I’ve been reading up a lot about the human body, in relation specifically to my recent experience with panic attacks. I have had four during December: two in the dentists and two in Christmas crowds (one of which led to me being ushered out through a velvet curtain by an actor dressed entirely in furs – a meltdown in a Narnia diorama is quite the public spectacle).
It turns out that my habit of existing solely on coffee and cake for 10 hour working days has been playing merry hell with my pancreas and insulin production. The triple shot lattes I have been taking as my drink of choice have further exacerbated the harassment of my adrenal gland. It all seems pretty obvious when you think on it, but despite heart palpitations and terrible period cramps (both of which my doctor friend warned me some time ago were down to caffeine over use) I persisted.
I’m an addict. That seems to be the fundamental fact of my existence. Give me anything that gives my brain a fix and I will hammer that switch til my paws are bloody stumps.
Of course environment and education have huge parts to play. I wish they had taught us about brain chemistry at school, rather than about photosynthesis and that homosexuality was ‘just wrong’ (the wonders of Catholic school in the 80s). I wish my mum hadn’t been such a chronic alcoholic that food became something she did for other people. I wish I hadn’t decided that the thing that would get me through was seeing how much punishment my own body could take, and priding myself on it.
I’m trying to learn the lessons of my reading and return my body and brain to equilibrium. I have cut out sugar and other refined carbs, and caffeine. I am on day 4.
Caffeine works by blocking up receptors in the brain that take up the chemical signal that tells us we are tired, and if like me you ingested a lot of caffeine regularly, you have also grown more receptors (!) to compensate. So when you stop blocking them you feel, to use a technical medical term, like crapola. The headache is something else. The caffeine causes the blood vessels in the brain to contract, so when you open them again you get a swollen brain! Wow!
The symptoms were horrendous yesterday (I always found day 3 of nicotine withdrawal the worst too) but touch wood I am doing OK so far today. I am able to concentrate enough to write this, so I must be. Yesterday was like the ending of ‘Flowers for Algernon’…
In my agony yesterday though, I posted a moany, sympathy seeking status on Facebook and got some interesting responses. One person who went on about ‘why would you want to do that, it’s the elixir of the Gods’ and another which said ‘be sure to keep some vices, they are what make people interesting’. Now it’s been a while since I’ve had this kind of reaction to quitting. Cigarettes are seen as fundamentally bad by most people, so you always get cheered on for stopping those. Abstinence from alcohol, as we’ve discussed on the blogs before, tends to get a different reception depending on the national culture and the individual’s own relationship to drinking.
But coffee/caffeine brings up a whole other aspect, which is how most people don’t seem to object to the idea of addiction per se. So, you can find lots of listings if you Google ‘caffeine withdrawal’ all of which agree that the addiction is real and that the withdrawal terribly severe. But because the intrinsic negative effects of caffeine are very few, and its stimulant properties pleasurable and useful, the fact that it quite profoundly alters ones body and brain chemistry seems to be quite acceptable.
This doesn’t sit well with me any more. I feel like I have been through the looking glass of addiction and it is no longer about cost/benefit analyses but has become something more fundamental, political and spiritual. How dare people sell me drugs on which I become dependent, just to get through the day? And what does it cost me in terms of my own peace, to never deal with the world on clean and clear terms? All addiction is a waste, it provides quick fixes where instead I could be learning another tiny, precious lesson and growing stronger as a result.
The comment about being interesting to others was again quite an eye opener, it’s another thing we talk about a lot, isn’t it, that fear of being boring?
I’m ready to throw this one off too. It’s not my job in this world to be interesting to other people. I offer love and respect and community, but not entertainment. As women, we are raised to be people pleasers, whether as ornaments or servants. How much of our own power do we give away, when we make our self worth through the eyes of others? AA say to give away all your personal power because will is failure. I disagree. Will may fail you when you will towards something, yearning and pushing and striving. I am coming to see that. But the will to stand strong in one spot, and say no, this is me, I am your eggshell-dancing monkey no more, that comes from inside, and I will not give it away.