In Louisiana children are served coffee-milk for breakfast. It was this milky, mildly coffee-flavored drink sweetened with lots of sugar that got me started on my most dysfunctional and impossible-to-sever relationship. No amount of negotiation, compromise, boundary-setting or re-navigation seems to make this relationship easier.
In 2003 I became a supervisor at Starbucks. My email address was firstname.lastname@example.org. All of my life I had pounded coffee all day long with seemingly no ill side effects. But my anxiety had become debilitating. No amount of medication could keep my depression at bay. An acupuncturist told me I had to stop coffee. She said it was contributing to my depression. It took a year to wean myself off and learn to love green tea. And she was right. Anytime I drank coffee, the surge of energy was followed quickly by depression. I learned to take the edge off by drinking a cup of green tea but the message was clearly received. Coffee was not good for me.
Unfortunately my on-again, off-again use of coffee was just beginning. I know it impacts my sleep. It ramps up my anxiety and fuels my depression. It is a drug that I should not take. It is also my teacher. If you google this blog page for coffee, you will see that I love it as much as I hate it. I’ve quit it, loved it, obsessed over it and tried over and over again to dance with this dark and lovely devil. I love coffee, coffee mugs, coffeehouses, half-and-half, cafe au lait, cappuccino and dark roast coffee. I own an expensive electric espresso machine, an Italian stovetop espresso maker, an electric drip machine, an aeropress, several french presses and a pour-over coffeemaker. It’s not a drink. It’s a lifestyle.
At the end of last year I threw out all of my coffee. For months I drank a lovely oolong chai or a green chai for breakfast. It was delicious. I made homemade almond milk and enjoyed a new ritual with a cast-iron Japanese teapot. With a sense of accomplishment, I took all of the bags of coffee that I had – decaf and full-strength – and threw them in the garbage. I started to read about tea in the hopes that a new lifestyle would attract me.
I signed up for a monthly tea club and stocked up on my favorite chais. I bought pounds of raw almonds for my home-made almond milk. For months I was satisfied. I allowed myself coffee but only if I went to a coffee shop to buy it as a treat. And I slept. Long nights of restful sleep and gratifying days with minimal anxiety piled up. My Chinese herbs sat unopened on the shelf. I had energy for exercise and hunger between meals abated. Life was good.
I ended up in a coffee shop in Grand Rapids between Christmas and New Year’s Day intending to buy a pound of decaf coffee “just to keep on hand”. Some part of my subconscious talked me into a pound of caffeinated coffee just to balance it out. For the last few weeks I’ve been having a cup of 1/4 full-strength in the morning. I have limited my coffee intake to the morning, and if I need more caffeine, I use tea. But I’ve lost the taste for my lovely chai and almond milk. And today I’m up to half-caf. What am I doing?
I’m back on my Chinese herbs because my anxiety has increased, and I’m having trouble sleeping. Airtight containers of oolong and green chai sit patiently on my countertop. The teapot has been stored for weeks. The last container of almond milk I made went bad before I drank it. Wake up and smell the coffee. What am I doing?