Why I Quit Coffee Part III: Wrap Up

6 Nov

 

Hard to believe, but it has now been two months since I had any significant amount of caffeine.

Considering what a packed few weeks it’s been, with rehearsals and work projects and holidays and social obligations–two months without caffeine is not insignificant.

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So how am I doing?

Short answer: better.

As I write this, I’m nodding off over my keyboard. But that’s because we’re coming to the end of tech week, b.k.a. hell week, for Guys & Dolls (get your tickets now, Atlanta folks!).  Before this week, I felt like the pall of fatigue that had hung over my head like my own personal Eeyore-style rain cloud was finally lifting.

The overwhelming hunger I experienced at first has abated as well. I’ve even managed to trim down a bit for the show. Which is amazing, considering I haven’t exercised much beyond dance at rehearsals.

GI Janie

So that’s the symptoms of withdrawal taken care of. What about the GI symptoms for which I embarked on this epic journey in the first place?

I am happy to report that the nausea and stomach pain is completely gone. That’s probably the most significant development. The heartburn is practically gone too. I haven’t taken a Rolaid or a Pepcid in weeks. The bloating is considerably improved (although to be fair, I’ve also dropped white carbs in the interest of aforementioned “trimming down”). The wet burping, the fluttering in my chest, the lump in my throat–all have shown marked improvement, if not abated entirely. I do still occasionally get a dry cough, but it’s hard to point at that as a gastrointestinal indicator when there’s ragweed saturating the air.

Sing Out, Louise

I’m sure you’re all on the edge of your seats wondering whether I’ve recovered my beautiful singing voice HA. The answer there is not quite as brief.

Suspecting that the caffeine issue couldn’t entirely explain it, I made an appointment with the specialists at the Emory Clinic Voice Center. We are fortunate to have here in Atlanta an enormously vast medical network. Got some obscure problem? There’s a app doc for that.

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I was lucky that they were able to squeeze me in quicker than anticipated–my initial appointment was during that first week of tapering off. I wondered if this would hide or highlight any damage to ye olde singing parts.

A thorough examination of my vocal chords revealed…

That they were perfect.

This should have been good news, but I was bummed. It meant that I couldn’t blame the many issues I was having with my voice on physical (outside) factors. In other words, I was singing wrong.

A follow up appointment with vocal therapist Marina Gilman  revealed that I wasn’t just a shit singer. Even though I had no visible acid damage (further proof that I never had GERD in the first place), past acute “acid incidents” (her words) had led to my compensating in a damaging way. Kind of like when you say, pull a muscle and then strain the surrounding muscles favoring it. And like a muscle injury, what I needed was a course of rehab.

Over a series of sessions Marina gave me some vocal and breath exercises to help relax the wrong muscles and work the right ones. She also affirmed that, according to the clinical assessment of my voice structure, I really should be singing soprano and not alto. It was all stuff I already knew from previous training, but the reminder was key–and, unlike voice lessons–billable to insurance.

Since then I’ve seen vast improvement in the pain and strain while speaking, and to some extent while singing as well. I still have quite a ways to go in this regard though, and I’m trying not to be too frustrated with my progress (apparently you can’t undo six years of muscle damage in four sessions). I think I will have to spring for voice lessons on top of the coaching eventually, if I ever want to achieve solo status again.

I’ve Learned to Live Without You, Darling

I still take exceeding comfort in a hot drink or five, especially with the dreary weather we’ve been experiencing. So I’ve been drinking lots of Teeccino, a little hot cocoa, and even hot tea. I’m really loving Teeccino. Unlike coffee, the different flavors taste nice, not just smell good. Unlike coffee, it tastes good cold or reheated (meaning that that half pot not drunk first thing in the AM doesn’t go to waste). But unfortunately, unlike coffee, it is somewhat caloric (about 20 calories in a 10 oz cup brewed–I usually drink a classic 12-oz) and when you add as much cream as I like (about four tablespoons at 25-35 calories per tbsp ), you’re looking at a heavy appetizer’s worth of energy. So I can’t really pound it like I am sometimes tempted to on a long, chilled day.

A better replacement choice is hot tea, but I had a problem with it at first. My fellow coffee fiends will know what I’m talking about when I say the taste, feel, smell, richness—it’s just not the same. In the way that avid tea drinkers don’t enjoy coffee as much, tea is simply not my daily jam.

Plus, until recently, I really only liked the taste of black tea–which of course, has caffeine. So does green. I don’t like chamomile, peppermint, lemon, or any kind of fruit flavor in herbal tea. That basically wipes out 95% of teas on your average grocery shelf. Then I discovered Rooibos. A red “tea” that grows in South Africa, it’s a bit more pricey than the average, but doubtless I spend way less on it than I once did on coffee. Plus Yogi makes a nice Chai variety, which has a complex and full-bodied taste and the benefit of the healthy spices used in chai flavoring while being naturally caffeine free.

What about decaf, you say? At first I shunned coffee entirely, trying to lose the taste hankering I had for it. Eventually I did begin to treat myself to a cup of decaf when out to breakfast, or occasionally at the daily coffee hours at work. Decaf is not great in and of itself, first of all because coffee is still acidic which contributes to many of my problems, secondly because decaf labeling is highly unregulated in the US and can vary widely, and thirdly because the process used to decaffeinate most drinks uses chemicals (although nontoxic apparently, and with better taste results than the more “natural” but much more expensive and rare method of water decaffeination). Not to mention many decaf coffees, including the kind they serve at work, taste gross. But the fact is, I can never give up treating myself to the occasional happy Starbucks raspberry mocha. So decaf will continue to be drunk by this lady.

So….does all this mean it’s true: I’m allergic to caffeine?

I really don’t think so. If I had a true allergy, or even a sensitivity, I don’t think I could have been drinking as much coffee as I have for as long as I did with any level of comfort. The fact that it took 7 years to pinpoint the issue is proof alone. Who knows? I might even resume coffee drinking one day. But you can be damn sure it’s going to be a lot less. I think the lesson we can take away from this is that anything you use as a crutch to function–running the gamut from heavy drugs and alcohol to gossiping to chewing gum to running marathons to spicy food to binge watching Netflix–has the potential to be damaging both physiologically and psychologically.

In the wise and oft-repeated words of my Granny: Everything in Moderation.

So. What’s your addiction?

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