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February 08, 2007

Getting Back on the Wagon

I have had an on-again-off-again relationship with Java Joe for over ten years now, since my mom gave me my first cup of coffee at the age of fifteen. Since then I have had a periods of heavy caffeine use and total abstention. Bizarrely enough, going to grad school actually got me off of caffeine altogether. This may sound odd as, for most people, grad school involves a lot of late nights and chronic sleep deprivation, and usually requires caffeine as fuel. For me it was the opposite.

Before grad school, I drank coffee at work every day. Not much -- usually just a cup in the morning -- but when I didn't have it I got debilitating headaches. When I started grad school, I had to make my own coffee at home and, since I couldn't really make less than half a pot, I increased my intake to match. But over the course of the next few semesters, I began to need the caffeine less and less. Grad school itself and the attendant anxiety was enough of a stimulant. I woke up at six every morning fearing for my life if I didn't get up and start reading or writing right away, and that feeling took me right through my 12-hour work day. Eventually I switched from coffee to green tea and then to herbal tea. It got to the point where any caffeine at all would send me over the edge, so I didn't even drink decaf coffee.

But then about a year ago I stopped feeling anxious about school. Perhaps it was the knowledge deep in the back of my mind that I was going to leave my Ph.D. program, or perhaps it was the medication I started taking, but I just didn't wake up at six am with my heart pounding eager to get to work any more. So I started drinking black tea. Not because I needed to -- I wasn't taking any classes so I didn't need to get up and start working -- but because I liked it. At first it was a cup in the morning and then it was a pot in the morning, but the rest of the day I limited myself to decaf coffee and herbal tea. And I still wasn't drinking real coffee, so I could continue to pretend that I was still on the water wagon (yes, this term usually refers to abstaining from alcohol, but I'm using it to draw an analogy. See the etymology here).

On Monday, however, I realized that I am, once again, fully addicted to caffeine. I had been drinking a cup of black tea before work and then decaf at work. But when I woke up on Monday morning and heard that the windchill was in the -25 degree range, I knew I would have to leave for work early. A good friend calls me every morning at seven and we usually talk while I walk to work. But on Monday it was too cold to walk and talk, so I had to get to work before she called, which meant no time for tea. I drank my decaf as usual, but by the early afternoon I had that dreaded headache.

For the past two days I have given in to the addiction, mixing my first cup of decaf with some regular coffee, and it has worked to stave off the headaches, but I hate being beholden to a substance like that. So, beginning today, no more real coffee, black tea, or green tea. I'll still drink decaf and white tea, though, as they have minimal amounts of caffeine and I need to drink something hot in my cold office. I should probably also find out where they keep the Advil...

Posted by eklanche at February 8, 2007 07:22 AM

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