Quitting Caffeine - A Firsthand Experience
To be totally honest with you, this is not a story of instant triumph. On two separate occasions I have kicked my caffeine habit to the curb and in each instance, I hopped back on wagon about a month later. I don’t believe that hurts my credibility in this case because I’m only going to discuss what happened when I dropped caffeine and how to get through it.
Because I failed, and tried again, and failed again before beating the caffeine beast, I have almost become an expert on the effects of quitting caffeine. These repeated attempts have only strengthened my understanding of what to expect. It has also given me the authority to say, unequivocally, that quitting caffeine sucks.
Based on my most recent battle, here is an overview of me putting the axe to caffeine addiction, the associated withdrawals, and my eventual triumph.
The majority of my first day problems revolved around getting used to drinking sugarless, tasteless water. For years I had grown accustomed to countering salty and seasoned meals with a sweet swig of soda. The dynamic presented to my mouth is heavenly – it feels as natural as butter on a potato or double stuffing an oreo. Yet, there I sat on my first day, washing down the saltiest and spiciest pepperoni/salami/ham sandwich I could concoct with a mouthful of blah-ter. By the end of it, I felt like Joey Chestnut, mushing up my sub with water just to choke it down.
I went back to the store and bought some of those packets of sugar flavoring you can add to water (but not Kool-Aid because I’m just way too mature for that!) After all, I was giving up caffeine, not sugar, so why not? I poured one packet into my water and took a drink. I didn’t know your body could try to vomit as fast as mine did. Gagging like an overly sensitive person who just witnessed a raccoon turn into roadkill, I gulped down whatever was in my mouth and wiped the tears from my eyes. One packet made the water taste terrible. Or the water made one packet taste terrible. I’m not sure which. Figuring that I just hadn’t hit the right ‘blend’ yet, I poured in every packet so that there was a layer of undissolved sugar lying one inch thick at the bottom of the water bottle. “That ought to do it,” I beamed with pride. Moments later, the whole thing was in the trash.
But that was it for the first day. I went to bed at my normal way-too-late time, I felt the same amount of energy as I had the day before, and I didn’t feel much different at all. The only noticeable difference was the amount of apple cider I had ingested to satisfy my gluttonous sweet tooth.
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The alarm sounded and I awoke, cheerful to begin a new day. I mean, who doesn’t wake up this way on a Tuesday? I got ready for work and spent the first four hours of my day wondering when the ‘withdrawal’ symptoms I had read about would hit. After all, I had drank anywhere from 36 to 56oz of (unnamed soft drink) every day for the better part of a decade. That’s enough caffeine for a sloth to run a marathon. Yet there I sat on day two, smiling and cheerful, as if I had gone to the bathroom and shot up on the stuff before going back to my desk.
Then, something happened at lunch. I wasn’t feeling all that hungry so I went to a local grocery store and bought some bite-size snacks: cashews, a protein bar, etc. Throughout my lunch hour I began to feel a little out of sorts so I chugged down another bottle of water, assuming my body just needed fluids. Wrong guess. My brain, uncertain of how to respond without caffeine began to pout in the only way it knows how to – by making my skull feel like it is about to split into pieces. By the end of my work day, my eyes had so much pressure behind them that I thought for sure on the drive home they would just pop out of my head and dangle to the sides. Gross.
I knew headaches were a symptom of withdrawal and I was prepared for that. I swallowed down a few Advil, drank some extra water, and waited for my hangover-like migraine to subside.
Subside, it did not. My brain continued to throb, stabbing pains rolling over my head whenever I even so much as blinked. After forcing myself to eat something for dinner, even though I was starving, I groggily made my way to the couch where I laid about, helplessly. My kids thought it was hilarious jumping on daddy as he had not the desire nor strength to fight back. After two hours of this, my eyes grew heavy and I felt myself struggling to stay awake. At about nine o’clock, I stumbled to bed and fell asleep - the earliest I had gone to bed in years. I didn’t wake up once, all night, sleeping like a baby.
I awoke with a headache, not as severe as the previous day but still noticeable. Trudging about through life, others had detected a noticeable change in my demeanor and energy . . . that is to say, I never smiled or spoke. One older gentleman who had drank (unnamed soft drink) for the better part of four decades told me that “this is your body’s way of telling you that it needs caffeine.” I agreed that, perhaps, my body thought it needed it. He then said “so drink a pop.” Two things to note:
- Midwesterners call soda “pop.”
- He actually was putting caffeine on par with the following things my body ‘needs’:
- correct air pressure
- closed off wounds
- occasional sleep
I am fairly certain that of everything listed above, caffeine is the only thing I could go a week without. In either case, I took his advice and filed it in the ‘was this an actual suggestion or just a prank’ category. As the day progressed, my headache continued to lessen to the point where I just felt a little funny (that’s a scientific term.) Eventually the only real withdrawal symptom I noticed that evening was that things were still tasting kind of different; a noticeable change that went undetected the previous day because I ate so little. Or maybe my wife just added too much garlic to our dinner. I can’t be all that certain.
By day four, the storm had passed. My body was recovered and no longer trying to exponentially explode as I went without caffeine. A coworker had brought in some chocolates and offered me one. I’m not sure what would have happened if I ate it but I assumed the worst and therefore took the chocolate, smashed it on the ground, and swore if she ever offered me candy again I would light her car on fire. Weeks later we all laughed about the ordeal and chalked it up to ‘caffeine withdrawal.’ Well, we all didn’t laugh.
Kidding aside, I felt great. My energy level increased to where it was before (I was expecting some miracle rebound or a boost of endorphins – anything, really) but I didn’t feel any organic rebirth and revitalization. I was friendly and talkative once more, two characteristics that had vanished for the previous two days. I was able to stay up late, as usual, and had generally convinced myself that I had freed my body of some veiled, toxic evil. The next two days were just as kind to me. Kicking caffeine to the curb was easier than I thought, in hindsight.
Most people might guess those sorts of things would happen; that my first week would be an initial struggle followed by a steady recovery. What they might not guess are the other side effects that come with caffeine cutoff. On day seven, I went head to head with what would be my body’s final violent reaction to not having caffeine.
Constipation, aside from being a funny word that involves all of the subject matter that kids love to joke about, is a real side effect of quitting caffeine. I know this, now. Despite my wife forcing me to eat spinach, peas, green beans, broccoli, and lettuce (because I am a grown man with the taste buds of a six-year-old) I had not had a regular movement in days. At the start of the week, I didn’t notice or care – at that time my brain felt like it was going to burst and pour out of my ears. Using the porcelain throne was the last concern on my list.
But as other symptoms diminished, I began to turn my focus from what was happening towards what was not happening. My lower abdomen felt awful, delivering a grinding, twisting sensation that made me double over at one point. Without getting into intimate details, I went to the restroom at one point and tried for thirty minutes to finish what I had started. It wasn’t working. It was like trying to force a grape through a keyhole. Only, in this case the grape is a marble. I guess you could say it was like trying to force a marble through a keyhole, then.
I still hadn’t gone. I tried and tried but it wasn’t happening. The day before I had swalled a Dolcolax laxative and waited for the affects to take shape. Twenty-four hours later, nothing had happened yet. Phase two of my caffeine removal was going to take the grit and determination of a man possessed.
At approximately three o’clock in the afternoon, I kissed my loved ones and went to the rest room one final time, vowing to not leave until I took care of business. Again, I will spare the specifics. An hour and thirty minutes later, I had finally popped the cork. Broken the dam. Removed the road block. Whatever analogy you prefer, go with it. After the experience, I can all at once proudly and embarrassingly state that I have felt the pains of child birth and can relate to womankind, far and wide. The toilet clogged, of course, and required an additional (I kid you not) hour of plunging, buckets, snaking, and frustration. Fate was on my side that day as the abomination was finally vanquished, once and for all.
From that day, onward, I was back to normal in every regard. My body’s reliance on caffeine was removed; a house of horrors dismantled brick by dreadful brick. The first day, there were no side effects because my caffeine reserves were deeper than Saudi oil. Day two, however, was the pinnacle of discomfort, bringing me to a state of near incapacity (my wife would argue that it was full incapacity.) My head hurt like something awful, my appetite disappeared and I couldn’t force myself to stay awake past nine o’clock. Day three was the start of my recovery and, aside from a lethal hiccup later in the week, I was feeling pretty good.
Quitting caffeine is not as scary as it sounds. Two days of discomfort for personal freedom? Doesn’t sound so bad compared to what William Wallace went through in Braveheart.
In addition to telling you about my nonsensical journey, the following Video details some additional tips to get you through the withdrawals of that no-good caffeine.