For the first time in I don’t know how long, I did not pop awake at 4am this morning, but instead sleepily emerged from a lovely, happy dream involving a big green field and nice friends. We were sleeping scattered about a large guest house in the dream, and in real life I was able to roll over and sleep again for several hours, which hitherto is an almost unheard of phenomenon.

There are many reasons this might be so, but I am attributing it to the very beginning of my break-up with coffee and overt caffeine, after over two decades of heavy usage.

I’ve always liked this phenomenon about myself, the strange DING that goes off in my mind and pops me awake and alert out of bed sharply in the small hours. I am a huge advocate of early morning — have been this way all my life, since way before the coffee days. I have read Ayurvedic articles that claim that the hours between 4am-6am are the best times to be awake, and I agree with them.

But. Is it also possible that this is an extension of the addiction? Because it happens even if I’ve only been asleep for a few hours, and once awake I am usually wide, wide awake and nothing can change it. On weekends I can’t lie in bed enjoying the early morning sun with my husband and cat all sprawled around me, even though just typing that makes a stern voice in me say THAT, MY DEAR, IS HEAVEN.

It is. But I can’t stay. I never stay. I get up and go downstairs to make coffee.

If I meet resistance I say if I don’t I’ll have a headache, and because caffeine is a socially encouraged substance this is agreed to and to the french press I go.
I think blood vessels are going to expand in my head, which is the thing I am groggily fixated on this morning. I will get more blood to my brain.

I am completely unremarkable in that I am a coffee-obsessed artist living in Portland, which really tells you all you need to know about me and coffee. My whole identity has been wrapped up in the bean, my friendships were formed over it. Anthony and I’s first “date” was at Martha’s, the indispensable coffee shop on our college campus, attached to one of the bookstores. Someone in high school once opined that my blood was brown, not red, for all the brown caffeine I drank at the time (both coffee and diet Dr. Pepper).

The latter I walked away from years and years ago, the former I hadn’t really ever seriously considered cutting out of my life, as caffeine is so socially sanctioned, is so a part of life, and anyway don’t you want me to get stuff done?

I have been really reevaluating that compulsion to get stuff done, though, at least at the pace modern life is going. I have already mentioned this, but it bears restating — while I pride myself in the ability to get a great deal done, I don’t know that being in constant frenetic motion is healthy. In fact, I know it isn’t. Because it wasn’t until I stopped doing that — and took a step back to asses what was happening — I found myself joylessly, mechanically going through my daily tasks — tasks heaped upon tasks — angry at every little thing, upset at every little roadblock, on edge about every single thing that wasn’t going “my” way, and isn’t my way the right way?

And I stopped because wow, that is not who I am.

And it is not who I want to turn into.

I don’t want to be the frazzled task master barking orders at people.

I want to calmly and tranquilly move forward and allow things to slot into place or fall away.

And it wasn’t until I started giving myself some space during the day that I started being able to emerge from the swampy blackness that had resulted in all the Things I’d been through.

This quiet pausing sounds a lot like meditation and someday I hope it turns into that. Right now though it’s much more structured (thinking wise). There’s a lot of mental reframing. A lot of inserting isolated incidents into larger goals. There’s draw-journaling and making triumphs out of task completion. It’s much more cluttered than a traditional sitting practice.

And a funny thing happened when I stopped drinking coffee the other day. I was headachy and listless and foggy, yes. But through the fog I also found that the ambient anxiety that more or less courses through my veins — that doubtless fuels all this joyless barking taskmaster stuff — was completely gone. At least for that day. And considering it was the day after we learned that we owe ([monthly income] x 2) on our taxes this year, whilst we are looking for a new home after our no-cause eviction, that is really saying something.

In place of the kettle shriek, the hysterical crowd chatter, instead there was just this…silence. This calm.

This was indeed my pragmatic motivation to walk away from coffee — as an anti-anxiety measure, and as a way to improve sleep. I struggle with both of those things and for many years have done almost everything everybody tells you to do to resolve those issues. Except give up coffee.

But something else happened too.

All the stress I’ve been living through accentuated a nasty sinus infection recently, and at week SIX of that madness I caved and went to the doctor for drugs. I was prescribed sudafed, and had a latte that same day on an empty stomach, and the resulting stomach cramping, shakes, nausea, metallic taste, light-headed dizziness, panic and awfulness that ensued for several hours after all this metabolized scared me off the coffee bean (and the sudafed) for a good many days. In fact, I haven’t had a cup of coffee since.

In the rosy self-affirming moments it feels all very doable. On mornings like this one however, still making coffee for my husband, dipping the scoop into the grounds, smelling the aroma I had based my entire identity on I had hoped it had been several weeks since I began this, and I check the calendar and realize it’s only been six days. March 3rd.

I tried to have one small cup of coffee last Saturday, at 7am, but one tiny sip brought back the creepy metallic taste in my mouth and that night I didn’t sleep a wink. Just now I tried to drink just the tiny bit from Anthony’s thermos and it has such a … drying effect on my pallet, and immediately sent my stomach into an outraged cramping and gurgling and left me nervously within a close radius of the bathroom, unsure where this was heading.

So it would seem I am off the stuff for good.