Saturday, August 21, 2010

Here's Why I Don't Drink Coffee

I first gave up coffee sometime around 1991 when a chiropractor I was seeing told me that my inexplicable back pain was likely being aggravated by caffeine. (He also told me that childless women my age – 31 at the time – were prone to all sorts of muscular complications, since our bodies were built to reproduce and by not having babies we were bucking our musculoskeletal systems. Pregnancy seemed a rash strategy to combat back pain, so I started my rehabilitation with caffeine removal.)

In 1991 I drank several cups of coffee a day. It was my breakfast, lunch and afternoon snack. Often I didn’t eat solid food at all until after 2PM. My coffee needed to be prepared just so, with real sugar and a generous amount of half-and-half. Enough half-and-half to turn the black coffee a lovely camelhair beige. I would only drink it out of a white mug, in order to make sure it was exactly the right hue. Those cups of coffee, taken in alongside cigarettes, were about as close to heaven on earth as I ever hoped to come.

Quitting coffee was a grim endeavor. It took me months before I could stay awake beyond three in the afternoon. My body was not used to relying on its own energy source and the caffeine withdrawal was long and arduous. But then, after those first few months, I found my own life energy and lived a productive and perhaps less agitated life.

Living caffeine free (no coffee, no chocolate, no coke) left me feeling healthy and virtuous, although my back pain didn’t go away. But I ultimately decided to stay off coffee because, mostly, I felt better.

When I started Weight Watchers two years ago, I quickly discovered that my daily cup of decaf was an enormous four-point indulgence. That’s how many points I had to give myself if my decaf was to turn the appropriate shade of beige. So I gave it up completely, opting for solid, chewable points instead.

Then I discovered fat-free half-and-half. No points. A teaspoon of sugar is only one point. So some days – on special occasions – I might treat myself to a cup of decaf just for fun.

That was the case last night around 9PM, after grocery shopping, a few points to spare for the day, I decided to sit down at my desk with a nice cup of decaf and organize my papers. I’d made a bit of decaf earlier in the week, so the coffee maker was already out. I pulled the Chock Full O Nuts out of the fridge and prepared to scoop. Hmmm. Where’s the little red measuring spoon that’s always in here, I wondered as I pulled back the can’s yellow plastic lid. That’s really odd, I said out loud as I looked in the drawer for another measuring spoon. Oh, well. Whatever. I scooped, brewed, sugared and drank. Yum.

At 11:30 PM I was meticulously uploading vacation photos to Facebook. Tagging. Captioning. How odd that I was so tired at 10 oclock last night. I could go on like this for hours.

I finally went to bed at midnight (late for me) and was up two hours later raring to go. I had a lot of thoughts swimming in my mind and considered that if I wrote them down maybe I could settle back to sleep. No. Still up at 3. Still up at 3:45. My husband used to call this phenomenon “missing the sleep train.” The way you sometimes can’t fall back asleep and have to just lay in bed, like you’re waiting at a train station, an hour, an hour and a half, and when the train shows up, then and only then are you able to again drift off.

But this felt different than missing the sleep train. This felt like there was never going to be another train at this station again. Like they discontinued the line completely and soon the station will be full of graffiti and soon after that it will collapse in decay. And that’s when it occurred to me that perhaps what I drank at 9PM was not decaf after all.

A quick 4 AM trip to the kitchen confirmed my suspicion. My little lost red coffee scoop was nestled right where it always is: in the green-lidded Chock Full O Nuts. The one way at the back of the fridge.

By 6AM I was back on the sleep train. Just in time to wake up at 7 to take my son to Cross Country practice.

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