I decided to cut out coffee and alcohol for two weeks, from the end of Labor Day weekend until I go to New York on September 14th. I wanted a break, I felt over-filled, with food, junk, toxins, stimulants. I am not a drug user. But coffee is a drug, I am learning as I cut it out.It causes withdrawal. It causes me to feel…shocker…tired! I need to go to bed earlier, without alcohol and coffee. My body wants to follow its natural rhythm. But what if the circumstances don’t allow it?
That is the problem I ran into tonight. Today was my forth day of the abstinence project. (And it has been abstinence all around–which maybe is part of the problem!). I was feeling great today. Woke up with lots of energy, and felt upbeat and pumped about my day and my life and my goals and my projects, which was a huge contrast from day three. On day three I woke up drowsy and felt out of focus and low energy almost all day (until I got some physical exercise outside–swimming and biking).
Today was great. But, around 9 o’clock, I began to feel tired, and a bit irritable. I needed to wind down and I realized that my plan to wind down with a friend and relax was not going to happen. The US open quarter finals are on, as is the opening NFL game, as is the Democratic National Convention. Big night for national TV! My father and his friends are watching all three on the big projector screen TV in our outdoor living room. My dad is obsessed with the TV. He installed it for days like this, for sporting events like these, when the steaks are high and he can feel like he is at the stadium, because he is, in fact, outdoors while watching. The screen pulls down in front of the trees, the forest. The weather is nice, cool but warm enough to be our there in shorts and a t-shirt. I get why they prefer to be there and not in front of our other huge screen TV in the indoor living room (also a divinely relaxing and romantic room). I was feeling quite irritable and not so into the game, as exciting as it was with the Czech tennis player up two sets to one against Federer, acing him in almost every game. I wanted to go to bed. I knew I wanted to accomplish a lot tomorrow and without the promise of a coffee wake up buzz, I would need to sleep in order to wake up early and feel clear-headed and energized. My father would not budge. He needed to watch the game outside, which happens to be outside my bedroom window,where I can hear every play and every cheer, and the glow makes my room feel like the back of a movie theater.
Let’s just say this escalated my annoyance. Annoyance upon annoyance is no good and I felt I had nowhere to go, not even into my bedroom, to relax. My shoulders tensed up when he told me this was a big game and he would not be moving from that room. Thoughts of my week sprang to my mind, and I started to have a minor panic, let’s say worry, about having energy for the week without coffee. Working a nine hour cooking shift on Saturday. No coffee. That would mean I’d need good sleep the night before. No coffee.
I was stressing. Sometimes it’s a cascade, a waterfall, a domino effect. One stress makes the next one feel more grave, and then even more grave, because they all feed off each other. Just like good things come together, and good karma begets good karma, stress begets stress.
This is when I decided to have….a cigarette! ba da da dummmmmm. (Meant to be the ominous music from a scary or dramatic movie, or the phantom of the opera. Work with me here.). Yes. Sometimes I smoke. It doesn’t fit my image. I am semi ashamed of it–health girl, nature girl, organic girl…smoking girl? It sticks out like a sore thumb. I rarely do it in public, unless I’m semi-drunk outside a bar with friends who are also smoking. Otherwise it’s quite a secret affair. It made me feel better, even if I’ll regret it tomorrow. Even if it makes my skin less beautiful. Even if it makes me have bags under my eyes or less white teeth or not so white and bright eyes. Gosh– is (physical) beauty overrated anyway?
So what is it about substances? Why do I need one? Why can’t I have none? Why no coffee, no alcohol, no cigarette? Why am I even making rules for myself to cut them out? Isn’t it bad to stress about depriving myself of them when I want them? Of course many people go through most of life on some kind of substance, even if that just means chain smoking, or having something every day. Most of us are not purists. What am I trying to mess with the nature of (much of) humankind? I guess I feel like the experiment of sacrifice I am doing will tell me what I am trying to mess with culturally acceptable habits.What do I sacrifice in not having coffee and alcohol, and what do I gain? Should I give up something that is pleasurable and relatively harmless? Maybe if you stop drinking, in order to relax, you need to have more… physical activity…more…sex (whoops did I just write that? Being the youngest child, the “baby” in the family, I still feel scandalous to speak such words in certain company). It’s not like you can be pure on ALL fronts!
Alcohol can be a problem, and for many people it is. It leaves me feeling tired and depleted the next day, and irritable, if I am hung over. I like to feel energized, I like the day time, I like to accomplish a lot of stuff. Alcohol can get in the way. And it’s so easy to get into a habit of a drink every night. It is so part of our culture, and my world, my family, my little society. It is accepted and encouraged, and so an easy pattern to fall in to. Coffee….well. It’s nice to not have to depend on that either. Because when I’m tired, or hung over, or running on way too little sleep, I can grab a cup of coffee, but I know the boost is temporary and just helping me to delay something I really need: rest. Tea feels much more gentle, relaxing even. Both have been shown to be good for health, that’s not the issue. Coffee boosts you up and then drops you off just as fast. That’s the part I don’t like. It leaves me out of control. I don’t want that drop.
Well– we are humans, not machines. I feel semi guilty about the cigarette. To be totally clean would be great. But then, to be totally happy, totally stable, totally at peace with life and myself would also be great, and then having no substances might be easy. Or maybe it’s just about getting the balance right. Enjoying, and being at peace when and if I do, but not becoming dependent. On anything.