Wednesday, August 22, 2012

How I Overcame Caffeine Addiction

I was raised in a family and culture where coffee was thought of as a matter of tradition. The aroma of coffee in the morning is one of the defining features of many Latin American cultures, a source of pride even. Add to that the multi-billion dollar industry that has evolved around it and the propaganda it has effortlessly woven into our romanticizing about land, family, and tradition. Under this thick veil, caffeine became a necessary fixture in our cultural landscape. 

When I was about four or five years of age, I was introduced to coffee and caffeine addiction soon took hold. I would drink coffee first thing in the morning when going to primary school and frequently suffered from stomach acidity, low levels of energy and lethargy. 

If I did not have coffee in the morning, I would develop a terrible headache and mood swings. It was intolerable. I had no willpower to abandon the habit, and in fact did not even begin to see it as a problem until, late into my 20s, I noticed the huge expense that two or three cups of coffee per day can become over the long term. 

Then I had to make a couple of visits to the emergency room in March of 2009 with symptoms of tachicardia, defined as fast heart rate. Having been laid off, I found it impossible in the new economy to be gainfully employed again. I was stressed out, worried, anxious, and all this coupled with caffeine affected my health. The doctor prescribed beta blockers to help slow down my heart rate ... and advised me to stop drinking coffee. 

Well, it's not that easy when you're addicted. Coffee is a drug and, just as with any other drug, one goes through withdrawal symptoms. I had migraines for two weeks. I tried to cheat a couple of days after my last hospital visit, getting a regular cup of joe instead of decaf from Starbucks, but after five or six gulps I began to exhibit all the same symptoms that took me to the hospital. It took my heart about twenty minutes to return to normalcy. 

For the first time ever, I knew and accepted that caffeine could no longer be part of my lifestyle. That is the first step to recovery. Caffeine may be a natural stimulant, but it can also produce dependency, nervousness, insomnia, stomach irritation, and increases the risk of heart failure and anxiety among those who are susceptible. 

I tried several products that are marketed as beverages that resemble or replace coffee. I enjoyed teeccino for a bit. It's made out of figs, roasted nuts, and dates; is prepared like coffee but lacks the acidity. However, I decided that I did not need a drink that resembled or tasted like coffee. 

Then I discovered yerba maté, a herbal drink from South America rich in antioxidants which has mateine, a molecule similar to caffeine. It has some of the stimulating effects of coffee without the jitters. It can also be prepared cold, as in a lemonade. I enjoy drinking it frequently but I find that if I drink enough of it, it can have the same effects that caffeine has. Best to consume in moderation. 

I am happy to say that I've been free of caffeine addiction for over three years now. My words of advise to anyone who lives with caffeine dependency and lacks the willpower to overcome it is to drink lots of water during the process. In my research on overcoming caffeine addiction, I learned that this helps to detox, so I did that and I guess it probably helped to flux out the toxins and made it easier. 

I also used mild exercise, a live foods diet, zazen (a Buddhist meditation technique) and walks outside to deal with caffeine withdrawal 

Please do not be discouraged: freedom is always superior to dependency and it feels great.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Jabba the Hutt, the new Uncle Sam

It's called the American Dream because you gotta be asleep to believe it!
- George Carlin

I was just reading the article The Greed of Private Prisons written by Brian Magee for the American Humanist, and the image that came to my mind was the Star Wars scene where Princess Leia is chained to the wealthy, slimy, fat slug Jabba the Hutt.  The article mentions that, in spite of the private prison trend, the government's correctional expenses have increased.

Privatization of the military and of prisons creates a new elite of investors who live off the criminalization, militarization and brutalization of America and her citizens, with private Prison Lords lobbying the politicians for their interests.  Who will the citizenry lobby, when the poor are being pushed further deeper into destitution by the 1% who wants more for itself and less for the poor?

In the end, we will likely see more legislation around victimless crimes, unnecessary laws, and more demoralized youth and communities of color.  Will it be justice or profit that prevails?

The Prison Lord lobby, what a degenerate idea!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Hoodies and Turbans

The Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin, so close to my hometown of Chicago, troubles me for many reasons. I'm saddened to understand that in 2012 I live in a country where people get killed just for wearing a hoodie or a turban.

I'm an atheist.  I have no religious conviction, only philosophical opinions that change when new information becomes available.  And very often I find that I harbor animosity against certain religions for certain reasons.  Sikh traditions impose a number of unnecessary restrictions on people, and attachment to these traditions is sanctioned very strongly by the community and carry strong emotional and communal bonds.  I can understand emotional attachments to one's roots.  But the choice to assume such unnecessary restrictions should rest in the conscience of each Sikh and each individual should be respected in his or her choices.

Having said that, no one who chooses to wear the turban, or a hijab for that matter, or any other culturally significant head dress or piece of clothing, should be punished, hated or persecuted, much less killed, for that choice.  Some people make choices out of pride and loyalty, not out of fear of being marginalized by one's own.  And these choices, particularly when made in the spirit of pride and loyalty, are noble and should be respected.

I used to be a Vaishnava, a so-called Hare Krishna.  I still love cows, vegetarian food, the music and the people I met when I went to temple.  I still feel tenderness when I remember some of the mellows I experienced there.  And I would imagine it's no different for Sikhs when they listen to their peaceful kirtan.

I would like to share a sample of the type of ecstatic love songs that Sikhs dedicate to their God when they gather to worship.  Please try to imagine that this is the kind of peace that the worshipers were seeking when they were gathered in temple and some of them were killed.  Perhaps, in the sweetness and innocence of this melody, some of my readers will understand my sadness and my solidarity with the Sikhs.