Saturday, August 02, 2003

my no-caffeine month begins tuesday. i do this every year, i stop having any caffeine for an entire month. people always ask me why, and i never have a good answer. or maybe i just have too many answers and the truth is a jumble of all of them.

this started some time in the mid-90s. i can't remember what year exactly. i have always been particularly sensitive to caffeine. before i was in high school i noticed a coke at dinner would mean a sleepless night. in law school as starbucks was first spreading across the country and virtually all of my friends turned to the stuff, i resisted. i was determined never to become addicted to anything, and caffeine seemed to be the easiest one for me to fall into.

there was also this childhood memory. one of my father's clients let us borrow his house in park city, utah when i was around 14. we spent a week there skiing. aside from the horrible sun burn i got (i was treated in the hospital for 2nd degree burns), what i most remember from that trip was my parents waking up the first morning and realizing there was no coffee in the place (my father's client was a mormon). my parents flipped out. i'll spare you the details, but they eventually found some instant at a local convenience store and they calmed down after a quick dose. the whole time, i was thinking that i would not ever allow myself to be addicted to anything

that all changed after i moved to chicago in 1995. i would walk 4 blocks from my bus to my office, passing numerous coffee places along even that short way, three were starbucks. in the winter, i would walk past these places in sub-zero temperatures and watch steam curl up from the lids of the cups in the hands of exiting customers. by the time i arrived at the office, the first thing that greeted me as i walked in the door was the smell of coffee wafting over from the kitchen. eventually, the smell was associated with the warmth that hit me as i entered into the office. coffee=warm. although i am love sub-zero temperatures, this still appealed to me. it wasn't long before i would drink a cup, justifying it as something to help me adjust to the temperature inside. it was free, after all. the coffee maker was open to everyone in the office.

by the time the thaw came, i still had my morning cup. by then it had been incorporated into my morning ritual. i liked the stimulant in the morning. plus i had acquired the taste, even to the extent of noticing that the coffee at work wasn't that good.

so at some time around 1997, i decided to stop caffeine cold turkey. i would stop not only coffee, but tea, cola, chocolate, etc. i was going to be absolute about it. the idea was to prove that i wasn't addicted, but it really proved just the opposite. i had a day or two of pounding headaches and sluggishness, but then it passed. for the next month i felt absolutely great. i briefly considered making it permanent, but the no chocolate rule was impossible to sustain. when exactly a month passed, i decided to call it off. my first cup of coffee afterwards hit me really hard. i was buzzing all day. still, i was proud of the fact that i went an entire month with absolutely no caffeine. i'm not sure why this appealed to me, but it did. i guess its just a way to prove i can be disciplined when i want. knowing that, i can feel free to sluff off the rest of the year.

i think in 1999 was when i decided to tie the no-caffeine month to my travels. i went to vietnam that year--a 12 hour time difference when you figure in their lack of daylights saving time--and i realized if i arrived with no caffeine tolerance, i could use caffeine to help me adjust to the local time. it also helps to get me excited about my travels. as i count down to my next cup of coffee or piece of chocolate, i am simultaneously counting down to the day i leave. the hardship of a month without caffeine is made easier knowing i get to go somewhere exotic at the other end.

so every year, i leave the country. and every year, one month before, i am irritable. it has become something that i just do. it's a part of my personality now. i do it in two phases. first one week before the month starts, i switch my morning coffee from regular to decaf. after a week of that i go cold-turkey with everything (i won't even have decaf. because it has some caffeine in it). i'm in the transition week now, but it ends tuesday. i've noticed getting off caffeine has been getting easier in the past few years. i never have major headaches anymore. hopefully, this tuesday won't suck too badly.