Portrait of middle aged caffeine addict.
I had a nice quiet morning on Saturday. I asked my husband, who was dressing to play tennis, if he had made me some coffee. It was a little joke, as I lazily dozed some more, especially given that he quit drinking coffee two years ago. “I don’t think I remember how,” he replied to my insinuating plea. “Maybe you should consider giving it up.” I chuckled. Me giving up coffee. Yup. Great idea. “You really would feel better, and you’ll have way more energy.” OK, at this point I stopped chuckling. He surprised me, because he was actually serious. Not once in his two year abstinence from coffee did he even imply that I should also jump off of that cliff.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am VERY close with my coffee. See, I don’t drink coffee just for medicinal purposes. I LOVE it. Ever since coffee saved me from dying of boredom or losing my job as a bank teller in high school, I knew it was love. Really, I love just about everything about coffee drinking. The smell of the beans, especially freshly ground GOOD beans; the smell of freshly brewed coffee; that first cup in the morning – I love all of it. Especially, as my children and all of the baristas know, I love that afternoon grande one pump vanilla non-fat latte.
I have been this kind of an enamored coffee user for over 25 years. I have sought out and mapped all of my favorite coffee spots in every city that I frequent. I spent four glorious years in the coffee capital of the US, Anchorage, AK. (Everyone thinks it’s Seattle but coffee consumption is highest in AK. Just visit, and you’ll see. I am not alone.) I only temporarily stopped my coffee consumption for carrying and nursing two children, and a short year and a half bout with gastritis in the nineties. Truly, otherwise, I have enjoyed a strong and devoted relationship with my coffee.
So, why didn’t I just go back to my snooze? Why did I not let it pass? Secretly, my husband was talking to that part of my brain that communicates with him in my sleep – or through some other wordless mechanism. Secretly, I had been considering the detriment of my habit.
Decision to Quit
As a researcher, I devote a considerable amount of time thinking about helping people to change their behaviors. I work with psychologists and other health professionals who develop “interventions” – or ways to speak to people who are doing one or another unhealthy behavior. I help find the just the right information & motivation that will help people consider a different path, and then move from consideration off the fence and into action. I guess I am teetering on that fence myself.
I have thought quite a bit about how many people successfully quit smoking. Unless you have been a serious smoker (and I have not), it is hard to really understand continuing a habit so clearly harmful. Addiction is the key. But addiction is both the chemical pull toward the substance – the need for your body to be fulfilled or else illness will set in – as well as the habit. As I have studied smoking and what makes quitting so difficult, I really have begun to understand both sides of addiction. Truly, without coffee, headaches and nausea set in. Also, my daily physical pull is accompanied by the little happiness and satisfaction from my habit. It’s a treat. I pamper myself with my coffee. But, at this time, I have decided that it has to stop.
My internal motivation has come from the recognition that my little coffee habit is in fact a strong addiction. I have told myself for years that there is no harm to drinking coffee (pregnancy and stomach inflammation aside). I have very low blood pressure, so no problem there. However, my energy level, moods and sleeping patterns have become erratic. While it is likely that my age is a culprit, more than one person has mentioned the likely involvement of caffeine in this problem. I truly have no more scientific or medical reason than this. I don’t have great articles to share, but I do have this nagging feeling that anything that I am chemically and habitually dependent on cannot be good for me.
Not Going Cold Turkey
My decision has been brewing then for two whole days. OK – I admit that I am over dramatizing this in a big way. Please don’t think that I’m making fun of anyone who has quit smoking or drinking or any other serious substance habit. I really empathize with the problem based on my very small taste of what that sort of addiction must be like, based on conversations with friends and family who have been down that road and based on research in my work in public health.
On the other hand, I am going to use this blog to chronicle my process, successes and failures, as an example of this path. Given that this is coffee, and my jitters and 3 am anxiety are likely the only negative setbacks should I slip, I feel OK about sharing with you.
So where do I start? Borrowing from the American Lung Association’s process for smoking cessation, here are my steps:
Step 1: Learn About Your Coffee Drinking Habit
Step 2: Set a Quit Date
Step 3: Gear up for Quitting
Step 4: Put Plans into Action
Step 5: Stay the Course
Here I Go!
I’m going to follow these tried and true steps to end my addiction. That’s my plan, anyway.
Step 1: Learn About Your Coffee Drinking Habit
OK, I know my habit very well. I get up and make a nice small pot of brewed coffee, usually from Starbucks Guatemalan beans. I am a coffee snob. Only the very best for me. I walk the dog while my coffee brews. I put a splash of 1% milk into the mug off coffee, then carry my prize to the bathroom to enjoy while I shower and dress. Yum.
Next, I prepare a to-go-cup of the same coffee, an hour later, for my ride to work. An hour old cup of coffee is less enjoyable, but not bad at all.
I generally try to drink water throughout the day (when I unearth my body from my desk chair or tear away from back-to-back meetings), but enjoy my aforementioned afternoon latte either just after lunch or on my way home. Starbucks is tantalizingly directly between my building and my bus stop.
This is it. Three “cups” (about 10-16 oz each) a day.
Step 2: Set a quit date.
I am quitting this coming Saturday, or whatever day my coffee at home is gone. I know that I am hedging this, but I can feel good about not wasting the good beans, and not buying another bag. (OK, my husband calls this rationalizing the delay, but I am giving my body a chance to get used to the drop, maybe even blunting the effect.)
Step 3: Gearing up for quitting:
Here’s my plan. I am also telling people about my plan (not the least being advertising on FB and on my blog.) This is a big deal because I stand to take a large amount of grief if I am not successful. EVERYONE who knows me well will be watching.
This part – telling everyone – has been a very interesting piece of the equation. I have been surprised by the reactions of my close coffee friends and family.
Coffee friend 1 – “No Way! Why would you ever do that? I think it’s a harmless habit compared to so many others.”
Coffee friend 2 – “I can’t believe [your husband] is guilting you into quitting just because he did.”
Coffee friend 3 – “Maybe you are anxious and have no energy because you work so much! The coffee helps, not the opposite.”
Family (my girls)– “No Way! That’s never gonna happen.”
So, here you have it. I will also, as mentioned, not refill my coffee stash at home.
Also, I cut back yesterday by cutting out my easiest, least enjoyable cup of the day. The afternoon cup is really the most likely to wreak havoc on my sleep patterns, and least “necessary.”
Yes, I have a nasty headache this afternoon, but it is manageable. More water.
Another trick is to switch to a brand you don’t like. I can’t go so far as to drink instant.
Wish me luck!