This post is part of Reverb10, a project that provides daily prompts in the month of December to help you reflect on the past year and set your intentions for the year ahead.
Today’s prompt (from Susannah Conway):
What was the wisest decision you made this year, and how did it play out?
I gave this prompt a lot of thought. It’s been a rollicking year, full of changes. I’ve made a lot of big decisions. So what was my wisest one?
I’m gonna have to go with giving up coffee.
Yes, it was a sad day when I realized that giving up this magical elixir might just be the key to keeping my stomach from hurting all the time. I was in Belfast, Maine, at the time, on vacation with Jordan and my parents, and the cottage we were staying in had a copy of Andrew Weil’s Eight Weeks to Optimum Health. I really liked the moderate, balanced, holistic approach that Weil outlined: eating nutrient-rich foods, including those with proven healing properties (like garlic and ginger); taking daily walks; meditating and practicing conscious breathing; and… (sound of record screeching): swapping green tea for your morning joe (and any other joes you were in the habit of consuming throughout the day).
Now, I’d known for a long time that coffee and alcohol were the two things that upset my stomach most (I’d had acid reflux since college). Sitting there in Maine, I finally hit a point where I realized I could either habitually abuse my body and try to soothe it with pills, or I could stop putting things in my body that made it feel bad. How simple that sounds, and yet, how hard it can be to do. Addiction’s a powerful thing.
* * *
I’d been having a morning cup of coffee since I was a teenager. It was my favorite daily ritual – Jordan would grind the beans, which we got from Porto Rico Coffee in the Village (Hazelnut French roast – YUM), and soon the apartment would fill with that smell…soon, he’d hand me what I can honestly call the perfect mug of coffee, with just the right amount of milk, and — oh, that first sip was heaven. Also, since moving to New York, and living half a block from the extraordinary Ninth Street Espresso, a second cup of coffee each day had become an increasingly common occurrence.
Clearly, giving up coffee would be a big deal for me. Luckily, a few things made it easier than it would have otherwise been. First, my dad made the coffee each morning in Belfast, and it turned out he’d been making half and half — half regular, half decaf. So I’d already been weaning myself off of caffeine, without even realizing it. Second, I was on vacation, so I didn’t exactly need to be alert — which is why I don’t think I noticed the lack of caffeine the way I would have at home, when I needed every extra ounce of energy I could get. Seriously. A girl gets tired.
Finally, I love green tea — genmaicha in particular — so it’s not like I was trying to substitute something foreign or repellant for my morning ‘cuppa. I’d even brought some with me to Maine. I started having a cup of that in the morning, and I felt so good for making such a healthy choice for myself, that any caffeine withdrawal got overshadowed. Honestly, I should have gotten headaches or something, but for some reason, I didn’t, and for that I am very grateful.
* * *
The hardest thing, once we got home, was still smelling that smell in the morning… but I quickly discovered that savoring the aroma was actually enough for me. Once or twice, I allowed myself to have a half-cup, and I felt so jittery and bad that I stopped even wanting it. I marvel at all the years that I was pumping this stuff into me without consciously feeling myself speed up — now the effect of that caffeine hits me like a tractor trailer.
So I savor the smell. And I savor the morning ritual of brewing myself a cup of delicious green tea. Every once in a while, I’ll have Chai or Earl Grey, with milk, and it will remind me of holding that morning cup of coffee in my hands, savoring each sip… as much as I might long for the ritual, I instantly “feel” the effect the coffee would have on my stomach, and that keeps me from really wanting it.
Interestingly, I’ve found myself drinking less alcohol, too. I’m more aware of how it knocks me out (I’ve always been a lightweight), and how drinking it too many days in a row makes my stomach acidic. Let’s be clear: I love me a good cocktail, or beer, or glass of wine. I’ve just found that drinking less, and less often, is a good solution for me, especially on top of giving up coffee.
What I’ve learned this year is that when you take one step on behalf of your health, your body starts talking to you. I used to resist giving up coffee or alcohol, thinking, “come on, I’m so healthy overall – if these are my vices, let me have them.” I don’t smoke, I don’t do drugs… give a girl a cup of coffee, a couple glasses of wine. But that mindset — it’s like I’m rebelling, against…what, exactly?
I think the answer is “stress.” I was rebelling aginst stress.
There are better ways.