It started when I was 10. I was a tomboy with a BFF who taught me to catch turtles at the creek behind his house. We'd go wading through muddy water, lure small animals with our bare hands and then retreat to the kitchen to refuel. Our poison? Nescafe's Moccona, with full fat milk and 2 scoops of ice cream.
It was creamy and delicious and it made me feel like I had super powers. It was snuck from the cupboard and relished like lollies when parents weren't around to tell us to ask us why there was a turtle in the swimming pool. It was sprinkled over ice cream like 100s and 1000s. It even overtook the Milo in terms of consumption per day.
Now that is saying something.
From that day forward, I was hooked. I'd go on to enter high school and get my morning hit with my parents, served with 3 teaspoons of sugar. Sweet caramel ecstasy.
It's obvious to say that children + caffeine = not a very good mixture. But what turned from an occasional treat became a daily habit as I entered my senior high school years.
I have never liked institutional structures, so coffee became a way of getting myself revved up to go sit in a class room for six hours. It was also a ritual for my mother and I, creating a warm, caffeinated atmosphere where we could talk about our plans for the day - or where she could bribe me to go to school.
Today, I don't drink coffee anymore. We are so over.
Why I gave up the good stuff (in favour of the better stuff)
Somewhere between high school and 25, I went from a relatively harmless one-cup-a-day to a full-blown, adrenal killing addiction.
I'm talking 8 cups a day.
I'm taking espresso strength.
I'm talking zombie-like behaviour if I didn't have one right upon waking.
And there's a thing about caffeine addicts. Our obsession binds us. It creates strength in numbers, and becomes kind of like a cult because it's so hard to leave. It creates a culture based upon understanding, passion, and some would say snobbery. Want to get to know someone better? Have a coffee with them. Take them somewhere cool that you read about in Broadsheet. It made me feel like I was a part of an inner circle of anxiety-ridden, coffee-guzzling VIPs. We all had our preferences (mine: double espresso, down the hatch) and our own favourite baristas and beans.
Mid last year, I started seeing a naturopath. An angel with ringlets who always called me darling. Completely zapped of motivation, running on nervous energy and riddled with acne, I felt like my body wasn't mine anymore. I was always tired, always cranky and getting a bit too apple shaped for my liking.
The verdict? Adrenal fatigue, hormonal imbalances, and a dysfunctional liver. These were all likely caused by a student's cocktail of caffeine, stress and beer. Which I thrived upon at university.
My time had come. It was time to break up with caffeine.
How I quit caffeine
I don't care what anyone says. Going cold turkey is a sure-fire way to death. Or to at least feel like you're dying a really slow death. One where someone's beating you over the head with a brick.
Cutting down on caffeine was the easiest part. The key was to take baby steps. When I was at university, my peak intake was 8 cups a day. Last year, it was around 2-3. Full strength became half strength, then 2 cups became one cup. Then one cup became a weaker cup. Then I started substituting that missing second cup with green tea.
Today, I try not to consume any caffeine - including green tea. I'm now incredibly sensitive to the stuff. So much so that when I do feel like I need an extra rev-roar in the morning and end up crawling to my nearest cafe with my tail between my legs, I go from super-woman style productivity, to slight anxiety, to full-blown panic attack in the space of 18 hours.
Caffeine substitutes for writers
It feels like treason to be a writer and not partake in a scribe's traditional past times - drinking coffee and alcohol. Here's how I stay on top of my to-do lists without the mighty brew:
- Spirulina - A form of algae that's a nutritional powerhouse. It grows all over the world, and was discovered in South American and Africa in natural alkaline lakes. As it's a food, and not a supplement, it's a pure form of vital vitamins and minerals. I'm talking iron, protein, calcium and more. It's not that pretty, it doesn't taste good and it can get kind of expensive. But it will give you a good energy injection, minus feeling like you're on steroids. Get the powdered stuff for easy absorption, and mix with a fruit smoothie to avoid staining you teeth. I prefer this brand.
- Dandelion tea - Also known as dandelion coffee, this mighty herb is in fact caffeine free. So why is it on my list of must-haves? It. Tastes. SO. Freakin'. Good. When served with milk and a sweetener, it almost tastes like coffee, minus the acidic burn. Plus, it's super good for your liver, bladder, kidneys and eases bloating. For starters. All things which caffeine can not hold a candle to. You can find some at most good health food stores, as well as your local Coles in the health food aisle.
- Morning exercise - The thought of pounding the pavement before breakfast used to make me want to punch someone. Exercise before my coffee? HA, HA HA! One day, someone suggested I flip the switch. What if exercise was a way to get energy? Rather than something that I needed energy for? It makes sense: exercise releases endorphins, those feel-good chemicals that make you feel happier and more energised. Challenging your muscles ALSO stimulates blood-flow, which will give you a much-needed jump start before you start your day. And all that heavy panting you do? You're just giving your body the oxygen that it needs. Which does what? Wakes you up.
But seriously? There's one thing that really helps with limiting your caffeine intake.