To call it a headache would be irresponsible. Needles of fire jabbed at my
frontal lobes from just behind my eyebrows, radiating a pulsating pain up
over my scalp and down the back of my neck. My breath was short. My heart
palpitated pitifully in my chest. Acidic waves of nausea beat at my
Though the day was relatively cool and I hadn't moved from my seat in half
an hour, my body was drenched in a cold sweat. I was in the throes of a
the type drug detox you see in movies.
On the table in front of me was the very substance I was struggling so hard
to expunge from my body. It sat there taunting me, daring me to ingest.
Looking around the square I counted twenty people ingesting the same evil
My resolve shattered, I grabbed the bottle, twisted open the cap, and drank
the entire twenty ounce Mountain Dew without stopping.
In the days of my youth I was impervious to caffeine. I could drink as much
or as little as I wanted without any odd side effects. In college I earned
the nickname 'Dewhound' for a while after I drank 24 cans of Mountain Dew
in 36 hours during exam week.
In early 1992 I got sick. Really sick. The doctors diagnosed it as
Mononucleoisis. That's right.
Mono. Six weeks flat on my back, the act of getting out of bed to
stumble to the bathroom to pee was a major undertaking.
Why do I bring
this up in a discussion about caffeine? Because something chemically
changed in my body after mono. I no longer metabolized caffeine in the same
way. And I needed more and more to stave off the fatique and headaches.
By 1995 my "habit" was up to five twenty ounce Mountain Dew's a day. Any
less and I got a headache. I can't stand the taste of coffee, and at the
time there wasnt a realistic alternative like Water Joe, so Mountain Dew it was.
Realizing the hold the chemical was exerting over me I
decided to take a drastic step. In the fall of 1995 I gave up caffeine cold
turkey. My body's reaction was quite amazing. It reminded me of movie
depictions of hard core detox, such as the depictions of Sherlock Holmes
detox from Cocaine in The Seven
Piercing migraine headaches, cold sweats, heart palpitations, wild
uncontrollable mood swings. For two full weeks I stuck it out through
symptoms that trailed off all too slowly. And then, I was clean. And for
the next five years I remained clean. The hardest part was restaurants, as
few decent restaurants serve anything caffeine free other than the white
soft drinks, and here in Ohio, most serve Slice. I'd rather go thirsty than
drink Slice, so I ordered Ice Water. I still do.
In early 2000 I wanted to get in better shape and undertook an exercise and
supplement program which included a fat burning pill that contained Ephedra
and Caffeine. After five years clean it was a real moral dilemma for me,
should I fall off the wagon and begin to take caffeine again? I
decided that I could handle the caffeine in controlled doses and took it
for five days.
Saturday, my first Off day on the program, I didnt take the fat burner. By
noon I had a headache. Painfully I realized I was effectively hooked
For a myriad of
uninteresting reasons the exercise program went away, and I was stuck again
drinking Mountain Dew to feed my habit.
Gaining resolve in the arbitrary name of "The New Millennium", I detoxed again in early 2001,
going through roughly the same symptoms. Of course, this time I have children.
The rapid and unpredictable mood swings this time led me to ruin my
birthday by screaming at my family, causing my five year old to avoid me.
Ah, yes. Fun stuff caffeine.
Shortly after I was clean again I began to notice a real malaise settling over my
life. Anger, depression, anxiety, whatever you care to call it, it was
becoming harder and harder to do my job. As I was struggling to be one of
the few who managed to avoid being dotcom downsized (I didn't. I'm part of
your April layoff numbers.) I needed that illusory sense of clarity that
caffeine provides. I was happy in January -- So the twisted logic goes --
and am unhappy now. And so, I made a conscious choice to "medicate" myself
This time, I decided to go about it scientifically.
Instead of five mountain dew's a day, my drug of choice was now no-doz.
200mg of caffeine with my morning OJ. And, like all good gateway drugs, my
step up into a world of harder pharaceuticals didnt go very well.
This time within a week I was not only hooked but craving. By the middle of week
two it was a No Doz and a Mountain Dew (about 90ish mg in a 20oz). By the
end of week four it was two Dews.
The amazing part of this trip through
was the paranoia, anxiety and depression. If I was awake, I was in some
form of anxiety. A cop pulling into traffic behind me was a true fight or
flight adrenaline reaction. My life had effectively boiled down to a witty
Why are you depressed?
-- I'm awake, aren't I?
And, while I was able to concentrate on my work better, it became
obvious I needed to yet again detox. I'd made it before, I was sure I
could make it again. What's a little pain?
For as difficult as my time on caffeine had become, the detox was the same
tenfold. More anxiety, paranoia, raw fear, depression. Stronger,
near-debilitating migraines. Cold sweats. Shortness of breath. Heart
Palpitations. Acidic nausea. The pain in my chest strong enough that I
wondered nihilistically to myself if I was going to die.
The scenario in the intro to this story actually happened. On a bright,
sunny, breezy afternoon I sat on my lunch hour in misery on Cincinnati's
Fountain Square in the heart of downtown. I sat and stared at a 20oz
Mountain Dew the way an Alcoholic would a bottle of scotch. I hated the
people around me for their happiness. I hated them for their bottles of
Coke. And I hated myself as I drank.
Now, don't get me wrong, not everyone metabolizes caffeine the way my body
does. And while the above may sound grossly melodramatic to those who can
partake of caffeine with impunity (such as, unfortunately, my wife.) I
assure you all of the above is true.
And so now, as I sit here after an almost five week detox my only question is this...
Why do people laugh knowingly with someone who says "I can't function
without my coffee", when they would huddle in hushed, concerned,
conspiratorial conversation about someone who said "I just can't function
without my Scotch."?