Au Revoir, Coffee.

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. 

Photo by Ballistik Coffee Boy on Flickr

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.

(Cue violins.)

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).

Oh boy.

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.

9 thoughts on “Au Revoir, Coffee.

  1. Your line about how your body talks to you when you take one step towards health really rings true to me. Over the past few months, I have really kicked my workout regime up a few notches, in terms of both intensity and regularity. One odd result of this: I'm eating far less fried foods, because they just don't appeal anymore (well, except for Bitrot du Coin french fries, which are still really good). Someone walks into the office with some McDonald's hashy browns and my stomach just sort of clenches up at the smell. Last night, though, I found myself having to rapidly choose something to throw down before a show, and at a restaurant very much not of my choosing. I ended up with chicken tenders (how's that for a misnomer, by the way?) and, oof, my body just felt nasty about them. I'm looking forward to hitting the elliptical at lunch just to unload the grease.The moral of the story: listen to your body – it knows what's what.

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  2. Great post. You're absolutely right, one step towards health creates a momentum that gets easier and easier to follow. And you're right about how important stress was in this whole equation. I drink coffee sometimes because I need to get through a bunch of stuff I have to do — which, of course, makes me feel very Important and Busy — but it does tend to add to my stress. I don't think I'm quite ready to give it up, but I'm inspired by your wise choice.

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  3. Can sooo relate (as you know :o)! So hard. Still hard 2 1/2 years later. Still having a "morning ritual" with tea does help tremendously (for me the ritual might be the biggest draw) and now I have an "afternoon ritual" with something called Teecino (sp?) that is very coffee-ish w/o the caffeine and acidity…I'll bring you a sample, so yummy!

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  4. Great post! I can imagine how difficult that must have been. I've never been a regular coffee drinker (though I do love the taste and smell!) but I know a few who are and convincing them to give it up, even for health reasons, would be a very tough battle. Decisions like this really do have to come from within.

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  5. Matt – hooray for being on a healthy path 🙂 Tara – if/when you're ready, you'll do it…and maybe it's not something you need to do. I'm definitely not suggesting everyone give up coffee! (I'm envisioning an angry mob of coffee lovers with fiery torches, Simpsons style, outside my door ;))Michelle – I saw you post something about Teecino on FB the other day – now I'm really curious! I'll have to check it out. And Aba, you're so right – you can't make a choice like this, and stick with it, unless you're really committed…for me, the timing was just right all around.

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  6. So proud of you! Asking my patients to give up (by weaning) on some of the most addictive and unhealthy things like coffee, hard liquor, bread, and cigarettes–it's like asking the impossible. It's great you've found some alternatives that you enjoy–that also reap bountiful benefits for health. I savor my green or white tea each morning (steeped with slices of fresh ginger). Now, when I have an occasional cup of decaf…if it's after 4pm, I'll be up until 2am. My body's grown very sensitive to any unnatural stimulants.Hopefully your post will encourage others who are contemplating giving up a "crutch."

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