Phoebe’s Story: Cold Turkey

“Yikes!” said a Suppers friend when I told her I was stopping caffeine cold turkey. Having done it herself, she knew what was in store for me. My motivation came from hearing that if I gave up caffeine, it might help my depression, and the only way to find out if coffee was part of the problem was to get off it. I was going to have to psych myself up to pull this off.

I am one of those people who does something first and reads the directions later. Since I had been thinking about giving up coffee for a few years, I felt well prepared. I gave myself a pep talk, read a little about nutritional support, armed myself with a bottle of vitamins, and quit.

If only I could describe the mushroom cloud inside my head where my brain was supposed to be! When the cloud settled, I was overwhelmed with the most debilitating fatigue. On day three, my kids even brought me my meals in bed.

On the fourth day I talked to a nutritionist. When I told him what was going on, he gently informed me that most people “gradually taper off,” rather than go cold turkey off caffeine. “You’re very brave,” he said. I replied, “I’m an alcoholic and a drug addict. ‘Gradually taper’ isn’t in my vocabulary.”

I have learned from previous lessons before that psyching myself up may not be the best way to prepare for a major change. The leader of my meeting told me that psyching yourself up only works if you’ve got a good plan. If you psych yourself up and follow a bad plan, you’re headed for trouble. Luckily I succeeded on the first try, just like I did when I quit drinking and using drugs.

The nutritionist told me what to expect. “Nine days,” he said. “You can expect about nine days of misery if you go cold turkey off caffeine.”

I was almost half way there and didn’t want to cave in. So I asked him to give me the general guidelines for caffeine withdrawal. Of course, everyone’s body is different, so he couldn’t tell me precisely. But he wrote out the basic recommendations. Once I followed a good plan, it was much more comfortable to quit and stay quit.

This is not my first lesson on the importance of reading the directions before I take an action. And it may not be my last. But next time I get the urge to psych myself up before leaping into action, I’ll be more likely to check that I at least have a plan.