I discovered the magic of caffeine when I got my first waitressing job at 15 and started working double shifts. We didn't get free food from the restaurant, but the beverages were all-you-could-drink and I took full advantage of the Diet Coke. After that I never looked back. Caffeine was how I made my way through college. Then grad school. Then my first job. Then my first baby. (Don't worry, I took a hiatus during my pregnancy.) Then my next three babies and young motherhood and jobs and workouts and laundry and... you get the idea. Somewhere along the line, caffeine had gone from the occasional emergency elixir to the basic sustenance of life.
And wow was I hooked. My addiction was so intense that I gave up the only fun part—downing a delicious beverage—to go straight for the hit. Drinking my caffeine was too time-consuming so I bought mega-dose pills off the internet and kept one bottle in my purse, one in my car, and one in my home at all times. In a pinch I'd take the caffeinated liquid you're supposed to squirt into a bottle of water and instead squirt it straight down my throat (which really burns, by the way). Not only did this make it easier to consume but I could take more at one time. Why waste time and money on coffee when I could just take a pill and be done with it?
The problem with pills, however, is that it's much easier to overdose, something I learned the hard way when I took a few too many before running a half marathon and ended up puking my way through the race. The doctors said that might have saved my life as the barfing kept it from becoming toxic and stopping my heart—something that has sadly happened to others. You'd think that would have been my wake-up call that I had a problem, but no. I scaled back, but I didn't stop.
Part of the issue was that I needed caffeine to live a life that doesn't exactly come naturally to me. I've always been a night owl—my husband jokes that you can't have a serious conversation with me until after 10...p.m. But it's just how I am. I'd always rather stay up late and sleep late than rise with the sun. But you know who does always rise with the sun (and sometimes before)? Kids, that's who. So by force and circumstance I became a de facto morning person. Not that I was happy about it, mind you. (FYI, here's our guide to becoming a morning person—and why you should start waking up earlier in the first place.)
My breakup with caffeine came when I discovered I have a congenital heart defect (a myocardial bridge). My cardiologist told me that caffeine was worse for me than for other people, as it stressed my already stressed heart muscle. I knew I had to give it up but I wasn't sure how. I'd had it every day for years and just imagining weaning off it made my head hurt. So I waited until I got pneumonia and went cold turkey. Okay, so I didn't actually plan it that way, that's just what happened.
In November I got super sick and was stuck in bed for two weeks. Everything already hurt, so what's a little withdrawal headache on top? And if there's an activity that absolutely, 100 percent doesn't require caffeine, it's lying in bed all day. After I recovered I chucked all my pills—even the emergency stash in my closet—and I haven't looked back.
The results have been nothing short of miraculous.
The first thing I noticed post-caffeine-detox was how much my mood improved. I've struggled with depression and anxiety all my life and yet I'd never made the connection between my caffeine habit and my mental health. Once I ditched the caffeine, I felt far more emotionally stable and less likely to freak out over little things. Then I noticed my sugar cravings decreased. I think the caffeine had masked my exhaustion, and when you're tired you're more likely to crave unhealthy snacks. Eventually, I began to notice more natural energy. I also started taking a 20-minute power nap in the afternoon (something that's really hard to do if you have caffeine pumping constantly through your veins), which has helped me stay more focused and energetic all day.
But perhaps the biggest difference has been in my sleep and waking. I'd always struggled with some mild insomnia, particularly when I'm anxious about something. But now I have an easier time falling asleep and staying asleep. And—this is huge for me—I am able to wake up early in the morning without an alarm clock as my body naturally wakes up around (oh, yes) sunrise. The first time I saw the pink edging over the mountains I almost passed out from shock. But it was beautiful and peaceful and I found that my days go so much more smoothly when I get up earlier. Now my most productive work hours are between 5 and 7 a.m., and I get more done before noon than I used to get done in an entire day. I hardly recognize myself, honestly, but I love the change. (P.S. Here's how to trick yourself into becoming a morning person.)
It took quitting to realize that while caffeine made me feel better in the short term, in the long run it was making me feel absolutely terrible. For me, the difference between before and after is like night and day: I'm most definitely a morning person now and this time it's by choice.