I never drank coffee until you kept pushing those cafe mochas on me in college... thanks a lot, buddy. Now I'm a caffeine addict. =)