I discovered coffee later than most. To be honest, the taste didn’t really appeal to me on occasions I had tried it. It was only in my university days that I turned to coffee to help me through long, arduous study sessions. I still didn’t like the taste, but the payoff was increased energy, stamina and the ability to focus (particularly if I was up late – as I am far from a night owl).
Over time, I developed more of a palate for coffee and was given the opportunity, through travels overseas (and through Italy in particular) to learn to appreciate great coffee. I also learned to love the culture around coffee.
The height of my coffee addiction (and I use that word very deliberately) came when I started my working life. My daily coffee intake would, at minimum, consist of a coffee at home (with breakfast), one when I first arrived at work, one mid-morning, one with lunch, one mid-afternoon, one late afternoon and one or two in the evenings (often just before bed!)
While coffee continued to give me a bit of a pickup, the surge in energy I recalled from my university days was gone and I felt I needed a lot more to get anywhere near the same effect.
If you had asked me at that time in my life, whether I was drinking too much coffee – my response would have been that it had little effect on me, and the fact I could drink it just before bed was evidence of that.
Fast forward 5 odd years. I was finding on weekends, when I wouldn’t need to be up as early, I would develop a horrific headache – which would ruin most of my Saturday. After a while I came to realise it was possibly the fact that my usual coffee schedule wasn’t being met on weekends and as a consequence I was suffering from withdrawals. This fact concerned me.
I’m the first to admit I can be an all or nothing kind of person. My parents often joke about my grandfather who would have one square from a block chocolate each evening. I inherited his discipline gene.
I decided it was time to try life without coffee and to go cold turkey. I had learnt that dandelion tea was an often used substitute for coffee. It is dark in colour like coffee, and you can add milk (as I usually had in my coffee). To me, it smelt and tasted nothing like coffee. Still I persisted with the dandelion tea for many months.
Over that time, I realised coffee had become a habit for me, more than anything else. Like smoking for some people. It was an opportunity to have a break. To get up from my desk, and take 5 minutes out to overcome boredom or stress. Once I found another way to fill the void (initially with herbal tea and later with getting fresh air, or a breathing exercise, or stretching) I never looked back.
It has been over 5 years now since I gave up coffee. The closest I get to coffee it is the grounds I use to exfoliate my body with in the shower – I do still love that smell!
I have had a cup of coffee once during that period, when I was invited out with a colleague to a café which served little apart from coffee. I decided there wouldn’t be any harm in having one cup – for old times sake if nothing else. The response of my body was so exaggerated – I was shaking, jittery and sick in my stomach. I drove home but barely felt capable of doing so. This experience made me realise just how desensitised I had become to the impact of coffee, back at the time when I gave it away.
Now as a mum of two toddlers, there are some days when I am so tired, the thought of the lift coffee can offer is really appealing. But, on those days I remind myself that rather than looking for a quick fix, I need to recognise and acknowledge what my body is telling me and what I really need to do is try to slow down, rest (easier said than done with two toddlers) and practice some self-care rather than looking for a solution which doesn’t serve me in the long term.
My story is a personal one. I acknowledge that many, many people can have a happy and healthy relationship with coffee – but I am not one of them.