Defeating My Addictive Personality, One Substance at a Time

So, a depressed person, a divorcee, a coffee addict, an ex-cigarette smoker, a former bulimic, and a sober alcoholic walk into a room…and somehow, they’re all the same person.

That is, somehow, they’re all me.

I am depressed. I’m divorced. I am a coffee addict, an ex-smoker, a former bulimic, and a sober alcoholic. These are all things that I am, or have been, or continue to be, all simmering quietly beneath my calm surface. These are the parts of me that I carry on my shoulders, that make me feel a little heavier with each step I take. These are the things that keep me grounded. These are the things that force my perspective.

I am also a poet, a daughter, a girlfriend, a graduate student. I like to run, dance, and lift weights. I drive a stick shift and secretly love when people are impressed by it. I like to cook and enjoy the challenge of making a good meal for one. I care a lot, about a lot of things and a lot of people. Even though I don’t currently have any pets, I am a lover of all animals – especially cats. Even if I’m a bit jaded about it, I’m certain that I’d like to get re-married someday, when the time is right.

These are just a few of the things that make me, me.

I am slowly but surely coming to terms with the fact that I have the stereotypical addictive personality. When my brain finds something it likes, it latches the hell on an has a hard time letting go. Whenever I try to cut some sort of vice out of my life, it’s usually by amputation: one minute it’s there, the next it’s gone. Cold turkey. Full stop. Trying to wean myself off of anything just gives me the psychological license to continuously break my own rules.

I break my own rules constantly – constantly – with social media, particularly Instagram and Reddit. I break my own rules with food, usually by eating too much sugar. I know what makes me feel like shit and I do my best to limit my exposure to it, but despite those best efforts, it’s not always easy to cut it out of my life.

Somehow, some way, I’ve managed to cut some of the big things out, and keep them out: alcohol, cigarettes, bingeing and purging, toxic relationships. Gone. And I know that if I open the door to those things again, they’ll come flooding back in, and I’ll have to swim my way back upstream again just to close the gates.

So, that brings me to my next conquest in my journey toward eliminating addictions from my life. That brings me to…coffee.

Yes, coffee. The life support sober and non-sober people alike. Just like with most things, I’ve found myself taking my daily caffeine habit a bit too far. This past week has been evidence enough for me that something is not quite right.

For the past few months, I’ve been dealing with an ever-increasing feeling of tension and knotty stress between my shoulders. Nothing I do has helped eliminate that tension for extended periods of time – not massages from my boyfriend, exercise, or guided meditation. It gets worse during the day while I’m sitting at my desk, particularly after I’ve had my morning coffee, and the only time it fades is when I’ve got nothing urgent or work-related on my mind.

On Monday, I woke with an aching head, for pretty much no reason at all. My normal amount of caffeine, food, and ibuprofin all failed to help. By midday, I felt anxious and nauseated. I left work early to go walk in the sun and lay down in a nearby park. After an hour, the feelings of sickness and headache had pretty much evaporated into the air above me.

Tuesday was better, but I felt fatigued. I didn’t know why. I thought I got enough sleep. I didn’t remember stirring or waking up. But it took four 12-oz. cups of coffee to get me feeling “normal.” By the end of the night, as I was standing in the middle of a crowd at a concert, all I could think about was how tired I was.

Today, I had a 12-oz. brewed cup of coffee, then a large cold-brewed coffee from the Dunn Brother’s across the street from my office. I still felt tired. I went for coffee around 5:00pm and stopped myself, thinking: why? what do you need it for? So I grabbed a decaf instead and still felt the flutterings of caffeinated anxiety in my chest.

Today, I decided I wanted to be done. Just for a while, just to see if it helps. I’ve got this horribly achy back, chronic fatigue, afternoon sleepiness and a low level of anxiety that follows me everywhere I go. I’ve never tried giving up caffeine. Not honestly. I’ve probably made half-hearted attempts over the years, but lord knows how that would’ve worked out before I ever tried to get sober. Spoiler: it would’ve never worked. ever.

Anyway, after stopping myself to think about how much caffeine I’ve been consuming, I jumped on the ol’ Google machine and started looking up the best ways to reduce/remove caffeine from one’s life.

Guess what I found out?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-V), which is basically the bible of mental disorders, has a thing called Caffeine Use Disorder, which is listed as a “Condition for Further Study” near the back of the book. Oh, and Caffeine Withdrawal is listed as a Substance-Related/Addictive Disorder.

Let’s see, what are some of the criteria for Caffeine Withdrawal…

  1. Prolonged daily use of caffeine
  2. Abrupt cessation or reduction in caffeine use, followed within 24 hours by three (or more) of the following:
    1. Headache
    2. Marked fatigue or drowsiness
    3. Dysphoric mood, depressed mood, or irritability
    4. Difficulty concentrating
    5. Flu-like symptoms (nausea, vomiting, or muscle pain/stiffness)
  3. Signs and symptoms from the above list cause significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning
  4. Those signs and symptoms aren’t associated with the effects of any other mental or physical condition

And for Caffeine Use Disorder:

  1. Persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control caffeine use
  2. Continued use despite knowing that it causes persistent physical or psychological problems
  3. Withdrawals
  4. Consuming caffeine in larger amounts than intended or over a longer period than was intended

The DSM-V authors go on to say that heavy caffeine use may also mimic generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and acute consumption can mimic panic attacks. There may be some co-morbidity between Caffeine Use Disorder and family/personal history of alcohol use disorder, and it may be associated with major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and other substance use disorders.

So, there it is. Not that I’m self-diagnosing (okay, I kind of maybe am, just a little bit). Caffeine is another widely-used, widely-accepted, widely-encouraged addictive substance, and I’ve fallen into its trap. I mean, so many of us have. And for the most part, it’s not a dangerous, radical substance that can ruin lives like alcohol can. It’s considered better and more advantageous than most because, for the most part, it doesn’t cause any serious side effects…unless you over-do it, of course.

For me, that’s enough to confirm my suspicions that my daily caffeine habit may be playing a larger role than I originally though in my bodily pains, anxiety, and other problems. At least, it’s a big enough reason for me to decide to try giving it up as an experiment, to see how I feel after a week or so. I’m not super thrilled, as I love coffee and everything, but the pain I’m feeling in-between my shoulders and in-between my ears is getting to the point where I’m willing to give it a shot.

Hopefully I can set aside some time to blog each day, at least about how it feels. I’m genuinely curious what true caffeine withdrawals feel like, and whether I might feel a little better on the other side.

Hmm… sounds a little familiar, doesn’t it? 😉

So, tomorrow is day 1. Wish me luck. This is gonna suck.

❤ Em. Day 285.

3 thoughts on “Defeating My Addictive Personality, One Substance at a Time

  1. ainsobriety says:

    My mind works in a similar way.
    I have found he best way to proceeded is to try whatever it is I get in my head I should do and see what happens.

    If you feel horrible, have some coffee. Consider weaning off it.

    You might be surprised that coffee isn’t making you feel poorly.. or not.

    But be willing to rethink your plan if it becomes too complicated.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Blahdablahdablah says:

    Interesting. I am reading ‘The Blue Zones’ by Dan Beutner and he actually list coffee as a healthy thing to drink! I am not ready to give anything else up right now. I have quit my shopaholic habit and then alcoholism was the next to go. Honestly if I give up coffee I might have to become a nun and join the local commune. God, you have to leave me one earthly pleasure and no, I do not think tea is an earthly pleasure. But anyway, I am behind you one hundred percent and perhaps when you have conquered your coffee addiction maybe you can share the secrets with me.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. NoWineImFine says:

    So many things to commend you on … over 250 days sober, that’s wonderful! I hope one day I make it as far as you have.
    The fact that you have given up booze and smokes is amazing in itself. I’m confident you’ll kick the caffeine given your strong track record.
    Love and sober hugs from New Zealand 🇳🇿🌏💙🦋

    Liked by 1 person

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