A couple of weeks ago I was feeling a little shit. It wasn’t necessarily a one day affair, but rather this consistent routine of feeling a little shit and a little tired all day. Mood was a bit shit, temper was shit, general outlook – shit.
These are the worst kinds of feelings, because they’re like little bugs that have crawled into your ear canal while you sleep, and you can hear the slight clicking and cracking, but the bug is small enough that you can safely tune it out – and yet it remains, slowly torturing you and clawing away into your eardrum to burst it wide open.
That analogy is apt, frightening and yeah, I felt like shit, you get the picture. Anyway, I’m pretty on point with my diet, health and fitness, so it was odd to me. Long story short, after checking my blood pressure, noticing it was much worse than it used to be, and considering what was not working (my sleep), I thought about what I could do to improve it.
Caffeine cutting was the answer – and so I decided on the day, for a week I’ll cut caffeine to zero. Not 20mg or weak as piss tapering of it, but cold turkey, just turn it off kind of culling. This is the way I like to do things.
I had pulsating headaches over the next two or three days and slept a lot. I was sleeping like a baby and it was for about 10 hours a night, with naps in between. I couldn’t actually believe how much I was sleeping, but more importantly how much sleep I was missing.
The headaches kept at it and I was feeling rather tired, but I still went ahead without issue otherwise and kept working and doing my thing.
Couple of weeks later, I feel wonderful. Back on the caffeine, sleeping super well almost every day (barring the drudgery of humid Japanese nights) and getting up every morning at 5am, ready for a walk, some exercise and the rest of the day.
So what happened? The TLDR – I was using caffeine to cover for my lack of sleep. Caffeine is dangerous for this reason – it blocks adenosene from latching onto your brain neuron thingies so you don’t feel sleepy. It can remain in your system for up to 10 hours too, and having caffeine floating in your brain when you sleep can reduce the quality of your deep sleep by 20 percent. Sleep expert Matt Walker basically explained that this is the equivalent of sleeping like a person fifteen years your senior. Holy shit!
So that week was catch up week, and life is no longer shit, it is actually great. Bad sleep ruins everything in life, it’s fundamental to your wellbeing and I’m glad I went cold turkey.
Now for the point of today’s blog post – it bewildered some people that I could go cold turkey like that with caffeine and just shut it off. Rambo would be freaking out and buying my gumroad courses, because I can just turn it off, the craving and hunger. I’ve had universally consistent responses of “oh I can’t do that”, and many of the conversations veer into the inability to control oneself when it comes to lots of things, whether it be binge eating, sugar, staying up watching shit shows like Rings of Power, etc.
For me, this is confusing, and I thought about it a lot. What’s the distinguishing characteristic between me and other people I’ve spoken to who just succumb to desires like that? I thought about it being brain chemistry and genetics, but that doesn’t answer it, because lots of people with genetic predispositions to being an impulsive clown have successfully overcome addictions to whatever.
What it came down to that felt sufficient for me was more a philosophical answer, and it came from speaking to someone who was firmly pro-determinist “driven by our magic matter and environment” in thinking. They also have frequently told me they struggle with holding down their weight and laying off the sugar binges.
That was the “clicking” point for me in my head – because for as long as I remember, from child to man child, I’ve never thought that way. I don’t remember where I learned or heard about it (maybe Legacy of Kain, thank you God for giving me that), but I’ve always had this idea in my head that I have a will, and I always have a choice to use it. If I wanna do something, I’m going to go do it.
That doesn’t mean I’m perfect in execution, I’ve failed lots of times, particularly in the lustful regions – but that’s not for your dirty ears to hear about. But when it comes to general cold turkey quitting and turning my life around, when I decide to make a choice, I know I can make that choice fundamentally and know that my chemistry or impulses don’t control that. I do, I’ve got a choice.
I did this even with anti-depressants. When I was about 23, I decided to go cold turkey on them because they made me feel dead inside and turned my life into a black hole of lifeless shit. It took about two weeks to get through that, and it was easily one of the most difficult come offs I’ve done, but I still did it. I distinctly remember feeling like I was completely severed from my own bodily functions, sitting in a corner of the kitchen with my hands shaking uncontrollably, and yet consciously I was totally cool with it. I knew why it was happening, what feelings were running through me, and understood it’ll pass. Quick side note: I don’t endorse doing this with things like medications and especially severe alcoholism and heroin. These can actually kill you from withdrawal, so if you’re going off those hard things, get help. For real.
It’s willpower or more specifically, free will. I think that if you fundamentally believe you are capable of making free choices, your ability to actually change things and go cold turkey is significantly enhanced. This doesn’t mean perfect execution, because everyone falls over to pick themselves back up again to climb the tower of miserable change, but you know you can do it and you know you can get stronger at doing it.
If you’re very deterministic and a total material atheist, you tend to have the mental model that you have little control in the things that happen in your life, and it also gives you a convenient out from taking responsibility for failures. I’m a stickler for words, and when people tell me they just can’t stop eating, it’s not “I can’t stop eating because I have no self-control”, it’s usually “I can’t stop eating because it’s just craving / my disorder/ my …” and so on.
The reason for lack of control lies on the object you own, not on you, and I think that makes a significant difference, because it absolves one of full responsibility. I’m not denying the existence of disorder, genetics, epigenetics and chemistry – they’re important factors, but you still ultimately have a sense of self awareness of it all, and that self awareness is the ultimate captain of the ship. If the captain is a drunk or dead, the ship is going to bounce around like a spastic in a stormy ocean. The sugar will get you, because you don’t have the will and determination in line to steer away from it.
Anyway, that’s my TED talk for today. Free will exists. I cannot prove it to you either – but you can prove it to yourself, I think.