I quit coffee yesterday. A mighty headache ensued but it passed. Today is much better. I started taking the practical advice in the book I’ve been reading, How to Quit without Feeling S**t (their asterisks) by Holford, Miller and Braly. I’m drinking herb and green tea. Green tea has caffeine but the effects are different. I’m taking Vitamin C and plenty of water for the headaches. I’m getting Omega-3 fats from flax. I could be doing more but I’m a tough guy.
Why quit coffee? I don’t consider it terrible for me, like the cigarettes I smoked for twenty years (and quit seven years ago). It doesn’t especially contribute to fatness or impair my judgment, like the alcohol I stopped drinking completely last year. It’s just that I’ve reached a turning point. I used to consider addiction a mystery and quitting something forced on me to ward off its consequences. But with each addiction I lay down, I am surprised how much my quality of life improves. Energy, both physical and mental. Clarity. An overall increased feeling of well-being. These days I’m trying to find new addictions to quit.
Addiction isn’t such a mystery after all. As Quit without S**t explains, we naturally feel pleasure when we do things that enhance our survival, good functioning, and reproduction. The neurons in our brain are activated by neurotransmitters made from amino acids, the building blocks of protein. Maintained in optimal quantities, our brain purrs like a kitten, rewarding us with good feelings. Addictive substances mimic neurotransmitters, tricking neurons into firing, artificially inducing pleasure, blocking the natural production of neurotransmitters and causing cravings. The pattern is typically progressive. Quitting an addiction causes a temporary period of irritability and anxiety until our brain resumes its natural production of neurotransmitters. The end state is one of gentle but more sustained pleasure. I’ll take it.
Still, I can’t help think there is a mysterious trajectory on this path. It is both eerie and wonderful how we are constructed to feel pleasure, almost as if we are being coached in a particular direction. But where? Quitting an addiction takes more than beating the physical cravings. I compare it to a journey of a thousand miles, beginning with a single step. It is a pilgrimage. Holford explains how the addicted brain develops a sensitivity to things associated with the addictive substance: the package containing the cigarettes, the bar where the drinks are served, the coffee shop where the caffeine is served. Quitting an addiction, all these accessories lose their sex appeal. The illusion is broken. Buddhists talk quite a bit about attachment and illusion. Maybe Quit without S**t explains the neurochemistry of Buddhism.
(Note: Quit without S**t is not about Buddhism; that’s my take on the subject.)