This morning I had a cup of tea with honey. That might not seem too unusual or worthy of reporting. But for someone who has woken up each morning for the past twenty years (that’s 7,300 times) and proceeded to boil the kettle, prepare the plunger and pour herself a cup of hot, aromatic, soul-nourishing coffee, that is something I consider worth reporting. SEVEN THOUSAND THREE HUNDRED TIMES – without exception.
In that twenty year period, I have tried to give up coffee twice, without success. It usually went something like this:
I love coffee, why should I give it up.
It’s not bad for you.
I only have 1-3 cups a day.
But I should see if I can do it.
Maybe it will have a positive effect on my mental and physical wellbeing.
Ok, let’s give this a go, you can do this, it can’t be that hard.
Day 1 – wake up feeling pointless. This morning is pointless, there is no coffee. This day is pointless. By afternoon – massive headache, even more massive irritability and feeling of pointlessness. Why am I doing this again?
Day 2 – wake up – re-run of Day 1. By afternoon, I can’t take this anymore. Coffee isn’t even bad for you, it might even be good for you. It’s not like it’s cigarettes or drugs or anything. How can one measley cup of coffee make any difference to my mental or physical well-being. Yeah, look, I tried. It was a good effort. Proceed to make myself the best cup of coffee I’VE EVER HAD IN MY LIFE. Feel alive again. Yes, there is a point to this existence.
So that’s pretty much the process.
But this time, something’s different. I’m going on a week-long retreat that does not allow coffee. I’ve done retreats like this before, but have always snuck my coffee in, one way or another. I had to, there was no choice in the matter. But this time I’m going to play by the rules. And because I didn’t want the retreat itself to be a week of caffeine-withdrawal hell, I knew I needed to tackle this way in advance.
Plan: Weeks 1 and 2: go down to one weak coffee a day.
Done. Feeling fine, have wanted that second cup but have resisted. Had a decaf once or twice.
Weeks 3 and 4: gradually reduce amount of regular coffee for decaffeneited coffee in the tablespoon until 100% decaf.
Done. Still had the pleasure of drinking the coffee. Did have some physical effects along the way, headachey, dizzy, feeling pointless at times. But managed to push through. Only had to take Panadol once.
Week 5: have a cup of tea with honey instead. And yes, I do realise tea has caffeine in it…but drinking tea doesn’t have the emotional charge drinking coffee has for me, and I know that I can transition from regular tea to herbal tea with much less discomfort that going from coffee to herbal tea.
Week 6: have a herbal tea.
And somehow my plan has worked. Here I am, 4 weeks to the day before my retreat and I’ve stopped drinking coffee. So what have I learned? That cold turkey may not be the best way for everyone to break a habit. That there’s a fine line between addiction and habit. That addiction/habit is multi-faceted. We know that with cigarettes. There’s the physical and the emotional attachment. The key might be to break one first and then the other has no leg to stand on.
I feel proud, because I’ve shown myself that I can do it. The coffee doesn’t own me anymore. I’ve made a choice and I’m continuing to make that choice daily.
I feel that my energy and mood are more stable.
And finally, I’ve learned that you need a good reason to quit and you need to make sure that reason is iron-clad because you’re going to want to back down, twist it and rationalise yourself out of it many many times. You need to believe 100% that the reward is greater than the “self-denial”. And the reward is always the same, the greatest reward of all: freedom.