Avoiding caffeine should be simple. Why isn’t it? Just don’t consume it. It’s not good for me and I feel that I struggle so much with it. I know how negatively it factors in my life and how it doesn’t support my best self. Why can’t I just walk away?

There’s a lot to unpack with this substance. The first thing I have to do is just give myself a hug and acknowledge how hard this is. Having a complicated relationship with caffeine does not define me as a human being. The situation just is. Showing myself grace as opposed to condemnation is difficult, but necessary as I explore all of this.

I have been told my whole life that I should avoid caffeine… and that it was ok to have. As a child, I was informed that it would stunt my growth, but it would still be available to me. As an adult, the messaging has been just as diametrically opposed. “It is terrible for your anxiety.” “Let’s meet for a coffee.” “I start the day with quiet cup of coffee.” “Let’s go out for a drink. (Rum and Coke)” “Caffeine is detrimental to sleep.” “Coke or Pepsi?” “I just need some energy.”

The big pattern that I see with caffeine in my day to day life is that during times of connection, it seems to play a positive part. When I meet with friends, there it is in my coffee or drink. When I connect inwards first thing in the morning, there it is. Switching to decaf isn’t always an option- especially when it comes to soft drinks. You’re able to find diet soda easier than you can find caffeine free. Plus, decaf coffee isn’t truly caffeine free.

The other pattern that I notice is when I am in my more low-energy times, caffeine becomes something to get me going. When I am in my high-energy times, caffeine becomes what keeps me going- causing me to inevitably burn out. I could easily replace actual food with coffee, much to the detriment of my bodily processes. I would exist in the bathroom.

I have drawn a boundary with when I am able to have my coffee, I need to be done by 9am. Anything after that can invite more caffeine and can lead to issues with my sleep quality later. I also choose decaf when I can. With this boundary, I have noticed that my mornings have more of a delineation between the time that I use to reflect and the work that I want to get done for the rest of the day. It has been a positive thing. I have tried switching to tea for this time in the morning, but herbal or even caffeinated teas are not the same as a cup of coffee. There are calories and comfort in the addition of sugar and milk. For this moment, decaf and boundaries are how I manage my caffeine intake.

This 9am boundary doesn’t so much work for the caffeinated soft drinks that happen in the afternoon and evening with dinners out and drinks. It has been a bit of a relief that there have been restrictions on restaurants and in-person dining for the last year. It causes me to pause. I can reevaluate. But habit is strong so I often go with what I know. My work is finding something that I can have at dinners out and when I meet with friends in the evenings going forwards as restrictions ease. Questions arise, do I want to be doing these things? Do I want to be going out to restaurants where I feel caffeinated soft drinks are the best option? Do I want to be going out to meet over drinks? Am I choosing caffeine because I’m making the best of a mediocre situation?

The way forward is to connect to what is best for me and my body. I truly believe this. My solution for managing caffeine is going to involve avoiding caffeine when it makes no sense for me to have any. This is going to have to come from substitution of caffeinated beverages for decaffeinated beverages where possible. It will also need to come from awareness of time boundaries and from feeling how my body is impacted. The calm and settled feelings are not an indication of something being wrong or me being tired. I can exist in a way that isn’t a sprint. I don’t have to rush around to be valued. My body needs to be nurtured and nourished instead of being run ragged. I don’t need to live with my anxiety constantly being triggered. The energy rush of a caffeine hit is not the same as abundant energy that comes from being well-fed and rested. I get stuck in a loop of caffeine highs that burn my body out. One drink out of place as a “treat” often has consequences that lead me down a path of constantly propping myself up with another “treat.”

The ability to work through my angles about caffeine in a non-judgemental way is the beginning of change. I can’t work with what I can’t see and accept, so I am grateful for this opportunity. I know that for change to be lasting, it needs to be met with awareness. The ability to make well-informed decisions that come from knowledge of situations as well as the consequences and habits that follow is crucial. What often appears as a “treat” or a “one-off” situation will lead to a pattern of dependency. It may feel good in the moment, but it doesn’t lead anywhere sustainable.

I want to change and live my best possible life. Caffeine doesn’t support or have much of a place in that life, so it’s time to untangle the patterns that lead to its use and necessity. This isn’t going to be easy, but it’s aligned with where I want to be, so it is worth it.

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