Coffee, or to be more precise, a forced abstinence from coffee, taught me something about myself.
I adore coffee. My fondest coffee memory is from Gondar, Ethiopia. My husband and I flew to Addis Ababa and to save pennies we hitchhiked, exploring castles and breath-taking purple and blue hills. A handsome barista pumped huge mugs of steaming frothy cappuccino from a beautiful brass coffee maker. We had never heard of cappuccino.
Ten years later, back in Canada and in university, terrible machine coffee kept me awake while I memorized for anatomy exams. Coffee quickly became a bad habit I associated with looming deadlines.
I never made sock coffee in Canada; the necessary ambience was missing. In the 1990s fancy coffees became de rigeur in coffee shops. I tried them all — hot, cold, frothy, black, sweet, spicy — and settled on organic free-trade dark roast with heavy cream. It became a serious habit. Heading out the door triggered me to plan my errands to include my favourite coffee shop. I bought a French press. I was convinced that drinking a delicious coffee mindfully was a healthy habit. My body eventually told me otherwise.
My stomach ached. I racked it up to food poisoning from a weiner I had scarfed down on a road trip. I cut back on food, but not coffee. Coffee was my care-giver. A week passed, the pain continued, especially after I ingested coffee. The coffee had to go.
I have never had headaches, which I’d assumed was the only sign of caffeine withdrawal. However I felt unfocussed and lethargic. My normal hustle bustle self was gone. My projects went unattended. Laundry and dishes piled up. I googled caffeine withdrawal and was taken aback. I had four of the top eight symptoms of caffeine withdrawal: fatigue, brain fog, constipation, low energy. I didn’t have the drop in blood pressure (which I would have liked), insomnia, anxiety or headaches.
After the third week of no coffee the stomach ache and the symptoms went away. My energy came back and I tackled neglected projects. I still thought about coffee but wasn’t keen to invite that pain back.
I realized that mindful coffee breaks were my way of frequently procrastinating. Considering that I have been a heavy coffee drinker for over 30 years I feel remorseful when I think of all that I could have accomplished, although I can’t even begin to tell you how much I enjoyed my dark roast.
By the end of this week I will have written and submitted a couple of stories, sorted my photographs, and carted off bins of stuff to charity. I make better use of my time, get more done, and have time for a mindful walk. I’m still working on having fewer thoughts about coffee.
Sheila Morrison has been lucky enough to have worked around the world as a teacher, physiotherapist, and mental health advocate. Now retired, she soaks up life in Halifax and writes essays and stories drawing from her experiences as a daughter, mother, wife, caregiver and nature lover. She enjoys the woods and the ocean with her family which includes Jade the poodle, and of course coffee.
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