#7. Decaffeinating

022006 Coffee, CNN Turk

When I started this journey, I understood, at least on some level, that perhaps not all the changes I made would be monumental. I knew that not all attempts at change would make for riveting reading (or writing, for that matter). I suppose I even knew that the day would come when I would, in essence, fail completely at the challenge I chose for myself.

I’m just not sure I expected that day to come so soon. But, ladies and gentlemen, here we are.

In retrospect – and in my defense, weak as it may be – I would like to say that I’m not entirely sure why I thought giving up caffeine for a week was a good idea in the first place. I don’t mean why I thought it would make for thoughtful and titillating blog-fodder. I mean I don’t know why I thought it would be a change for the better.

Remember last week when I was feeling all lofty and philosophical and blathering something about how it’s like the universe prods me, tells me which change is next? Well, I blame that sort of ridiculous thinking for landing me here in the first place.

Last week, I had less than 24 hours at home between a trip to Iowa for a big family event and a business trip to Vegas. On the flight back to Detroit from Iowa, I felt very stressed and jittery. Much more so than usual. My intermittent fear-o-flying seemed to have returned with a vengeance. I was anxious and uncomfortable in my own skin.

By the time we took off for Vegas the next day, I was feeling loony and shaky and increasingly certain that something needed to change. I closed my eyes and might have been doing some combination of the praying/meditating I’ve written about recently when it hit me like a bullet: caffeine. I needed to give up caffeine.

It seemed to make so much sense at the time. I consume a fair amount of caffeine, although far less than CERTAIN PEOPLE in my household who can drink a pot of coffee at 9 pm and still fall asleep halfway through an episode of Bones. Me? The older I get, the more sensitive I seem to be to caffeine’s effects. More than a cup or so of Joe in the morning sends has me shaking like the DTs. (To be fair, that’s a cup of my husband’s coffee, which may actually be equal to three cups of normal person java. Still.)

I recall drinking Diet Coke by the gallon in my youth without much effect, whereas nowadays a couple refills at a restaurant and I’ll start to break out in sweats. (To be fair, I could have been mitigating the effects of all that Diet Coke in the old days by chasing it with gallons of beer, but that’s neither here nor there.)

Which brings us to why I somehow got the idea that if less caffeine was better, no caffeine would be best. It was, as the kids say today, an epic fail.

How epic? Let me tell you. For the first two days, I simply forgot that I was supposed to be avoiding caffeine. I could try to blame it on the fact that I was traveling, that my schedule and surroundings were off and my focus shifted onto Things That Are Not This Blog.

I could blame the fact that I woke up in a hotel room to my husband handing me lattes from the coffee shop downstairs. (I should note here that Chris is not an evil man. He is not given to fouling my efforts at reform. It’s just that, for some odd reason, my silly little changes aren’t always on the forefront of his mind whereas, apparently, serving me coffee in bed is. I believe firmly that we should keep those priorities intact.)

Two days in a row, it went something like this: I wake up, bleary eyed and unaccustomed to Pacific time. I reach for my fetched latte, situated conveniently bedside. I take a sip, burn my tongue. I wait for it to cool some, faffing around on the internet and playing Doodle Jump on my iPhone until it’s a suitable temperature. I drink, say, half said latte. Then I get out of bed and make my way towards the shower, at which point, it hits me: Damn it! No caffeine.

Thus, we have what I call Failure by Forgetting.

I start to panic. How can I write on my blog that I simply forgot? I try to tell myself that I really believe this is a process, that there is no cheating. No “pretending” I didn’t have caffeine those days because, who am I, anyway? James Frey? No. I have to be honest about drinking half a latte the first two days. I can be flexible. Honest and flexible. Thus, I adjust my sights, make it my mission to avoid caffeine for the remainder of those days. Who says I can’t keep trying to hit my goal? And isn’t this why God invented caffeine-free Diet Coke in the first place?

It is. But God also, apparently, invented the caffeine withdrawal headache.

Day Three, I actually remember to ask Chris for a decaf latte in the morning and by noon my head feels like someone’s trying to pry it open with a crowbar. Or hammering it shut. Or some other home-improvement-related simile. I swallow some ibuprofen, crawl to the shower, suffer through a morning meeting.

A question seeps in. Can it really be a change for the better when it causes this much suffering? I draw on my vast medical training to determine that stopping cold turkey might actually be medically unwise. Probably even inadvisable. Perhaps dangerous.

At lunch, I fairly dive into a Diet Coke. The headache subsides but, still, now I’m at Failure by Choice.

For the next couple of days, I try. I do try. I don’t have any caffeine on Day Four and the headache persists. I tell myself it’s really because Chris has given me his stupid cold. It’s important that, whatever has to happen here, he be made culpable in some way.

Only, then we’re flying home on Day Five and I’m all proud of myself and certain that the lack of caffeine in my system is going to make for a smoother journey. But it doesn’t. The flight is bumpy and uncomfortable and I feel jittery and anxious the whole time. Jittery and anxious AND I have a giant headache.

As we’re bumping our way somewhere over the middle of our fine nation, I honestly cannot remember why I stopped drinking caffeine in the first place. Whose stupid idea was this? What kind of change is that, anyway? Not a good change. A dumb change. A change not even worth doing.

And so when we’re back at home and Chris brings me a cup of coffee in bed on the morning of Day Six, I know perfectly well what it is and that I’m not supposed to be drinking it. But I do. I do! This is Failure by Rationalizing. Still, I drink the whole thing, sheepishly and guiltily and think what an awful, awful blogger and changer this makes me.

It’s a terrible feeling, knowing that by the time Day Seven rolls around, I’ve just given up completely. It’s only the seventh week of this project and already I’ve lost resolve so quickly? I suck at changing. My all-or-nothing thinking kicks in and within a few minutes, I’ve given up on the whole project, shut down the blog, and slinked (slunk?) away from my modest  but faithful (and morally superior) group of readers, filled with shame and self-loathing.

Or, at least, mentally I did.

In reality, I decided to borrow from last week and try letting it go. After all, I did make my bed that morning, so I couldn’t say that nothing good was coming of this experiment. And I’ve been paying an awful lot of lip service to the idea that this is all about willingness and trying and I suppose that includes discovering when I’m not all that willing and when I don’t want to try – even if it’s embarrassing to write about.

It also forces me to look for progress, rather than perfection, and the truth is that I’ve cut way back on my caffeine intake. I’ve become more mindful of it. I’m considering that I may actually learn how to do something in moderation for once in my life. Me! Moderation! If that’s what I get out of this past week, then that would truly be remarkable. Maybe not an epic fail, after all.