I can count the times I’ve smoked in one hand. It was only three and I hated all of them. The first one was when I was 20, and the head rush I got from inhaling that Marlboro 100 light made my knees buckle and the city lights swirl. I landed on a cold bench, tasting cotton and acidic vomit in the back of my throat. So you know, I was apparently eager to repeat the experience a couple more times just to make sure it was really as vile as the first one. (It was.)
In the late 90s, I went through an experimental phase with cigars (no inhaling!), which ended when my jaw started to ache a little and my hypochondriacal brain took over and imagined that cells within my salivary glands were thinking of turning rogue and giving me a slow, painful death.
Even though I was an adolescent in Northern California, most of my pot-related experiences were limited to recycled puffs here and there, because I was always afraid to handle things that might possibly burn me. This fear included handling glass pipes, bongs, paper clips, lighters, and the business end of joints.
As for harder drugs, here is the highlight: I was prescribed Vicodin after I had all four wisdom teeth removed. The teeth were growing sideways, pushing my pleasantly jumbled teeth into “hard to floss” territory. During the pre-op appointment, the maxillofacial surgeon described, using the same hand gestures reserved for preparing hors o’oeuvres with beluga caviar, how I’d go under anesthesia and then he’d cut my gums open, smash the teeth with the proper hammer and then remove the bloody fragments slowly and thoroughly.
Despite the promises of pain, which exceeded my expectations, I was able to stomach exactly one Vicodin. In other words, I was cool with feeling the radiating, throbbing hollowness that replaced my wisdom teeth but NOT COOL with the queasy hollowness that Vicodin brought into my life. (Also, I couldn’t quite keep food down after taking it. I could not abide that, even with a mangled mouth.)
Anyway. The point here is that I was pretty sure I didn’t have an addictive personality. At least, not a personality that is addicted to substances; if anything, I tend to reject them. I will stick with a headache over taking an Advil unless it’s a bad one, I had two natural births, etc. Obsessive, sure. Compulsive, probably. Definitely a little odd. But not addictive, or at least not what I thought of as addictive. Or so I thought. (N.B. links are to quizzes on whether you have an addictive personality.)
But then a couple of weeks ago, while staring at myself in the mirror for longer than necessary, I noticed my teeth were getting a little stained. Since I drink a fair bit of coffee, I decided it was probably a good idea to quit coffee cold turkey for a month or so and see if that helped. What’s the worst that could happen, after all? Experts seem to be divided on whether coffee addiction is a thing. The Cleveland Clinic website had ok information regarding caffeine withdrawal headaches. The site stated that they only happen in people who drink more than 5 cups a day (or more than 500 milligrams), and only rarely. The little paragraph crisply concluded that the possible headache –if such a thing exists– would only last seven days, tops.
Have you ever worn a headband too tightly for half a day, only to find that your eyes feel like they are bulging out of your head and tearing up for no reason? THAT is what the “nonexistent” or maybe “barely existent” coffee withdrawal headache feels like. It also lasts seven days AND NIGHTS, and it is unpleasant.
A few days into my experiment, I concluded that between the 3-4 mugfuls of BLACK Colombian coffee I drink every morning and the Diet Cokes that come in the afternoon, I was in the 500 milligram territory easily. Aside: coffee should be drunk black. Why ruin something fragrant and beautiful with milk or cream or sugar, I ask you? Stare into the inky depths of the coffee and see your innermost self reflected there. Don’t gaze into murkiness.
Typing the word “coffee” makes me salivate. I start anticipating my next cup. Will it be first thing in the morning? Will I have more than one? After the first few days of quitting and not feeling the tight-headband headache, I was aware of every single time I wanted a coffee. Every Starbucks looked inviting; every cup of cheap coffee just out of reach. Trader Joe’s smelled like coffee; so did Community Forklift. Cold days and coffee go together. My hand would cramp in the shape on a paper cup when I’d see people clutching their coffees as they walked by me. Remarkably, most of these lucky people looked angry, pinched, and half-asleep, and not at all grateful to be carrying the nectar of the gods, which grows best in the mineral soils of Colombia. (Yes, this is a huge point of pride. Ask me next time about potatoes but NEVER ask me about cocaine. Or do, but hold on to your fucking hat.)
I drank so much tea and tisanes these past three weeks, I was constantly going to the bathroom. I kept pouring cup after cup and while I enjoyed all my replacements, that is all they were: second-bests. Substitutes. Not coffee. I tried to drown the need, but every sip was a reminder that This Was Not Coffee.
The headaches went away and I rediscovered both Earl Grey and Lapsang Souchong (so, I was still having caffeine, but not as much). I slept well and slightly deeper. I became a little less jumpy and a lot more relaxed, which is kind of like saying that a little jumpy dog went from being a little jumpy dog to being a slightly less jumpy dog. I always picture myself as a Chihuahua or a Jack Russell, actually. Although of course we all want to be an elegant, long-legged breed, like a Dalmatian or a Weimaraner or a Borzoi or a Greyhound maybe? But no. I’m definitely a Jack Russell/Chihuahua hybrid: small and jumpy and excitable and hopefully ingratiating although definitely irritating to some.
But every single day was hard. Every day, I felt a little piece of me missing. Every day I could almost taste it. Every day I could smell it and feel it in the air. Every day I’d make plans to brew myself some, or buy some, or to just walk in the general vicinity of a coffeeshop. Then I’d nix those plans, knowing I’d promised myself I would not have coffee because I’d decided to quit for a bit, and it was something simple and trivial and it was not going to be the boss of me.
I even cried one morning. Don’t tell anyone, okay? I think that’s embarrassing to admit, to break down in gulpy stupid sobs over coffee. Somehow, crying over a man seems more dignified, but there is not a lot that is dignified about realizing that you have a raging psychological addiction to bitter dirty water. To burnt seed soup that we discovered thanks to jittery goats.
It took one awful night of coughing and waking up a little too on the early side to break the spell. My mother handed me my cup and I whispered, “I missed you. I missed you. I missed you,” right into it.
Click on the last photo for a video on Instagram (because embed sucks).