Life’s Pleasure or Distraction

Maybe it’s all the Ken Burn’s Civil War I’ve been watching or maybe it’s the post holiday blues, but I’ve been feeling a little down lately. It could be this too–life is bleaker without coffee.

I know a lot of people go for a dry January. I’m currently on a nutrition challenge where I’m cutting out booze, but I thought I’d up the ante by eliminating a substance I rely on much more than alcohol these days: caffeine.

You could say this was motivated by past experiments with limiting alcohol consumption–the results of which encouraged me to become an occasional drinker rather than an everyday drinker and to forgo binge drinking. I used to view alcohol as a necessity in my life, and I’m glad to have changed this relationship.

But should I do the same with coffee? The thing is I love coffee (like I used to love alcohol). I keep productivity journals with daily gratitude sections, and going back through them, nearly every day I list coffee. From this account, it’s the #1 thing I’m grateful for (sorry family–I swear I’m grateful for you too!).

There were lots of benefits to reducing my alcohol consumption, but a major one has been more stability in my mood. Yes, alcohol made me happy while I was drinking it but less so the next day. I relied on coffee to get me through the hungover morning doldrums. It was a cycle–relax with drinking, energize with coffee, relax with drinking–and try not to feel.

Right now I’m in the process of training my mind to stay with and recognize hard feelings rather than fleeing them with distractions (like alcohol, shopping, and social media). Over two weeks into my caffeine fast, I’m still not sure what role coffee plays in this mental challenge.

Is coffee a way to distract myself or is it a pleasure that brings life joy? These two aren’t mutually exclusive, but there’s a line between coffee being productive or destructive to my overall well-being that I can’t suss out.

The one definite upside of giving up caffeine so far has been that I’m not short changing myself on sleep and using coffee as a substitute. I’m aiming for 7+ hours a night, and if I don’t hit it, I nap like I’ve never napped before (without guilt).

It’s hard to determine cause and effect in a life tangled with potential biases. Like I mentioned, I’m feeling down, but I’m also spending a lot of time immersed in the history of slavery and the Civil War. My (lower) mood is more stable throughout the day, but I’ve also eliminated added sugars as part of my nutrition challenge so a lack of sugar spikes could be a regulating factor as well as a lack of caffeine dips.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do at the end of this challenge in terms of coffee consumption–go back to 2-3 cups a day or avoid coffee entirely and substitute tea. I don’t know. My nutrition challenge has a definite endpoint–the first week of February, but my mental challenge to stay with hard feelings and avoid distraction will still be ongoing. The latter might always be ongoing, but my hope is that eventually by being able to sit with the hard stuff I’ll be able to experience life’s joys (like coffee) for their own sake and not as a way to escape.

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