Kerri Ough - a work in progress...

I Quit Coffee for a Month

My story of caffeine withdrawal and my denial of said withdrawal and then freedom from my addiction.


Day 1: Tuesday August 1st. 
I boldly walk into my kitchen and breeze past the coffee corner. I don’t boil the kettle. I don’t grind the beans. I do not press the Aeropress. It feels… incomplete but not terrible. I eat my breakfast, sip water then go to work with my hands doing anything and everything I can with the newfound energy I always have on the first day of a new 30-day experiment. I paint the upstairs landing, I paint our patio furniture, I tie-dye tank tops in the basement, I do two loads of laundry, I cook three hot meals. I am productive and it feels wonderful. But I can’t sit still and focus on my work. I can’t concentrate on difficult tasks and I am overwhelmed by my thoughts. Everything feels scary. After dinner, I am exhausted and go to bed at 9pm – before Brian even – and I sleep for 9 straight hours.

Day 2: Wednesday August 2nd.
I am drinking four glasses of water now instead of my usual two first thing in the morning. Experiencing no headache symptoms yet, just general sleepiness and spent a long lazy morning in bed. It’s just 36 hours after my last cup of coffee.  I made coffee for Brian at 5am and I enjoyed going through the ritual of making it. I am slow moving today, and not motivated to work out. It’s hard to concentrate on anything that requires critical thinking. The computer screen is bothering me but reading books isn’t, so I am reading Pema Chodron and staying away from my screens as best I can. I feel weird today. I feel bad. Not physically bad, but mentally in a bad place. I am anxious and feeling sorry for myself. I am in a joyless rut and I’m wallowing in it. I haven’t felt like this in a long time. This must be withdrawal but I can’t be sure. Maybe I’m just sad today.

Day 3: Thursday August 3rd.
I shove my face into the closed bag of Detour coffee beans when I land in the kitchen this morning. I breathe them in so deeply I think I might tear open a nostril-sized hole in the bag with the power of my inhalation. When I bought these beans last weekend I had not committed to a caffeine-free August yet. Now, that beautiful bag of coffee mocks me every morning. Damn they smell good. I’m not craving a cup of coffee despite the massive inhalation of the beans this morning, but I do miss the ritual of it. Eggs and coffee every morning at home made me feel like a grown up. Now I don’t know who I am. Someone suggested I drink tea. I am not interested.

Everything is bothering me today. I feel snappy and upset and irritated by everything. What is happening? I google “caffeine withdrawal symptoms” and come across a funny blog about a stranger’s first week of withdrawal. “By the third day expect that you will hate everything. Lock yourself in a room and stay away from everyone. “ I start laughing. Of course these feelings are a symptom of withdrawal. I am not actually mad that Brian left a single dirty spoon in the sink this morning, I am just an insane person who is suffering from withdrawal. I laugh at my terrible brain, and the horrible thoughts I am thinking.

Still no headaches to speak of but I am experiencing a low level ache in my hips and abdomen. It lasts all night and overnight. Feels like cramps; sort of like the flu. It’s unpleasant and the ache wakes me up and keeps me up from 2am-430am.  I am uncomfortable and forget to take ibuprofen to take the edge off despite having read a few hours earlier that pain meds can help through the early stages of caffeine withdrawal. Today I felt terrible.

Day 4: Friday August 4th
Woke up with the same low level muscle ache from yesterday. I am drinking so much water but I can’t seem to get enough. I notice that my pee is always clear now — something a clever urologist told me years ago when discussing my kidney stones: “Pee clear, and you’ll never have another stone again” said the wise urologist. This feels like a tiny victory to me and it motivates me to get down to business. As luck would have it I have a massage appointment today, that was booked a long while back.  I mention my withdrawal symptoms (the hip/abdomen pain) to my massage therapist. She’s so great and says I am probably detoxing and that having a massage will help with that pain.  After the massage, the pain is low, almost gone. I drink a ton of water and go back to work. I am more calm and focused than the previous three days. The hip pain returns after I do chores in the afternoon. I finally cave and take an Advil. Thirty minutes later, that pain is gone and I feel a huge improvement on my mood. I am happy. I’m curious when my first craving for coffee will kick in.

Day 5: Saturday August 5th.
I am sleeping better than I have since I was a little kid. Without the diuretic of daily caffeine I am not waking up to pee in the night despite the truckloads of water I am drinking. My skin looks great. I am rested and calm. I have no aches and pains. I walk by the coffee maker and bag of Detour beans without noticing either of them. Brian is drinking coffee alone and I am happy with water.

Day 6: Sunday August 6th
I wake up early and bright eyed. I don’t even think about coffee until I watch Brian make one for himself after his run. I sit on the front porch and read for two hours in the sun. I am happy, I am no longer addicted, I am no longer in any pain. I am saving so much money not buying expensive coffee beans. I am drinking so much water. I go to the gym for the first time since I quit coffee. My run is strong, my mind is focused. I have found calm where a few days ago I wallowed in despair. This is wonderful.

Day 7: Monday August 7th.
Brian spends the day relaxing, but I am suddenly fueled by my newfound coffee-free existence and I go crazy getting chores done, going to the gym, checking things off my list. I feel amazing. I feel free.


Week Two
As I’m packing for tour I realize I do not need to pack my coffee maker or coffee beans into my crowded suitcase. This creates so much extra room in my bag and I fill it with books and too many pairs of underwear. Once on tour, a fun discovery is the 10-20 minutes I’ve freed up every morning by not making/finding coffee.  I do not need to source hot water in the hotel, grind my beans by hand, pour the coffee, wait for the coffee to brew, drink the coffee and then repeat for my second coffee. Instead I now have time for a walk to stretch my legs. This is eye-opening. I loved that ritual for years. I never felt bound by it. But now that it is gone from my routine I have space in the morning for something new. I notice in my travels that I am not chasing down coffee like I used to either. On a road trip from Port Hope to London I pass by all the En Route signs for Starbucks and realize that with no pressing addiction I can drive on by. I think about the money I am saving by not stopping for coffee. I feel rich. Buying fancy beans is my remaining expensive vice (I made it expensive because of the level of coffee snobbery I enjoyed) and now I have more time, and more money.

Week Three 
A sincere concern for me starting this experiment was that I would be a dull person without coffee. I’ve already quit drinking this year and hypothesized the decision to quit coffee might be the final nail in my anti-social coffin. I thought without coffee my personality would fall flat and I would be joyless; a real Kerri-Downer to all those near and dear to me. I am happy to report that a caffeine-free me is as entertaining as I ever was, that my singing voice is strong, that my sense of humour is intact, and that I still talk a mile a minute when I am excited.

Week Four
There is an interesting turn of events in the last week of August. I am home from tour and there is a pile of work to do and long days ahead in order to meet four big deadlines at the end of the month. I get to work fast and work tirelessly for days. At the end of each day, I am satisfied with my output and reward myself. On Friday that reward is dark chocolate. First it’s an 85% Lindt chocolate bar, and it feels like no big deal, just a little pat on the back from Kerri to Kerri, “Well done, me.” Saturday and Sunday are beautiful lazy days spent relaxing with Brian. We work out or go for runs, but that’s pretty much the extent of our exertion. I eat a chocolate bar on Saturday and another one on Sunday, this time, Reese’s Peanut Butter Big Cups both days. These are twice as big as normal peanut butter cups. I inhale them. The “peanut butter” is pure refined sugar melting on my tongue. I am out of control. Monday and Tuesday I work 12 hour days and I fight the urge to go buy 10 more Big Cups. It is hard to find a different reward to replace that amaz-disgust-ing chocolate bar. I skip it Monday, I cave Tuesday, I skip it Wednesday, and Thursday once the deadlines are met, exhaustion pours over me, and I eat the better part of an 85% Lindt chocolate bar in the cupboard.

Conclusion and General Findings
I wouldn’t have been able to quit coffee if I didn’t work from home. Or I would have but it would have been hard to be at an office around people while I was going through those first few days. I worried every day for the first week that I was making a big mistake. Once past the haze of withdrawal symptoms though I basked in the freedom of not being addicted to coffee. That lasted for most of the month and I was proud of myself.  I was sleeping so well and not feeling anxious or twitchy. By the end of July I was up to 2-3 cups of coffee a day and feeling frazzled in the brain. It’s what inspired this break from coffee in the first place. I liked the money savings side benefit, I liked how my voice felt and sounded when I sang. I liked not having to travel with my Aeropress kit for the month and I liked replacing coffee breaks with walks around town. I regret the move to chocolate in the last week a little bit, especially since for most of the year I haven’t eaten a lot of sugar. I feel like it was a huge step backwards or at least a trade-off to omit coffee but reintroduce chocolate during a time of peak stress and productivity. I see now, with the wisdom of hindsight, how hardwired some of those “reward” centres are. I am instantly brought back to my university days, writing essays late into the night, studying for hours-days-weeks on end and all the trips to the cafeteria for late night pizza or baggies of M&Ms to feed my hungry and tired brain. I am sure I could do better next time, but overall pleased with the results.

It’s September 1st
I made myself a cup of coffee this morning. I sat down to eat my eggs and took a sip of coffee and it was divine. I started listening to a podcast, finished my breakfast and promptly forgot about my cup of coffee. Seems like a sip was enough for today. I found my mug a few hours later, ice cold, and dumped it down the drain. Who knows if I’ll go back to full time coffee drinking. In the meantime, I am enjoying the freedom from the daily addiction. And I still have that sip from early this morning as a happy reminder of what a great cup of coffee tastes like.

Thanks for reading.









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