Hello, my name is Erin, and I'm addicted to caffeine (in particular, coffee).
I started drinking tea when I was 8 — my mom is very Irish, so a cup every day was normal — and by the time I got into middle school, I'd have coffee every morning. I was a little caffeine addict at the tender age of 12.
Since then, I can't remember a day when I've gone without coffee. I only wake up in the morning because there's coffee there, and I let it lull me back to life each afternoon at work when I really need it most. A typical day for me is two to three cups of the stuff, and I would drink more if I could.
But turns out, I can't have coffee, or caffeine. I recently discovered that I have an ulcer, and of all the things I temporarily have to give up (red wine, chocolate, tomatoes), coffee is by far the hardest one for me.
So since I ~had~ to follow the doctors' orders, this is my tale of the horrible, excruciating pain of the first week without coffee.
Day 1: When my caffeine withdrawal shut down my entire body.
I was dreading this day with the kind of anxiety that can only be described as borderline frantic. And to my anxiety's credit, the day started with a headache almost even before I got out of bed. It's like my body already knew there was nothing good left in the world, and so decided to punish me.
To try and ease to transition, I poured myself some herbal tea — which is code for "no caffeine" which is code for "help me, please." Also, anticipating a massive migraine to come, I drank my tea with some Tylenol.
I tried a lot of things to keep my mind off of the impending withdrawal. I went to a workout class before work, which actually helped some. I ate extra snacks. But by 11 a.m. my headache had only intensified.
Things got so bad that I wound up leaving work an hour early. My headache had taken a turn into migraine town, and beelined for nausea-ville real quick. It felt like a tiny person was hammering a nail directly between my eyes. When I got home, I immediately took a nap. Only to wake up to eat some dinner, and have some wine. Wine does not help, FYI! (I knew I wasn't supposed to be having wine either, but I was weak and quitting coffee was enough for one week.)
My head hurt so much that I lay down at 9 p.m., and promptly fell asleep for the rest of the night. My body shut itself down to avoid the withdrawal symptoms. To be honest I think if I didn't go to bed I would've just been foaming at the mouth, so thank you, body!
Day 2: When I learned that decaf tea actually does have caffeine.
After nine hours of sleep, I honestly felt pretty optimistic about my odds of beating caffeine withdrawals. I didn't have a headache, and my energy levels were sky-high. I got that kind of cocky confidence that can only lead to an epic, near-fatal crash.
Death knocked on my skull at approximately 10:45 a.m. in the form of a thumping caffeine withdrawal headache. The exact same headache I'd had the day before, but without the nausea.
On top of all that, I was annoyingly and desperately in need of a coffee. I missed the smell. I missed the taste. I missed holding the warm mug, like a baby, in my hands.
So I decided to head to the store and pick up a bunch of decaf tea...only to discover immediately after that decaf tea actually DOES have small amounts of caffeine in it. So I couldn't even drink it. I just had to stare at the boxes, like a monster. FML.
Day 3: When I became horrified by my dependency on caffeine.
Day 1 and Day 2 were nothing compared to the headache I woke up with on Day 3. Because it wasn't just a headache, it was a full-blown migraine.
A co-worker warned me that day three would be the hardest, so maybe it was self-fulfilling prophecy, or that the third day is legitimately the hardest. Either way, instead of a headache steadily progressing throughout the day, this started out rough and ended exactly the same.
Not only did I have the migraine, but with the clarity of being a little more than 48 hours off caffeine, I realized that the withdrawal was affecting my body in other ways.
For starters, I couldn't focus on anything. I forgot the name of the show my fiancé and I are rewatching (Twin Peaks). I kept meaning to do a task, then promptly forgot. And I found that the day quickly passed me by with little to no work being completed.
I was also totally and regrettably unable to stay awake. At one point during work, I literally held my eyelids open with my fingers so I wouldn't fall asleep at my desk. If you've never tried the ol' can't-keep-my-eyes-open-so-my-fingers-will-do-it-for-me trick, you're missing out!
For the first time, I was completely horrified by how addicted to caffeine I am, and how utterly dependent my body has become on it. What my body is going through makes me think a lot about that fact that I've done this to myself, and I'm pretty angry about that. I mean, how is it actually possible that this is happening?!
Day 4: When I replaced one addiction with another. (Hint: It's food.)
By now, I've accepted the fact that headaches are my new normal. So when I wake up with one, I'm not so much bothered as I am complacent.
And I can't be sure why, but it feels like I'm over the worst of it. It could be accepting the caffeine-withdrawal headaches for what they are instead of being so angry at them. Or it could be the fact that on this day, I found something else to occupy my time: eating all the things.
I ate sooo much on this day. I was hungrier than I'd ever felt, and my stomach was not unlike a crying baby, pleading for something to fill the caffeine void. I had two lunches, and ate my first one by 11 a.m. I snacked all day long and passed the point of being full to being downright uncomfortable. I couldn't help it!
I'd like to say that this tactic worked, and I skipped home from work with the newfound joy that I'd conquered my addiction. But by 5 p.m., I crashed. I crashed hard.
It wasn't nearly as bad as the day before, but a headache popped up, and no amount of snacking could make it go away. So I spent that night in sweatpants, holding my head, and wondering what the hell I'd gotten myself into. On the plus side, though, this headache was much tamer than any of the previous ones. (Hope: It exists!)
Day 5: When I realized it's not the caffeine I missed, just the whole coffee-drinking experience.
Coffee is an experience. It's something you can share with friends, or use as an excuse to leave the office. "Going for coffee" was always part of my daily routine and, perhaps sadly, was something I really looked forward to. Look, we all have our thing, and not having that in my day-to-day life made me feel like I was losing part of my identity.
So I decided to go to a coffee shop. Sure, you shouldn't let kids in a candy store or, in my case, a caffeine addict near the espresso machine, but I figured the true test of caffeine sobriety would be to see how I fared in the presence of caffeine.
And to my surprise... I was OK. I mean, I smelled my fiancé's coffee for a good two minutes, which isn't normal, but overall I survived. I got to keep my coffee excursion, without the coffee, and that made me feel a little better about my overall situation. And while I still had an all-day headache, the pain had definitely improved to a manageable I-can-function-with-this headache.
Day 6: When I realized that people who give up coffee, or ANYTHING they love, are pretty brave souls.
On Day 6, my friend sent a Snapchat of herself looking wide-eyed and drinking a rather large cold-brew coffee. I think she felt really bad about that.
But it also made me realize how incredibly hard it is to give something up — for health reasons or just because you want to do it for yourself. And in the past, when people have told me they quit coffee, I remember rolling my eyes and thinking, What a terribly misguided life choice this person is making.
The truth is, though, that it takes a lot of strength and willpower to make life changes. Like, the week was a truly trying time for me, and whenever someone asked, "Why are you doing this?!" it took everything in me to not respond, "I don't know — you're right! Why am I doing this?!"
And this is just coffee we're talking about! It gave me a newfound respect for people who have the kind of self-control you need to even try giving up anything.
As for how I felt on Day 6, I was definitely optimistic. My headache only came on at 5 p.m., and it was a baby one, if anything.
Day 7: The day I actually realized that I will, in fact, survive without caffeine.
I had heard people talk about the fact that without caffeine, their bodies actually feel better. One friend told me she has more energy without it, and another told me they're sleeping better at night now.
I didn't want to believe these people — how could they say such dastardly things about my BFF, coffee?! — but on Day 7, I drank the Kool-Aid and started believing.
When I woke up, there was no headache, and I felt...awake. When I used to drink coffee, the only time I felt awake was after my first sip. But being off of it for a week gave me some perspective, and it felt nice to not "need" that sip.
I also stayed wide awake and energized throughout the day. I even went to another coffee shop, got myself an herbal tea and, for the first time, didn't feel that familiar urge to order something heavily caffeinated.
I can't even believe I'm saying this, but I do feel oddly better without the caffeine. I feel less tired. The worst is over. I don't think I can give up coffee forever — I mean, I'm only human — but I do think it'll be less of a day-to-day thing, and more of an every-so-often thing. We'll see.
1. OK, for starters, quitting caffeine is serious business and you should be fully prepared for your body to shut down when you do it.
2. Part of coffee's appeal is that it isn't just something you drink, it's a shared experience. But you don't necessarily have to lose that experience, by switching to decaf.
3. Tylenol, in general, is not enough to stop the caffeine-withdrawal headaches. Sorry.
4. When someone you know decides to quit something, just remember how hard it is for anyone to do that. It's hard AF.
5. I don't ever want to get back to a place where my body is physically dependent on caffeine. I mean, when the zombie apocalypse happens I don't want to be that addict going through withdrawal while running from the undead.