COLUMNIST: Life without fun - sorry, alcohol and caffeine

KEEP AWAY No caffeine for our columnist Richard.
KEEP AWAY No caffeine for our columnist Richard.

“HHHHUUUUUURRRHHHH!!” That, if said in an inwards high-pitched breathy squeal, comes close to the noise I am said to have made between 3am-4am around every other night throughout November.

Short of spending that time doing anything particularly exciting, I would suddenly wake during the night, my insides awash with feelings of globular sugary panic, and I would fail to fall asleep again for the rest of the night.

Trudging into to work dead-eyed and leaden, I would crave a quick pick-me-up. Some change to put in my brain’s leccy meter to keep the lights running for another eight hours.

The coffee jar, kettle and novelty holiday mug were only too happy to work together and form what is known as a caffeinated beverage. These concoctions of water and stimulants were not unknown to me.

The subconscious pick-ups of jumbo Pepsi Maxes in Happy Shopper. Treating myself to Kahlua and cokes after long weeks toiling over a hot keyboard. And the copious amounts of strong coffee I would drink throughout the day with the regularity of radio news bulletins.

I was, to quote Mark E Smith, totally wired.

This highly strung state of body and mind is good for work – an alert, excitable state helps us get most things done.

Most things except sleeping – a lesson I have spent the past few years painfully learning.

My adulthood-long caffeine adventure culminated with a weekend in early December. During this time, my zombified, sleep-deprived corpse was laid out on the couch accompanied by the occasional Azera, a League of Gentlemen box set and a small reservoir of my own saliva. Something had to change. My eyes had turned a fetching shade of deep scarlet – but that was one of the very few positives.

I had always judged people who claimed they were “addicted to caffeine” as boring losers who made up pseudo-interesting facts about themselves in lieu of “proper” addictions. After all, there are no edgy Naked Lunch-style novels about being hooked on Nespressos.

At 27, I am now one of said losers. What 26-year-old me would think of me now, I have no idea. To be honest I don’t think I want to know – his carefree Dr Pepper-before-bed heroics are not something I can brush off anymore. I was addicted to caffeine, and I had to face down my first-world middle-class demons.

So I gave up. One day in, and I felt very smug with myself. “No coffee for me, Dave, I’m having a camomile tea.”

“Pint of coke with my meal? More like a HALF pint of ORANGE JUICE. That’s called will-power, guys!”

“Mmmm, fizzy water!”

These were some of the achingly irritating ways I would use to draw attention to what a ruddy good guy I was.

On day two, I could barely function. Screaming headaches, listlessness and regular dreamy momentary lapses, literally not knowing where I was or what I was doing – they were all there.

And so I’d discovered caffeine addiction was a real thing. Honestly. It is!

After a couple of weeks of “cold turkey” (ugh), these symptoms subsided, and were replaced with my body’s withering acceptance that it was just going to have to get used to my choices.

But I had another surprise up my sleeve for body: dry January.

First of all, I am most definitely not doing this for charity. For me, there are far more worthy and challenging ways of raising money for needy causes than saying “no” to a Kahlua and coke (although not many). This was purely on health grounds. No stimulants must surely mean no depressants either.

Have you ever been to the pub with your friends and noticed how drunk they get while you sit there chewing the straw of your fresh orange? I have, and it aint easy.

But studies show that quitting both caffeine and alcohol has long-term health benefits, and good mental health prospects. It also gives you a sense of inner calm and control, and you feel like...

Oh, to hell with it. Get me a pint. And an espresso. And a Kahlua.