I knew things were a bit more serious than my original reckoning when I realized that over half of the skin of my bottom lip had come off in a single piece. Stupid, stupid girl; what in the previous twenty-four hours had failed to convince me that I'd had a major lapse in self-control? Did the insomnia and the twenty-four hours of shakes not serve as warning enough?

Stupid, stupid girl.

Day two of caffeine withdrawal. On the phone last night, in the middle of something that smelled halfway between chastisement and argument, I admitted to the voice on the other end of the phone that I should probably start treating caffeine with the same wary respect that most people give to alcohol.

Alcohol I understand. (Along with knitting and database theory, the three most useful concepts I learned in college.) Anyone who has been around me at dragon*con or any social gathering is aware of my ironclad control over my alcohol intake. I know how much it takes to achieve the effect I want, and I drink in accordance. If I have had enough alcohol to giggle and laugh and tell stories with extraneous hand gestures, it's because I've chosen to allow myself enough of the chemical to reach that level.

It's easy for the practiced social drinker to arch an eyebrow at the drinkers who "can't control themselves." I've done it - repeatedly - for years, and have counted myself grateful that I am squarely situated in a group of friends who all firmly understand their limits and don't require babysitting after drinking too much.

It makes it all the more humiliating to live through the aftereffects of not knowing my caffeine consumption limits.

I regularly drank sodas in college, but stopped during a rather difficult semester in my senior year of college. I'd begun to have suspicions about my sleep schedule, and wanted to try weaning myself off of caffeine to see if the sodas I drank had any effect on my sleep needs. To my utter lack of surprise, less than a week after guzzling the last bit of fizzy carbonated goodness, I needed 1-2 more hours of sleep per night.

I started feeling more awake during the day, too.

A few years later, I started seeing an effect I hadn't anticipated. Where, once, I could drink several sodas without any effect, even a single soda made me jumpy. Hyperactive. Fast words, jerky actions.

I use this to my advantage during dragon*con. I admit this. For approximately a month before dragon*con, I completely avoid caffeine with a religious fervor, and then dive into 'con with all the energy and caffeine I can muster. I run, and I run, and I run, until the last day of 'con, when I have the ceremonial last soda to get me home and then stop cold turkey.

I sleep a lot after dragon*con.

I wish I had an accurate tally of how much caffeine I had during this weekend's gathering. Originally jokingly called the "Pan-Holiday Extravaganza", it's now more simply known as the PHE.

It had sodas.
It had tiramisu. With espresso-soaked ladyfingers.
It had brownies laced with coffee.

Originally I was trying to score a quick chemical pick-me-up, so I had a couple of sodas. They worked. I had another one or two with dinner, and several more over the course of the evening as I tried to work up the courage to jump into the line and play Dance Dance Revolutions with friends. (Never did. Sorry.) The tiramisu was lovely, and we made jokes about repeatedly needing to taste-test the brownies for "quality control issues."

Total over the course of the night: three brownies, one generous slice of tiramisu, and somewhere between five and eight sodas.

Too much.

I drove home at half-past midnight with shaky hands. Tired, I assumed. I lay on the reading room couch, waiting for Margaret (our houseguest) to come home, and tried to sleep. I would barely dip down into the lightest of sleep before being forcibly thrown back into awakeness. I would shift, try to find a more comfortable position, groggily practice a few muscle-relaxation techniques, and dip back into sleep again - only to be bounced right back out.

Each cycle would last between 30 and 90 minutes, and it continued all night. I finally gave up at 11, got up, and headed to the clubhouse to help Kat clean up after the party.

For the rest of the day, I sat on the couch - and shook. Twitched. Talked really fast, if I wasn't careful. Eventually, I wasn't able to sit still any longer, so the kitchen got cleaned just to give my hands something to do. Knitting was out. ("Knit six. *twitch* Purl *twitch* three. *twitch*" -- a bad idea.)

By the time of the late-night phone call, a heavy weighty discussion on matters of private importance, I was still twitching. I tried to carry on a conversation while strangely fascinated with my inability to keep my feet still while talking.

I was ordered to drink water while we talked. As much as I could tolerate. So much so that our phone call required not one, but two, bathroom breaks. It ended with a promise to finish off a fourth glass of water before bed, with the addition of an aspirin that would, hopefully, allow me to sleep.

* * * * *

Day two of caffeine withdrawal is equally frustrating, but for different reasons. Dehydration leads to tiredness, confusion, and possibly the driest lips on the face of the planet. When poorly timed, it leads you to have to excuse yourself momentarily from a phone conversation while your lips molt.

How does one explain this on the phone, anyway? Given that lips don't exactly have plumage, it's difficult to claim that they're molting. There's also this documented "eww, gross!" reaction that most adult humans have when you confess that your lips just tried to detach themselves from your face.

In the end, I said nothing at all, and was glad they didn't bleed - much.

I did, however, growl at the soda aisle while I was buying groceries this afternoon. Technically, I was growling at the bottles and cans, but in my heart, I was growling at my own stupidity. I was careless. I know how much caffeine affects me, and I wasn't careful.

My penance is water. Lots, and lots, and lots of water.

Colorado vignettes will return soon. Probably when I stop twitching.

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Having been there last month, I will say that simply going from AL to CO is enough by itself to make your lips peel off in sheets...