A little over one year ago, my husband came to me with an idea.
“I might do a cleanse. Want to do it together?”
“Sure.” I said.
As much as I geek out about juices and smoothies and super foods, I’d never done a cleanse. I truly bristle against food rules in any form be they under the guise of Whole30 or Paleo or whatever. Like, I don’t eat sugar, but not because I don’t allow myself to eat sugar. I’m allowed to eat whatever I want, whenever I want. I don’t eat sugar because I have learned that it brings down my mood the next day. If I told myself, I cannot have sugar because I want to loose weight, I know from years of working with clients and personal experience that a rebellion will always ensue in the form of sugar obsession and sugar binging.
My real motivation for doing the cleanse had nothing to do with food (which I’ll explain shortly), but in case you’re curious, Charles and I did Clean. It’s pretty commercial and the book associated with it is glorified sales material, but its simplicity and ease won us over: You get this box which contains all of the supplements, probiotics and the basis for your smoothies (a powder blend) and a bunch of recipes to follow for your daily meal. They hold your hand, which is kind of nice.
Part of the cleanse included forgoing coffee. This was my real motivation for the cleanse. My coffee consumption developed into a true annoyance a few months prior. I felt beholden to finding coffee – and when I say “coffee” I mean good coffee. I’d been in California in a hotel room, hostage to the early hour that my work day began without any source of fresh, decent coffee. What began as a love affair soured into a nuisance.
My first cup of coffee graced my lips in 2001. While I drank Diet Coke and Diet Dr. Pepper for their caffeine and lack of calories in high school, I still felt a rush from the sugar-substitute and an inevitable crash. A college student very dedicated to getting top grades, I needed caffeine to help me focus (so I thought). When a Starbucks popped up on the corner near my sorority house, I’d found my home away from the library. I tried regular drip coffee and found it bitter so the barista recommended I try another drink. Instantly I was hooked: I loved the smell, the rich taste and the heat of an Americano. When my classes were done around 3:30 p.m. and my stint in Alderman Library grew stale, I relocated to Starbucks and juiced up on Americanos. I found a comfortable chair, cracked open my textbook, and continued my studies surrounded by focused students, the pretty excellent Starbucks musical soundtrack, and my hot Americano.
My diet and lifestyle look drastically different from those days. Back then, I loved (and I mean loved) baking. My best friends and I made these chocolate chip cookies unparalleled in softness and thickness. I subsisted on salads and fresh veggies, and the occasional dinner out, and baked goods. I knew my diet fell short of what a growing human being requires so I even took a multivitamin. But sugar fueled me.
With this much sugar in my diet, I monitored my intake throughout the day so that I wouldn’t crash. I didn’t do this consciously. My body only wanted a little sugar and if I ate too many cookies, my body felt sick. I loved sugar and loved that it wasn’t “off limits” anymore. I’d grown up restricting all foods that I thought would lead to me gaining weight until I blew up that entire mental paradigm and learned to eat what my body wanted. My body wanted sugar.
Slowly, over many years, my diet trended toward healthier and healthier choices. In law school, I ate spinach for breakfast often because I felt so sharp afterward. Eventually, juices became trendy in Manhattan and I ordered BluePrint once each month to try the new flavors. I got into smoothies. All of these choices evolved my diet toward what today is very “healthy” – though still, without any mandates or rules attached in any form whatsoever.
The experiment to forgo coffee through this cleanse began to uncover what I’m like without coffee. That stimulant provided me with a focus for many years, but what is my mind like without it? Who am I when not chemically altered? These kinds of impulses find me a few times each year: I feel like I owe it to my clients to do the hard thing and report back from the other side. It always benefits me, and hopefully, even one other person benefits, too. And besides, I can never find a very good excuse to sidestep these personal journeys.
Within twenty-four hours of giving up coffee, the headache set in and resided on my forehead for two days. On the third day, the headache faded to a very low throb, but my fatigue set in to replace it. Without the coffee to keep me up, my true physical state revealed itself: this girl was tired.
My mental objections to my physical exhaustion spewed forth endlessly: I shouldn’t be tired, I got plenty of sleep last night; I’m not really tired, I’m just recalibrating from my adrenals firing from the caffeine for so many years; I am not truly tired – I probably just need to include cardio in my routine.
Or, just maybe, the most obvious answer was the correct one: I was tired.
Maybe it was the years I slept so little when I worked for my lawfirm, or that first six months of being a mom where I never slept for more than three hours at a time. Maybe it was the cleanse. Maybe it was all of the changes my life has taken. But I was deeply tired. During those first few weeks, I slept a lot. Ten hours at night and I even took naps. And when I slept, I was out. I dug quite deep in the well of sleep every time I shut my eyes. I don’t remember any dreams from those days and I usually dream each night. I started really looking forward to sleeping at night, this time of rest. Eventually, about three weeks in, I stopped going to bed at 7:30 p.m. and stayed up until 9 p.m. I dropped my naps. During the day, I began to feel like there was this energy source that never ended, but lived inside of me. I grew hungry, ate food, but the energy dips associated with eating never followed.
I have no issue with coffee and believe it to have its own health benefits. I say that to make clear this blog post is not an indictment of coffee or caffeine. I’m writing this to suggest something else: when we’re tired, our bodies are trying to tell us something. That message is very likely that we need to rest. And that we may need to rest for the little girl who lost her mother too young. We may need to rest for the teenager who desperately hustled for her dad’s approval. We may have to rest for the girl who held those heavy secrets for all of those years. Maybe the boy who wasn’t allowed to sleep in needs to do just that. Who knows why we need to lie down. But once we’ve rested enough, our bodies will tell us by offering us renewed energy.
The best replacement for coffee that I found is undeniably the simplest solution: rest. Rest is free! Rest abundantly available. All you need is to give yourself permission to actually lay your burden down, and take up the banner of rest. Just for a while. Just until you’ve gotten your fill.
Don’t take my word for it. Go and see for yourself.
P.S. I still don’t drink coffee. Maybe I’ll pick it back up one day. But for now, I’m deeply enjoying being one of this annoying tea people.
COMMENTS: please feel free to share your thoughts on any cleanses, food rules, sugar thoughts, coffee dreams. Anything you’d like to share, without giving advice that’s unsolicited, belongs right here. This is a safe space filled with sovereignty.