It was 2 a.m., and I awoke in a literal cold sweat. The room was warm, and I was layered in covers, but I felt freezing cold. My body ached as if wracked by the flu. But it wasn’t the flu. It was withdrawals. Not from heroin or some other hard narcotic. It was caffeine withdrawals, and this was the price of my finally kicking a two-decade long addiction. Well, at least part of the price. The next morning would bring a massive headache, which took several days to finally taper off. It wasn’t until day nine that the withdrawal symptoms fully abated and I felt that I was finally free.
My love affair with caffeine began in the Spring of 1983, motivated by my second-semester Organic Chemistry class. (Thank you, Dr. Kelly.) At first, it was tea, but then I tried coffee and realized that I actually liked the flavor, unlike my father who had an innate distaste for the stuff. From there, I drank coffee periodically until the mid-90s when I slipped into a morning routine that featured coffee and cereal. Then came the Starbucks explosion of the late 90s and I was on-board for the ride, my standard choice being raspberry mocha. A few years later, the dirty chai became a favorite as well. Few things brought me more gustatory delight than these drinks.
So why quit? Why subtract from one’s life such a wonderful culinary aesthetic? It certainly wasn’t because I came to any conviction that caffeine consumption is morally wrong. In fact, now that the dust has settled and I know longer “need” my daily caffeine fix, I do drink the occasional Coke or decaf coffee or tea, which contains small amounts of caffeine. The problem was simply the fact that I was addicted, physiologically dependent on a chemical. The Bible says, “a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him” (2 Pet. 2:19). And caffeine had mastered me, as Amy had pointed out to me several times, usually when I suffered from headaches after going to long without my fix. And reading some classic spiritual works from the early church fathers (e.g., Clement of Alexandria, Athanasius, John Cassian) this summer only reinforced the incentive to challenge my physical appetites. I began to fantasize about the idea of being free from the burden of supplying my body with caffeine every day. What would that be like?
So I decided to do it, beginning with a few days of decreasing my caffeine intake and then quitting altogether, which is what brought on the flu-like symptoms. Now that I’ve been addiction-free for over a month, it still feels strangely liberating. I do sometimes miss the morning ritual, which in recent years has featured tea rather than coffee. And I miss the full-bodied flavor of caffeinated coffee when I occasionally drink a decaf alternative. But it’s been worth it.