I am addicted to caffeine. A lot of people say that, but I want to explain what it really means, and how I came to avoid caffeine altogether.
Over the long weekend that just passed in the US, my wife and I went glamping. Glamping means multiple different things to different people. But on this occasion, it meant a wood-framed, canvas-walled building with an internal bathroom, two bedrooms and a kitchenette. It’s camping without the inconvenience of traipsing to the toilet block.
Our camp site had a fire pit where we spent most of our time tending to our primal urge to make fire.
On the day we checked out, of course, we were forced to abandon our fire. So we went to nearby Kennebunkport in Maine, bought a coffee, and read our books on some chairs far away from potential Covid-19 vectors.
The next day, everything was fine, but on Wednesday I woke feeling like I had not slept, with a pounding headache and severe nausea. I spent much of the day preparing to go to the bathroom in a hurry.
How I came to be addicted to caffeine
I am British, and British children have a rite of passage that American children do not experience: Making a cup of tea. Before I was ten I was making tea for my parents and myself unaided. I would drink a cup of tea in the same way my parents would, and I would have this caffeinated drink regularly.
By the time I was a teenager, I would have occasional headaches that I chalked up to having occasional headaches. This continued into adulthood and right up until I met my wife.
My wife is American, and her predilection for coffee had me frequenting Costa, Nerro, Starbucks and private coffee chains at regular intervals. When I left my job, my colleagues bought me a Philips Senseo coffee machine. At my new job near London, I would regularly have coffee using Nespresso pods.
I would most frequently have bouts of nausea and severe headache on Saturdays, so I wondered if, for some reason, I was dehydrating on Fridays, so I attempted to resolve the problem by drinking more water. Ironically, this meant I drank less coffee and tea on Fridays, which almost ensured that I would be ill on Saturdays. I even missed my friends’ wedding – sorry Mark and Claire!
My wife wondered whether it was caffeine, and we tried an experiment. I managed to go for several months without a nausea/headache-attack so long as I ensured I had caffeine every day.
In 2014, my wife and I planned a trip to Zimbabwe to set up a computer lab in a Zimbabwean school [amongst other things] and we packed enough sachets of instant coffee to make sure I could get through the trip safely.
Planning a trip around keeping a particular drug in my system struck me as crazy. So a little while ago, I decided to give up caffeine entirely. I drink decaffeinated coffee and tea, and eat only a little chocolate, and I am largely free of any concerns. In some ways, the loss of Coca Cola’s Coke is the largest loss. Decaffeinated Coke is just not the same thing.
I recently, accidentally ordered a caffeinated coffee once at Dunkin Donuts, but fortunately, their coffee is so weak that a one-off did not trigger my symptoms.
But this past Wednesday, my caffeine withdrawal symptoms returned as though I had drunk caffeinated coffee. It’s such a miserable feeling. There’s nothing I can do to alleviate it except drink more caffeine. And if I drink more caffeine, then the only solution tomorrow will be more caffeine. So I have to go cold turkey again. And that means a miserable day of laying on the sofa trying to distract myself from a headache that will not go away even with sleep.
Drugs that are not caffeine
This gives me a faint glimpse into the world of drug addicts. Though I am not tempted to have caffeine to resolve my problem, I can imagine that a feeling only ten times as strong would be difficult to resist. Drug addiction destroys lives – it recently destroyed the life of an intelligent, well-educated girl that my wife worked with as a Social Worker – and I now have the faintest, most mild idea of what these devastating substances do to people.
Some people are addicted to drugs by bad people in their lives who are trafficking them. And when people escape from human trafficking, many safe houses will not allow them to stay if they need methadone to treat them. Housing first is a policy that is scientifically proven to work.
Unfortunately, in New Hampshire, where this article is being written, there is no safe housing for drug addicted human trafficking victims. If you think that should change, please consider donating to the non-profit: Brigid’s House of Hope which will build such a home once it can organize sufficient funding.