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Is Coffee a Drug? – My Relationship with Coffee & Why I Quit


I love coffee.

I love the rich, soothing smell of it wafting from the kitchen early in the morning. I love the first sip of it from a mug on cold winter days that snakes gently through my body, filling my bones with a comforting warmth. I love the first sip of it iced from a straw on summer mornings that sets with certainty an energized tone for what surely will be a great day. I love the ritual of coffee. Methodically preparing it at home; measuring out the grounds and water just how I like; the satisfying click of the silver BREW button that sets into motion the best part of my morning. I love ordering a cup at spots around the city. Sitting in a sunny corner by a street-facing window, sipping and working at my laptop while the coffee shop buzzes around me. I simply adore coffee.

And it’s been 83 days since I’ve had a cup.

My Relationship with Coffee

As much as I love this black liquid, I’ve always had a feeling that I shouldn’t be drinking it. I don’t mean to imply coffee is categorically bad–everyone’s body is different and responds differently to caffeine/coffee–but for me it felt like a bad habit right from the start. One of those “I should probably stop but…” guilty indulgences.

I’ve always been really sensitive to caffeine. The first time I drank a Red Bull in high school, I convinced myself it was laced with something because I was profusely sweating, jittery, anxious and swore I was having heart palpitations. I didn’t drink my first cup of coffee until college, and even then it wasn’t a regular habit because of how terrible I’d feel. I’d order the smallest cup available at the coffee shop with the intent of staying up late to study and would become so jittery and anxious I could barely even get any work completed. And even if I drank just a small cup first thing in the morning, my sleep that night would be all messed up. Nope, coffee was not for me.

Yet when I got my first real corporate job after college, I fell into the habit of drinking it regularly. I’d have a cup on my way to work and then not be able to sleep that night. So then I’d be tired the next morning and reach for a coffee to help me wake up. And then because of that I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. This terrible cycle had me hooked. With time, my body adjusted and got used to the coffee and it no longer affected my sleep. This also meant that I no longer got that fun caffeine buzz when I drank a cup which bummed me out. I couldn’t increase my intake because more than a cup a day gives me a stomach ache, so I decided I’d stop drinking it for a while and then limit myself to only a couple days a week so that when I did drink coffee, I could get a noticeable caffeine high.

Even at the time, I was self aware enough to realize that that behavior and thinking was reason enough to say BOY BYE to coffee.

Whoaaa was quitting harder than I thought. The first time I went off it, I was shocked at how much the caffeine withdrawals kicked me in the ass (I was only having one cup a day!!). I was exhausted at work to the point where I contemplated taking a nap in my car during my lunch break, and I had a dull, persistent headache for two straight days. I couldn’t focus, I was lethargic–I felt terrible. I’d say it took a solid three or four days to feel normal without coffee–and when I did, it was pretty damn glorious to not be dependent on a drink to feel energized in the morning.

The past six years or so have been a cycle of drinking coffee every day, quitting it and hating life for three days, then being coffee-free for a couple weeks before caving and drinking it again.

Would I ever actually quit for good? Did it even matter?

For every article or study on the reasons why you should stop drinking coffee, you can find one touting its health benefits. The information out there can be confusing–is coffee good or bad for you? I’m going to get deeper into this in tomorrow’s post, but as with most things, I think it really depends on the person. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to health because we’re all so different. For me, I’ve always had this gut feeling (literally and figuratively) that coffee is not good for me and my body. 

On December 13, 2016, I drank my last cup, a large iced coffee with almond milk from Dunkin Donuts at around 5:15AM as I walked to the North End to teach my morning classes at Btone. I felt “off” that day and had zero appetite, and it wasn’t long before a nasty case of food poisoning fully settled in (I had eaten raw cookie dough the previous day womp wommmp). I spent the whole night curled in the fetal position on my bathroom floor, and in the days following could barely stomach plain foods, let alone an acidic cup of coffee. I felt so ill from the food poisoning that I barely even noticed or differentiated the caffeine withdrawal symptoms from my overall state of sick. Honestly the food poisoning was pretty convenient in this regard and I’m weirdly thankful for it.

As I recovered and began to feel better and eat normally again, I had a choice to make. Do I start drinking coffee again? Quitting coffee had been in the back of my mind ever since I started drinking it years ago, and now I had gotten the hardest part out of the way with the caffeine withdrawals, so I decided to stay on the wagon. I was sure of my decision but very wrong about one thing: The hardest part was not out of the way.

Day 83

This is the longest I’ve gone without coffee since I started drinking it years ago and what’s most surprising is how sad I was about it (and still am, but to a much lesser extent). It’s like I lost touch with a best friend or my dog died. This thing that I would go to bed looking forward to enjoying the next morning was now gone … yet still there. Coffee is everywhere. Joe still brews it in the morning before heading to work and often there’s some leftover in the pot when I get home from teaching, still warm and just sitting there ready for me. I pass my favorite coffee shops every day while walking around the city. I live above a mother effing Dunkin Donuts.

During the first month without coffee, I almost caved every other day. The thought of never having coffee again was so sad and overwhelming that I had to really switch my focus and take it not even one day at a time but one decision at a time. I’m not going to have a cup right nowI can get through the next hour without coffee. Gradually it got easier to pass up and finally in month three I can say I don’t think about coffee much at all. Still though, writing this post is bringing back so many good memories and I’m starting to miss my BFFAEAE … 

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In addition to the temptations and general sadness, I even had a dream one night about coffee. This was about a month after eliminating it from my daily routine. The dream was nothing extraordinary except for how vivid it was. I was brewing a cup of coffee in my kitchen and then settling down on the couch to enjoy it but IT WAS SO REAL. I could smell it, taste it, feel it hitting my lips. When I woke up, I didn’t know whether to cry or pour myself a cup.

*Neither, for the record.*

I was going to name this post something else, but continually throughout the writing process I found myself thinking, “Damn am I talking about coffee or getting sober??” In no way am I suggesting that quitting coffee for a coffee lover is the same as quitting alcohol or drugs for an alcoholic or addict (I have the upmost respect for the strength it takes to stay sober for those battling addiction!), but it is kinda crazy that parts of this post would still make sense if you replaced “coffee” with the name of a hard drug.

This rambling diary entry of a post is already long AF so I’m going to end it here, but I have another one coming your way tomorrow that’s a bit more focused and constructive. I’m going to talk about the changes I’ve noticed with my body since quitting coffee. All have been positive things and have reinforced my decision to quit in the first place–it was 100% the right choice for me. (Emphasis on “for me“!)

What’s your relationship with coffee like? Can you enjoy it here and there or are you dependent on it? Have you ever tried quitting?



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