Caffeine Dream

I thought it'd be easy. I had no idea what I was facing. Wicked, flu-like symptoms. Achy, weak and lightheaded, I was overcome by a stinking depression. I crawled in to work, but when my boss stud

Jan 23, 2008 at 2:06 pm

I thought it'd be easy. I had no idea what I was facing.

Wicked, flu-like symptoms. Achy, weak and lightheaded, I was overcome by a stinking depression. I crawled in to work, but when my boss studied my face he told me to go home.

Intense drowsiness hit me. Then four days in bed. The only symptom missing: headaches.

Not one headache, but I noticed a strange vacancy, a pressure lurking between my eyes. Hot flashes, no motivation. Pleading, crying to Dad on the phone.

I needed help.

What made me feel this way? Cocaine or nicotine withdrawal? Mental illness? Why did I experience such bodily and mental cravings day and night? Coming off an alcohol binge? Kicking heroin?

Nope, none of these things. Weirdly enough, the withdrawal was all caused by quitting my everyday drug of choice: caffeine.

Let's back up. Until recently, I swallowed caffeine down, making jokes that I'd prefer to have an IV dripping soda jolts into my veins.

In the past, I frequented coffee shops, hit a gazillion pop machines and ate chocolate covered espresso beans until I shook. I've never liked chocolate. A true addict, I liked the shaking, the electric high.

Over the course of 15 years, I drank sodas like they were water. Literally. That's right, I drank no H2O. They say the stuff's important.

In the end, my regimen: Woke up, made eight cups of coffee. Told myself it was only three cups really. Three big cups. Then I started in on soda — one can, one plastic bottle after another. I was caffeinated 24/7.

When Mom lightly questioned me about it, I responded abruptly, "Caffeine doesn't affect me anymore." I thought, Can't I have this vice in peace? I work hard. I've given up a lot.

I didn't realize that I was fiercely buzzing moment to moment. But when I quit, I soon became aware of the missing buzz, insanely craving the liquid fake lightning energy in my system.

God, I missed it. I wanted it. My brain told me that something was terribly wrong. I needed caffeine to survive. I needed to swim in it, bathe in it. I needed my best friend back.

But I stuck it out. Mainly due to sleep issues. My entire life I've had trouble sleeping, but I blamed it on stress, work or illness. I blamed it on the shrieks and the noise coming from the bar across the street from my apartment. I blamed it on the excitement of new love or the loneliness after a breakup.

Two years ago, I was stricken with horrible insomnia. For months. When you don't sleep, there is a hell of a lot of time. Time, time, time. I had no idea what to do with myself.

Too groggy to do anything productive, I spent the nights wandering around, surfing the net, watching TV, trying to read. It was maddening. But I still had to function during the day. I drank more caffeine.

Eventually, the insomnia faded, turning into bouts of sleepwalking when I cooked soap in the microwave and ate strange, complex meals I didn't remember later.

It got scarier. I tried duct taping the door to the kitchen. I tried hanging bells to wake myself before I did any damage. I had to buy two new microwaves. I tried aromatherapy and crystals. It sucked.

Tired all day, I drank more caffeine. Then, for the second time, total insomnia hit. I'd had enough.

A friend suggested I give up caffeine. Her suggestion hit me at the right time. Life is weird that way.

I threw out my regular coffee, my caffeinated soda, the works. Just like quitting alcohol, I had to get rid of everything in the house.

I soon felt depression roll in like a thick, wet carpet, suffocating me. I thought I'd never get better. But day five, I rose in the afternoon, making myself go running with a friend. That night, I slept. All night.

I kept trucking, but what shocked me was the overall lack of support. All around, people said, "Why are you giving that up?" or "Maybe you should get back on it. You´re having a hard time" or "I have to have my coffee."

Yeah, me too. Ten cups would do the trick.

Or my favorite, "Why? Caffeine is nothing."

Nothing, eh? It's been about a month now. As I type, I drink water. And non-caffeinated diet root beer. But I still crave the hyped-up energy that caffeine gave me. I miss the high.

I'll probably never sleep like a baby, but I'm dreaming again. They're happy dreams with yellow caves, horses and glowing faces.

I'll take that wakeup call any day. It beats night tossing. And the sleepwalking? Well, it disappeared.

During the day, I notice a new calmness. My racing thoughts are fading. Still there, but the anxiety's better. A new, slight peace.

Sometimes I know when something's got to go. Just like when I gave up alcohol, I had to hit bottom first.

For me, the universe leads the way, but sometimes I can see things coming. Maybe, contrary to psychiatrists' beliefs, some of us are a l'il bit psychic after all.

I can predict in my heart when it's time to let go. I think I'll have a smoke and think that over.

CONTACT C.A. MACCONNELL: [email protected].