How is your brain operating right now? Is it totally natural or is it perhaps under the influence—of caffeine or alcohol? Yesterday, I began to explain to you my little un-scientific experiment in which I gave up caffeine and alcohol on my vacation (yesterday’s post here). Today’s post is a continuation of this train of thought, but this time with details about my actual experience abstaining (temporarily) from caffeine and alcohol. To recap, I am not a heavy consumer of either caffeine or alcohol, but I am rather consistent, which makes me interested to see the (hopefully positive) effects of complete abstention from these products.
Last week, I went on vacation to Cartagena, Colombia and Panama City, Panama. These two locations served as the backdrop of my little experiment. I gave up tea on the day that I flew from Boston to Cartagena. Although Cartagena is in the same time zone as Boston, I was still pretty tired upon my arrival to the Southern hemisphere. The next morning, at breakfast, I forewent a morning cup of tea once more. Initially, I felt fine, but as the day progressed, I quickly grew tired and started to get a small headache building up around my temples. Luckily, the headache was not incapacitating, and I was able to go about the rest of my day as planned (albeit with mild to medium discomfort). The following morning, the headache persisted, but to a lesser degree. On the third day, the headache had disappeared, but I was super tired without the caffeine. My sleep routine was poor for a few reasons, so it is unclear to me just how much the lack of caffeine affected my levels of fatigue. I went the rest of the week easily without caffeine (but with a few naps here and there).
As far as alcohol goes, I am not a big drinker, so I did not have any physical withdrawal symptoms. However, I did notice a difference in myself when I went to a restaurant for dinner one evening. When I go out for dinner, it is routine for me to get a drink. During a normal work week, this could mean a single drink for a Friday or Saturday night meetup or date—or even no alcohol at all, while on vacation, this could mean a few nights in a row with a glass of wine or a bottle of beer. For me, the most noticeable side effect of (temporarily) giving up alcohol was in my mindset. Usually, after being seated at a restaurant I would immediately scan the drink menu and start with the cocktail section. If I couldn’t find anything with rum and coconut, then I would usually navigate to the wine or beer sections, depending on my interest that evening. With alcohol out of the picture, I was eager to see what other fun Colombian drinks that I could order.
On my first evening in Colombia, I ordered a limonada de mango biche, which was a mango-lime slushy. This flavor was new to me and it got me excited to see what else I could try. Another night, I got the limonada de coco which was another slushy, however, this one was thicker, perhaps, with a yogurt base and flavored like coconut. I can say that this drink is now the second best “mocktail” I’ve ever had (the first being a virgin Mai Tai in Hawaii). For me, the abstention of alcohol improved my enjoyment of the meal. When I order alcohol, sometimes I feel like I need to control myself and only order one. While this is always for the best, the need to restrain myself, while I am enjoying myself can be psychologically stressful. However, with the mocktails, I am always satisfied with just one. The ability to enjoy my drink without feeling like I needed to hold back brought me peace in my dining experience. As an added bonus, mocktails are cheaper than cocktails!
On the very last day of my trip, I cracked. I was in the Tocumen airport in Panama waiting to board my flight back home to Boston. I needed to catch up on some work and with a few hours to spare in the airport, I decided to sit down and get to it. Once I took a seat, I felt so extremely tired and couldn’t bear the thought of reading or writing substance-free. In this moment, I began to feel like my caffeine-free lifestyle would not hold up once I landed back in Boston. So, I caved and ordered a green tea (contains even less caffeine than black tea!). Although I broke on this day, I’m glad that I did not shatter and slide back into an old habit of black tea. The next day at work, I felt clear-headed in the morning and did not crave tea. In fact, I felt clear-headed all day. While I did experience a tired spell at around 10am, it wasn’t debilitating, and I was able to push through until I regained energy at about noon.
Overall, I feel like my caffeine-free experience has been positive. I don’t know how to accurately describe this, but my brain feels very… clean! It is as if everything internally has stabilized. Caffeine can make me feel really energetic, and its absence really lethargic. “No caffeine” feels like my energy is somewhere in-between—never super alert, but also never feeling like I am on the brink of collapse. It’s a good feeling and I am going to do my best to sleep more and drink less caffeine so I can hold onto to this sensation. I think, realistically, I will need to take in caffeine every once and a while. From this day forward, I will try my best to make sure that my caffeine intake does not become a thoughtless habit. The same is true with alcohol, I will allow myself to indulge on special occasions only. In this way, I want both alcohol and caffeine to be a treat, rather than an expectation or habit.
I am glad that I undertook this mini experiment. I learned a lot about my body and mind. It’s good to know who I am without caffeine and alcohol. Have you discovered your most natural self yet, Dear Reader? If not, why not get to know this person, if only for a week, they might just surprise you.
P.S. my teeth also seem to be at least a shade whiter. What a nice bonus for my struggle!