Coffee. I gave it up. Cold turkey. It was not easy. But I had to, it was literarily eating me up.
Many years ago, a group of friends would meet every weekend at the local breakfast joint to have coffee and breakfast. It was a bonding ritual for our bunch of diverse, young, high achieving business types to relax and debrief. Whoever was in town would just show up at our usual table. The aroma from the big steaming mugs of freshly roasted coffee would make me smile even before the coffee touched my lips. We discussed our successes and failures, our new interests and heartbreaks. We offered advice, more stories and most of all, a safe place to be with a like-minded group. We bonded over more mugs of earthy, soothing and fragrant coffee that smelled like chocolate and promise. I drank mugs of the stuff. Coffee represented to me the solidarity and support that we offered each other in our motley gang.
The rest of the day was trashed for me. I was hyper for a while and then I would crash. Speed and crash. My stomach churned and my nerves were on edge. Jumpy and tired I puttered around the rest of the day or forced myself to do needed errands. Forget creative work, in fact forget work. My brain was not ready to do any serious thinking. Yet I loved our coffee time together, how can I give up the ritual which gave me so much comfort and joy? Coffee symbolized our bond in many ways. But I knew that I had to stop.
Coffee was wrecking the one day of the week or month that I had to catch up on my personal to do list. Working up the corporate ranks meant that there was meager time to handle aspects of my private life. Other than our weekend gatherings I didn’t drink coffee. It was much too hard on my system. Yet, it pained me to think about abandoning the coffee rite from our cherished gatherings. Perhaps I could cut back. Or drink decaf. Neither of those appealed to me. It was an “all in” that we shared in the group. You have to be committed. I would just not be part of the gang if I gave up coffee. What would they think? What was I made of? Sissy stuff? If I can’t drink coffee, did that reflect on my tenacity or ability to do the job at work? Would it imply that I had a weak stomach for the work grind too?
Funny how the thought of giving up coffee became much more than giving up a beverage. What it meant to me was a bond, an identification with a group, a beloved ritual, and a sense of belonging. Coffee, a common beverage and popular habit for living and socializing in today’s world. “We’ll meet for coffee. Coffee break.” And other similar phrases indicated how embedded coffee is into our social and business fabric.
Analyzing my reluctance and fears about giving up this part of our gathering alerted me to consider different symbolisms in work and life. Did things really mean what I credit gave them for? Am I reading more into what is being communicated? Is coffee just a drink of choice? What about that comment from my boss? That question from the client? That postponed/canceled call? Maybe there’s nothing deeper than what it appeared to be. Projecting more into what is can be misleading. At least inquire and find out more before coming to any big decisions.
As the rest of the group drank their enticingly fragrant coffee, I cradled the mug of hot water with lemon in my hands. I missed the how coffee smelled and even more how it tasted. I genuinely liked coffee. A few asked about my switch, but no one gave me a hard time about it. Some commented on the wisdom of my decision and even started to cut back. The concern of my being less if I gave up coffee was only in my mind. Wow.
Since I was a binge coffee drinker, I did not experience the headaches and other withdrawal discomfort that regular coffee drinkers oftentimes suffered from. And my days off were much more enjoyable. I felt refreshed and energized from our group time and eager to tackle my personal projects with inspiration and enthusiasm. Our gang continued to meet regularly, sharing laughs, tears and encouragement. Gradually over time, one by one we moved away as work and personal relationships changed. The lesson that I learned from giving up coffee was that our own unquestioned beliefs may hinder us from finding out the truth.
To this day I whenever I smell strong dark roast coffee, I fondly recall the camaraderie of our group. I smile and make a silent toast with my cup of hot lemon water to the best support group that a bunch of overachievers ever had. And to coffee.