I’ve quit a lot of things.
I get hooked on things easily. Substances, foods, people, songs, movies, books. An addictive personality, I guess you’d call it.
Caffeine was my gateway drug.
My mother was born and raised in Scotland, where tea is the thing. My dad did drink coffee but only at work and on Sundays after church. It was very rarely brewed in the house – my mother hated the stuff and would only occasionally tolerate it.
Black tea, with a little bit of milk and sugar. I was imbibing this stuff, literally, in the womb. Mom admitted to me when I was a teenager that she smoked her Winstons and drank her Boone’s Farm the entire time she was pregnant with me, so it’s hard to imagine she would’ve forsaken caffeine for her unborn child.
I loved the daily tea ritual. For as far back as I can recall, I drank a cup in the morning before school, another when I got home, and then sometimes again with dinner. Like Pavlov’s dog I was drawn to the whistling kettle, the clink-c-clink-c-clink-ding-ding-ding of the teaspoon. I loved the distinct sweetness of each flavor – the spoonful of teeth-achingly sweet sugar, the mellowing quality of the dollop of milk, and then the body of the drink – the bitter attack and sweet finish of the aromatic orange pekoe.
To this day, I can close my eyes and relive this moment of heavenly indulgence.
Little did I realize though how deeply addicted I’d become to caffeine, and it certainly didn’t stop with tea.
Every Friday, my father would return from work with his weekend beer, some licorice allsorts for my mother, and for me – a pack of Garbage Pail Kids and a six-pack of Jolt. I remember so many occasions of being so wired and jittery from drinking a couple of Jolts and then inexhaustibly practicing my Hanon and my Mozart.
In high school, I added NoDoz to my regular intake of caffeine. I remember one weekend in particular when I didn’t sleep for nearly 48 hours, swallowing handfuls of these little white tablets, grinding my teeth and feverishly writing a bizarre stream-of-consciousness into one of my school notebooks.
I didn’t discover the wonders of coffee until I was fourteen.
I had certainly tried coffee, but only that black and painfully bitter stuff that my father drank with Dr. D during Sunday morning coffee hour. He got quite a chuckle out of my reaction to that horrible stuff.
Not until I was playing in a band called Garajh Mahal with Alan, Roby and Jared did I find out what I was truly missing.
Alan pulled out his green thermos at rehearsal one day and started pouring what looked like tea into the detached mug.
“Is that tea?”
Alan laughed. “Hell no, that’s coffee.”
Coffee? I thought. That didn’t look like any coffee I had ever seen.
“Would you like to try some?” he asked.
“Sure,” I replied, fully expecting to hate the taste of it as I had before. One sip was all it took. There was cream and there was sugar in this stuff! Wow! Yet another caffeine delivery mechanism!
Of course I still drank tea at home, popped my NoDoz pills at school, but I would drink coffee whenever I could sneak it in – at band practice, occasionally at school, after church on Sundays.
Once I was living on my own, I drank coffee all day long. On the way to work, at work, on the way home from work, with dinner.
I knew I needed to quit, or at least cut back. My stomach felt sour; I couldn’t drink enough water to feel properly hydrated. I tried many times to have just a breakfast coffee, but that would slowly snowball into breakfast and then mid-morning, and then, what’s the harm in a coffee with lunch? And hell, I’ve worked hard today, I’ll have a coffee on the way home…
But I kept trying. I knew, for me, it was the right move.
By the time I’d moved to Fryeburg in February 2003, I had for the most part given up caffeine. I still drank a little coffee at work, I just wasn’t drinking it at home (my ex would get angry if he smelled it on me).
Then, a kidney stone struck in April 2003 – a pain so severe and debilitating that I’ve been told is more intense than childbirth. (And I won’t even begin to relate how powerfully addictive oxycodone is.)
Turns out that I had the most common type of stone, which is calcium oxalate. The culprit? My beloved caffeine.
It was time, once and for all. I would suffer any sacrifice in order to not experience that pain ever again.
So, it’s been over ten years since I have had any caffeine. No tea, no coffee, no soda. I have even given up chocolate.
Extreme? Some may think.
I am still completely captivated by the smell of coffee, by the ritual of the preparation. No matter where I am – in the grocery store aisle, in a restaurant, at a venue – whenever I am near coffee, I always take a moment to close my eyes and breathe deeply.
I wish I could have a healthy relationship with caffeine, but for me it’s an obsession that can only end badly.
“Well, maybe one cup wouldn’t hurt,” I’m often tempted to think…