Chemical dependency

Chemical dependency

The winter holidays are a great time to reevaluate life. The short days pull me indoors and the prolonged break from work gets me thinking about things I don't normally have energy or clarity to consider. This year I've found myself looking back at a year that flew by as a total blur in disbelief.

It was by far the most active year of my life, and in more ways than one. I traveled the most I've ever traveled, spending at least 70 nights in a bed that wasn't mine, and including 2 nights in a friend's closet and one in the back seat of my car. I finally ran a marathon and started exercising regularly for the first time since the pandemic started. I've taken on more responsibilities at work and feel like I've pushed myself to improve and adapt like I never have before.

That would be about where the narrative stopped on social media or in the office. "Look at all I accomplished!" is something that's easy to talk about, and people will return it with affirmations, then tell you about theirs so you can return the favor. But the less pleasant parts of the year get skipped, and it's often lost in the conversation. I unfortunately had several incidents in my family that took a significant toll of my capacity for other things.

All of this activity came at a cost. I entered 2023 thinking I had turned a page on my pandemic pouts: I liked my job, my fiancee was graduating with a PhD, we had weddings to go to and one of our own to plan, and I was physically and mentally ready to tackle my summer marathon. I was looking forward to the year in a way I haven't for a long time. I ended 2023 with many accomplishments, but also a dependency on a steady dose of chemical enhancement.

I drank 3 cups of coffee on my last cross-country flight

In some ways, the chemical dependence was a side effect of something more necessary. I spent 5 nights on a plane this year, trying to cram a good night of sleep into 4 or 5 hours in an economy seat. By the new year I'll have completed 8 cross country trips (update: I completed the 8 trips and already have my next one scheduled). As a result, caffeine has become a larger and larger part of my life. Dealing with jet lag is easier when you have a chemical working to dull your sleepiness, and every trip I've taken for work has involved at least 3 coffees a day to keep myself going.

Maybe I'd do better if there wasn't any coffee in my life. I've always dealt with time changes in an ok way, but I've come to really appreciate coffee in the last few years. There are certain coffees that I find incredible and would drink regardless of the caffeine effect, but at some point I found the performance boost of caffeine valuable enough that I've made coffee part of my everyday activity.

In a strange twist, making myself some jitter juice is the thing that calms me down. Taking the time to grind my own beans, measure out doses, and poor water in a consistent, time-aware way has allowed me to find some peace in the middle of the day. Its effects on me may not be so calming in the end, but for the brief moment I'm making a cup, I find myself at peace.

I ran a juice diet a few months ago in attempt to "reset" myself. And it kind of worked, but in other ways it just confirmed for me that caffeine is a powerful brain drug. I was in a fog for a good part of the diet, and have appreciated the power of coffee much more since then. There were no withdrawal symptoms like I've heard of, which is good, but I need to consider how I proceed next year carefully.

Then there's alcohol. It's everywhere, and after 3 cups of coffee it's almost necessary for me to wind down at night. The problem is that alcohol starts at 5 or 6, and I stay up till 1 or 2. That gives me more than 6 hours to drink and not look like I'm dependent on ethanol. In the last few years drinks with friends have moved from Friday nights to Thursday to Tuesdays to Mondays, and before I know it I'm having "just a few" every day of the week.

At some point I need to consider switching my verbiage from "hobbyist" and "enthusiast" to "addict", despite the hurt I feel in my soul when I think up the phrase. And maybe that's the issue: I can't admit to myself that I'm addicted. I find reasons to believe that I'm not. I did a weeklong juice cleanse, and then didn't drink alcohol for 4 weeks (except one social gathering in the middle). I didn't drink for the 2 weeks leading to the marathon. I must not be addicted! Yet why do I continue to reach for a beer at the end of the day? Why do I find a glass of whiskey so comforting?

I've already made good progress towards a less chemical-active life just by moving my bedtime to 10pm, but I believe that I still have a chemical dependency.