Going Without

Writers are erroneously linked to all kinds of vices and crutches… alcohol and various types of drugs at the seedier end of things, with cigarettes, chocolate and coffee at the more acceptable end of the spectrum. It seems we all have something we lean on, especially when push comes to shove. At the end of last year I decided it was time to lean on something other than chocolate, alcohol and tea.

In 2009 I kicked sugar for a month, cold turkey and kept it to a bare minimum for most of that year. That single change alone shaved 10kgs from the scales. Then the sugar crept back in, not as a treat, but as staple and then back to the high volume addiction levels. In 2010, in the three weeks leading up to the Byron Bay Writer’s Festival I pulled the unholy trinity of sugar, caffeine and alcohol from my diet and watched as my digestion began to function effectively again, I had more energy, I went to bed earlier, and was generally a happier person not at the mercy of rollercoaster moods and energy levels. But of course, it didn’t last. Byron saw to that with its orgy of beer, cake and short blacks.

Today I clock in four weeks without alcohol and sugar (a visit with my sister-in-law just after New Years ended with me quaffing G&Ts – at her insistence –and enjoying Italian gelato) and almost five weeks without caffeine. It is the longest I have ever gone without the unholy three.

Come the end of 2010, I knew it was time to give my body a chance to rest, recoup and re-energise. The final months of 2010 were busy, stressful and included far too much caffeine, sugar and alcohol. I thought I needed them to keep going. At the end of it, my body needed a break from it, so I decided to go without from the 1st January through to my high school reunion in late February. It wasn’t just the health angle, it was the hope some of the kilos might drop off before I met up with my old school friends.

January is normally a laid back month, given over to reflection, planning for the coming year and the summer school holidays. It seemed to be the best possible time to try to give up, given the excess from Christmas and New Years, and the fact it is usually a quiet month.

This year nothing could be further from the truth. This month has been my busiest on record, as I’ve juggled three active projects (From Dark Places, Nothing But Flowers and 100 Stories for Queensland) and three ‘inactive’ projects (Chinese Whisperings Red Book, and Yin & Yang Books, Write Anything Website)

I have discovered the fourth thing I can go without… sleep.

When 100 Stories came on line, and my sleep slipped down to around 10th priority, I wondered how the hell I’d go without caffeine, especially. But it turns out, the thing I miss the most is not chocolate, is not my cup of tea, but a cold beer or G&T – especially since the weather has amped up in line with what is meant to be like during Summer.

What has surprised me the most… the sleep deprivation doesn’t seem to hurt so much, it doesn’t seem to drain me like it has at other times, because I’m taking care of my body in other ways. It has been a real revelation. This is a good thing, as I’m not sure when sleep will return to normal transmission again.

Yes I will drink while I am away in Victoria next month, I’ll enjoy a pot of tea and a slice of cake, but I know I won’t return to the unhealthy levels of last year. I have proven I can weather the worst of any storm without them. No need to go back.

What are your crutches? Is there something you absolutely must have when writing? Have you ever tried to go without?

Image: the first cuppa at Byron, 2010

5 thoughts on “Going Without

  1. You’re an inspiration, Jodi. I let coffee be my crutch for a while, but now it’s mostly just a happy treat–I don’t have it every day.

    I wonder if writers are connected to all these vices because of how much we love habit, and how much easier it is to get into the writing frame of mind if we have a set path, eg. get up, make the coffee, check email, write.


  2. It’s the three C’s for me, cigarettes, coffee and chocolate. Alcohol doesn’t really feature any more, other than the odd glass of a particularly potent Slovakian spirit around Christmas time, or a glass of homemade wine every now and then (my Grandfather was a great home winemaker, so I’m only keeping a family tradition going, right?).

    I should probably make the effort to cut down or cut out at least one of the three, probably chocolate, as just the thought of going without coffee is too horrible for me to contemplate.


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  4. This blog post has hit home with me. I read it on 31st Jan and have been stewing on it ever since. I had got myself in a really bad habit of going to the shop after the school run and coming home to have a coffee and a bar of chocolate. I hadn’t even realised that it had become such a habit until I read this post.

    I stopped immediately. I am now thinking of cutting out caffeine and sugar as well. I have already dramatically reduced my intake of both since reading this post.

    I don’t really have to worry about alcohol as I rarely drink.

    Thanks for inspiring me. Again.


  5. I’m the same as Rebecca – this has been haunting me. I have been abusing sugar massively over the last couple of weeks, and I need to get the control back.

    I wondered whether you cut out processed foods with sugar in – like… baked beans for example, or just sweets and puddings as well as granulated sugar.

    I don’t drink except at parties, and having not been at any for ages, I’m not worried! But caffeine… that I just cannot bear the thought of cutting out again. I’ve done it twice in my life, and I simply can’t lose 3 days to a migraine at the moment. But sugar… yeah, that needs to go.


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