How I quit caffeine and sleeping aids in the same week and learned to love it.
I've always loved my Joe, the preferred nickname I have for coffee, because it conjures images of modestly happy people in truck stops and diners served by waitresses who call you "hon" and offer you peach pie. There are so many other reasons why I've loved Joe for so long that eclipse the mind-numbing buzz to which I've become accustomed.
I have savored Joe with swirled foam on a dock in the Cinque Terre town of Vernazza, while watching men hoist twenty liter casks of Chianti from small boats that were completing their journey across the Ligurian sea. I've slurped Joe in Paris with golden, flaky croissants in the Carrousel gardens adjacent to the Louvre awaiting the opening of its impossibly vast galleries of impressionistic gifts. I have even crafted my own blend of coffee with a professional Sommelier in Berkeley; a blend of 70% organic, free trade decaffeinated Central American beans finished with a dark roasted Mocha Java. I loved the sound of that unnecessarily pretentious, yet charming description and mused that I had became a connoisseur of something that's consumed daily by almost everyone.
The allure of drinking coffee has not just been the image of its crafted patina. Nor has it been the comfort of coffee shops that provide useful compensation for the gush of superficial digital friendships that social networks have produced. It's not even the anxious anticipation of witty phrases that emerged from the proper dose of caffeine. Nor is it the heroic confidence of taking on too much work and the biggest presentation decks of them all. I loved the practical, immediate and indelible buzz that certainly pumped my imagination, my intellect and sense of accomplishment. Ultimately, it was the stories from coffee that I had loved and needed to bid farewell.
I was recently diagnosed with a fairly common middle-age-guy malady where your bladder gets leaky. It's cause? Too much acidic food. It's cure? Prescription drugs and a change in diet. So, out go sweet belly button oranges, juicy heirloom tomatoes, all soda pop (who cares?) and the beverage that stories are made of -- coffee.
Right away, I fired the first three culprits but held on to the coffee as a last hurrah treat. Then I found myself on the caffeine-Ambien merry go round. I found myself popping Ambien because I stayed up at night worrying about work, and then pounding coffee during the day to recover from the Ambien, only to need Ambien to fall asleep because of all that coffee.
All of that made me noticeably grumpy. My 12-year old son Jacob thought I was working too hard and not smiling enough. He suggested that I "work easy". I listened. He winked. We laughed.
This confluence of messages led to an epiphany wherein I'd quit both Ambien and caffeine at the same time, extinguishing the candle burning at both ends. People warned me about withdrawal headaches, so I drank tons of water and exercised hard. I started guzzling high-energy smoothies imbued with protein powder and massive B Vitamin doses instead of my coffee fix. At night, a lavender-filled eye pillow darkened my view and lulled me into hypnotic reverie. I practiced Qigong for 20 minutes on the San Francisco Bay Marina pier before arriving at the office to keep the mojo flowing my way. Furthermore, I lived with the reality that I don't always have to be the peppiest and wittiest component of a conversation.
Instead, I have now become the "Zen Professor" -- marshaling my thoughts, offering sage advice in a calm and measured manner, and occasionally wearing sport coats with arm patches. Yes, there have been foggy moments sans exuberant inspiration. Yet, the ideas actually keep flowing in a steady current that now feels more like a peaceful brook than a raging river. I like sitting by the brook; I can hear the birds more clearly and see the leaves flutter. I still can write, but with better dreams and improved feedback on my smile from my son.
I am not on an anti-coffee crusade and still miss the dozens of poignant moments that coffee has helped define in my palette of stories. Fortunately, there is a path to quitting caffeine and the road ahead is a two-lane country road, deftly carved into mountains and alongside sparkling beaches, which certainly trumps the cement superhighway on which I was perpetually racing.
Great stories still flow but now there are smoothies in the picture. The mental movies of mocha java days linger among my new and clearly mellow state of mind. It's all good now ... to the last drop.