I remember my first cup of coffee vaguely. I was either 12 or 13, I’m leaning towards 13 because the premise for me being allowed coffee was that I was pretty grown up and turning 13 seems like the more likely age to try and pull that. I didn’t finish that first cup of coffee and I didn’t revisit it for years due to the bitter taste that little me, who still loved the nauseating sweetness of white chocolate, wasn’t up for.
The next experience with coffee came around 16. It was a big year for me. My first real boyfriend (well if you don’t count my elementary school boyfriends which I do in my heart, but not in any real list of consequence, which I make all the time, I mean doesn’t your life call you to make lists about your romantic history before 18 on a regular basis?) Anyways. My first boyfriend was a guy who was home schooled and lived on the other side of the hill, ok maybe over two hills from my house. The really only relevant thing about him for this post is that he loved those gas station cappuccinos. You know the ones made out of powder and you press the button and it comes out? Keep an eye out at a gas station if you’re confused, they only live at gas stations. They also taste nothing like a real cappuccino and are incredibly sweet. Of course we’d also add sugar and cream to them because we were 16 and the idea of a heart attack hadn’t occurred to us. I’m sure you could pay me to drink one of these now, but it would cost you. A lot.
The next coffee I remember having a meaningful relationship with is the same as most New England kids: Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffee. Oh that sweet elixir. A big jump from powder cappuccinos, but with so much cream and sugar it is the perfect gateway coffee. I shudder to think how much of my small wages from slinging pizza were spent on this, but it was almost always with friends so I guess I’ll forgive the expense because we were making memories. At this point I had a license and a car so my fix was only a 25 minute drive to Randolph, which is nothing in Vermont. This coffee milestone was best enjoyed with Maria or Anna, driving around aimlessly (possibly scouting for boys), and definitely blasting questionable music.
Then I went to college and my love of coffee became a disease. So shocking, but staying up drinking until the am, getting up for class, minimal exercise; all adds up to exhaustion. Factor in the winter at Dartmouth where it’s cold and dark and seasonal depression is king, you’ve got to find something to get through it with. Some of my prep school classmates turned to cocaine, I turned to coffee. I was much more interested in piercing my nose at 18 rather than trying to put something up it. Plus, you could buy coffee with your meal card.
Part of my problem in college was that I was a major procrastinator and an english major. Oh and Dartmouth was a trimester schedule college so you only had a couple of days between classes and ending and finals, none of those cushioned week or two off between semester classes and finals. So I would end up in a situation where I would be writing multiple long papers in the span of a few days. I usually had the outlines and the notes, or maybe that was later on in college? Freshman year may have just been a shit show in terms of getting research, outline, and paper writing during finals. Anyways, the moral of the story is that I did not sleep much during finals, if at all. When coffee stopped working I’d switch to caffeine pills (which you could also buy with your meal card) and after finals I would collapse in my bed and feel horrible for a day or two. This is a major part of the reason that I believe caffeine is bad for you (also the totally scientific spider web experiment). Coffee became a part of my routine rather than a treat. I’m pretty sure that I told my dear friend/freshman roommate one morning when she tried to wake me up for an early class “I don’t have time to shower or grab coffee so I can sleep there or here and I’d rather sleep here.”
After college, coffee was a life staple. I had to start my day with it and perhaps have another cup to get through the afternoon. This my friends is where something you enjoy turns into dependency or addiction. The worst was when the coffee at work wasn’t good because I was too broke to be buying Starbucks on a daily basis so I’d have to suck it up. I got the flu so bad the year after graduating college that I didn’t leave our tiny studio for a week. I also got to experience caffeine withdrawal while having the flu which really sucked because I was too sick for coffee. Also based on my deep rooted belief that caffeine is in fact bad for you, I don’t drink it when I’m sick. I figure my body has enough problems. After the flu incident I quit coffee. I thought that this was my best shot since I’d been coffee free for a week I could break free. This lasted for a few months. Then my Dad came to town and we went fishing and had to get up at like 5am and I just couldn’t do it without some coffee and after that first cup it went all downhill again.
Here’s an example of why I had a coffee addiction rather than just a consensual coffee relationship that some of you have. At one of my agency jobs we had a kitchen by the area I sat and coffee setup there. One of the things we learn as an adult is that adults are some lazy motherf******. Seriously. So every now and then I’d go to have my first cup of the day (the most important one) and someone had left the coffee thing empty. In the morning. It takes 30 seconds to set it up for new coffee. This was rough on me because I would be tired, foggy, and grumpy as hell before this first cup so I often started ranting at it. Usually something along the lines of “Motherfucker! Is it so fucking hard to fill the coffee thing? I hope a giant pigeon shits on your head.” I had one of the heads of the strategy department sit in on at least two of these rants without me noticing him until he started laughing. This my friends is not the signs of a healthy relationship with coffee.
I then tried multiple times to quit 2010-2012 with very little success. I did get myself to start liking tea which offered a lower caffeine hit than I was used to. Tea was totally my nicotine patch. This came in handy when I went to Belize for my honeymoon and could drink tea instead of having to worry about decent coffee like A. (not so much). But I still couldn’t kick the habit.
Then about a 7 months into my last agency job I went on a tough shoot. We were shooting cars at night in LA. Everyone who has done a car shoot is nodding their heads right now with me, the rest of you are saying “what’s so hard about that?” We had a different location for each shoot, most of them were complicated setups, and we had to scout during the day and shoot at night so they were very long days. On this shoot my art director mentioned that he didn’t drink coffee. I was shocked. Totally shocked. He was pulling some of the longest days because he was also editing and composing the shots and he was getting through this without coffee? All of a sudden it clicked for me that I could do this. I could quit coffee.
After the shoot I quit cold turkey and it was rough. The first week I walked around with a headache. I’m sure I was very pleasant to be around. The next two weeks I walked around in a fog, my brain was slower and felt weird. This of courses added to my conviction that caffeine is very bad for you. After this I made it on the other side. I got to experience waking up and actually gradually wake up instead of operate in a fog until I had my first cup. I also stopped having caffeine crashes. I actually have way more energy not drinking coffee than I did drinking it, so what’s the freaking point???
After the initial cold turkey, I started occasionally having caffeinated tea and even a coke if I was out late. It is amazing how much energy a coke will give you when you’re not used to having caffeine again. Crazy. For the first several months I monitored my intake pretty strictly, only having caffeine a couple of days a week, more days off than on. I didn’t have any coffee because it still smelled amazing to me and I missed it. I broke up with coffee, but that didn’t mean I was over it. Sitting in morning meeting with everyone else drinking a cup was torture for a while, especially when it was cold out. My non-caffeinated tea just wasn’t the same.
I had my first cup of coffee almost a year after I quit. It was delicious. I stayed strong though and didn’t go back for more until a couple of months later again. I quit in April 2013 and it’s taken until the last couple months for me to feel like my relationship with coffee is truly over and now we’re just plutonic friends that get together every now and then to talk about old times. I am so glad that I quit for lots of reasons, but it would have been especially horrible trying to maintain the coffee needs I had while going through surgery, after-care, and chemo. I would have been inundated with headaches and stomach problems. The funny thing is now I drink the most coffee on a regular basis than I have since I “quit”. But the way I drink it is different. I spend about a week and a half not drinking it as I go through my chemo treatment and recovery and then for around 4 days, I drink a cup a day. Well sometimes 1/2 a cup. It doesn’t feel comforting like it once did or like it’s a part of my day/life. I drink it because it’s a vice. I drink it because I believe it is bad for me and having to treat taking care of myself as a full time job right now, I need a vice. I’m still very good with my vice and can take it or leave it depending on how I feel that day, but it makes me feel better knowing that I have a vice in all of this. Afterwards I’ll go back to my mostly-caffeine free life, occasionally I’ll need an ice-coffee from PJs, I am only human, but I don’t think I’ll ever go back to coffee being part of my inner circle. Hopefully anyways.