Feeling in an experimental and somewhat jittery mood, I decided to stop drinking coffee for a short spell, to see what would happen.
My coffee-drinking habit was definitely a habit. Turns out that about a decade of drinking at least one double espresso a day, sometimes more, makes you a bit dependent on that velvet-smooth black nectar, and I’d previously worked out by accident that I could go for approximately 36 hours without caffeine before the pounding, crushing headache kicked in.
But I was OK with that; I live in a civilised nation that has coffee more or less on tap. When it wasn’t available from my favoured cafés — for instance, if it was night time, or…some other reason, I don’t know — I had a few stovepots, a few French presses, and a few packets of ground coffee on standby. I even kept a jar of instant around, in case I was snowed in for days.
So an addiction to coffee meant that I just had to keep drinking coffee. I never saw much of a problem in that.
The experiment began last week. I had been drinking less coffee than usual — my daily double had dropped to a daily single after a price rise at my local, and from there I’d been drinking a single cup of cafetière coffee in the morning to try and use up some of the grounds I’d bought to see me through the bleak midwinter. With my tolerances weakened, I inadvertently ended up taking a triple dose one day — I’d been writing a lengthy essay comparing Ang Lee’s Hulk with Leterrier’s more recent The Incredible Hulk and needed to stay in the cafe as it was going well.
That day ended with me having to walk around the streets at about 11pm to try and burn off some of the excess energy, and I was still awake at three in the morning. I didn’t feel much like drinking any more the next day, which led to the thought “I wonder if I can break the habit?”
The short answer is — spoiler alert! — ‘yes’.
The goal: for coffee to be something that I could drink without worrying that if I missed a day I’d end up with a migraine. The means: cold turkey. No coffee, no tea, no green tea, no chocolate. I decided to try a week, to see how it would go.
The triple dose took place on a Saturday, so the headache began on Sunday. On Monday, the headache was at its worst. The weather was grim and cold and I was back in the office and I could feel from every fibre of my being that all I needed was a coffee or a tea. I could smell the coffee other people in the office had, and being the Guardian, every bastard seemed to have their own French press and little pack of Monmouth coffee grounds.
Aside from the headache, I was tired. It felt as if I’d been awake all night long, my bones heavy and sagging. I ended up in bed around half past nine that night, like an elderly.
Tuesday saw the headache fading and I felt better able to cope with reality, though I wasn’t convinced that a decaffeinated reality was a reality worth getting to know. The rest of the week was similar; though the headache passed, I was a lot more tired than usual. My sleeping pattern had changed but not really for the better — I was now falling asleep earlier, but waking earlier as well. Bed around 10, awake at 5. This didn’t seem like an improvement on my previous bed at 12, awake at 7, 7:10, 7:20, 7:30 and finally 8.
The weekend arrived and I fell off the wagon, having a black coffee on Saturday morning. This was a planned lapse, though, to see if I could now have coffee without withdrawal symptoms later. On Sunday, I had a mild headache which was gone by Monday.
This brings us roughly to now. I’m still avoiding caffeine this week, and I think this weekend there will be another controlled lapse to see how I go. I’m expecting to have broken the habit, and will be withdrawal symptom-free the following week. But then what? I don’t actually want to abandon coffee. I like coffee. I would be sad if I couldn’t drink it ever again. Perhaps I’ll end up addicted again.
Perhaps I can live with that.