The first time I gave up caffeine it was by mistake. I’d bought a jar of instant decaf and didn’t realise till weeks later. It’s funny I hadn’t noticed any side effects apart from being slightly slower to get going in the morning. Without the awareness I was actually giving up it was relatively pain free.
That was over ten years ago, and when I suddenly realised I rushed out to the shop to get some proper caffeinated coffee. After drinking some I felt jittery and nervous, and realised that this was what caffeine was doing to me. I was so used to the feeling I had never even noticed till then. Anyway I decided to give up properly considering the placebo effect had worked so well for me and I didn’t like that anxious feeling now I’d become aware of it.
A few years later I moved to Vietnam where I enjoyed lots of real, strong green tea. Pretty soon I was upping my dosage, and getting that nervous, jittery feeling again. When I left Vietnam I decided to give up. I didn’t have any caffeine until I became a new mum and would have tired days, days where my daughter was napping and I’d suddenly have the chance to write but wouldn’t have the energy without caffeine. Or days when I’d go and try a new baby-group and felt like I needed an energy boost to cope with a room full of parents I’d never met before.
Then I started my training to become a Hand in Hand parenting instructor and tried listening partnerships for the first time. I found that they were such a powerful way to restore my energy that I didn’t need caffeine anymore. Since talking about my emotions was a natural boost I also began to wonder if my caffeine addiction was about giving me ‘energy’ or more to do with masking my emotions so I could get through the day. Now I had an outlet I could finally let them go instead of simply managing them.
A year or so later my grandmother died and my caffeine intake rose again. Even with lots of extra listening time, I needed something to keep my emotions under control so that I could cope with looking after my daughter and get through the day. Shortly after that I got a book deal and I became completely focused on meeting my deadline. I tried writing without caffeine, and couldn’t cope with all the anxious feelings about getting it done on time, or if it was any good.
When it was finished the time seemed right to give up caffeine. I was aware that it was much easier for me to be in the moment, to play with my daughter, and do playlistening with her, when I wasn’t all revved up with caffeine. But could I really write without caffeine? The clincher was meeting a friend who told me there was a study that showed that people on caffeine are no more productive than those who are not.
So I gave up just after Christmas. I was lucky that we had a few days extra holiday so we could have a mini ‘staycation’ where I could completely rest, and listen to my body. And though it was hard at first it got easier. And I began to notice all sorts of surprising benefits.
- I had more energy – I could actually jump out of bed in the morning and do some pilates or meditation to give myself a natural energy boost. (I must admit though, after a stressful few weeks this benefit is wearing off!)
- I was much more relaxed – Before giving up I’d had this sense that I just wanted the world to slow down. Then I suddenly realised that I was speeding up my body with caffeine to try and keep pace with the busy world, and that actually the first step to slowing down, was simply to give up. I felt like I could never really deeply rest, until I got rid of this substance in my body that was revving me up.
- I could be in the moment with my daughter – I could play with my daughter much more easily, without dashing around thinking about cooking, tidying or my facebook notifications. I could just chill out, and lose myself in play with her, slowing down to her pace.
- I could think up lots of playlistening games – When my grandmother died I kind of lost touch with my natural instinct to play. I couldn’t think of fun games that made my daughter laugh. Giving up caffeine helped me recover it. Instead of focusing on ‘doing’ I was in a intuitive creative state of ‘being’ instead. Fun and laughter naturally followed.
- I was much happier – When I was addicted to caffeine, I had this sense that life was hard and a struggle and I needed this substance every day just get through. Now I don’t feel that desperation. When I stopped artificially trying to alter my mood I was able to figure out ways to manage the real feelings that I was now feeling. I got listening time. I started swimming a couple times a week which before I didn’t even have the energy for. My natural wellbeing started to shine through.
- And I could write – After the initial detox period it didn’t effect my writing. I had built my confidence by finishing a book and without those anxious fears in the way, I could just get on and do it. I think I’ve been even more productive as I’m sleeping slightly less, and able to write in the evening, when before I was always too tired.
I hesitated to write this post for a long while. I didn’t want to sound puritanical, that caffeine is a bad substance that we should all give up immediately! I actually think that like many of the naturally occurring substances on this earth, it’s here for us to use when we need it, and enjoy guilt-free! Life is too short for either internal or external guilt about for what we put into our bodys. I wonder if the guilt we feel is worse for our health than the substance we are consuming.
The time won’t always be right to give up caffeine and we may not want to. I think our attempts to give up have to come from a place of desire rather than deprivation. If we desire the substance more than we desire giving up, maybe the time just isn’t right? Maybe we need to get our emotional needs met first, so we have the strength and the inclination? Addictions expert Johan Hari, says that ‘the opposite of addiction is connection.’ In our busy stressful lives, we don’t always have our own connection needs met so it’s no wonder that we are trying to mask our feelings with addictive substances.
I may not have completely given up. I will sometimes grab a few squares of dark chocolate if I’m having a hard day, and notice the next day, I’m craving it again. If next month ends up being overwhelming stressful perhaps I will end up being addicted again! Still my intention is to be caffeine free, at least 99% of the time!
However, I did want to share some of the benefits, of giving up caffeine, slowing down, and letting our body naturally rest. We parents are doing one of the most challenging jobs in the world, for no pay, often without the benefits of having sick days or rest. If there’s a chance for you to drop the non-essential items off your to do list, and let your body relax and find it’s natural energy, there are a myriad of benefits.