How I quit coffee and learned to love the tea

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December 14, 2012 by marieelia

I’m sorry; that was a terrible pun. And I didn’t really quit drinking coffee, but I did break the addiction cycle. This whole time—two years in January—that I’ve been radically changing the way I eat and improving my health, I vacillated between justifying my caffeine consumption and recognizing that it was important to decrease it. I knew it was contributing to sleeping troubles, anxiety, gastrointestinal upset, dehydration, and urinary tract problems. So I cut back to one cup per day, which shortly went back up to two, and sometimes three. I limited myself to no coffee after noon, but I would “sneak” post-lunch cups. (Sneak? Who was watching? Me?)

Finally, the universe—or a conflation of events—intervened, just like when I quit smoking. (That’s another story.) A couple months ago, I had been back to drinking two (big) cups of coffee a day, forgetting to drink water, under tons of stress at work. I showed up to help at my friend’s shop where a crew of volunteers was laying down flooring, using industrial-strength glue. I gladly accepted a big cup of coffee (my third that morning), and then spent two hours gluing flooring in the bathroom. With the door closed. No water + too much caffeine + glue, and I ended up with one of the worst headaches I’ve ever had. I’ve never had a migraine, and I don’t think this felt like one, but my face hurt, just moving hurt, and I was so nauseous that every bump in the car on the way home felt like a pot hole. I could barely make it upstairs, where I fell face-first into bed and slept for a few hours. I woke up, took an Aleve and chugged water, and fell asleep again.

I woke up with that delicate, queasy feeling you get when you’re done being sick but your body remembers it. For at least a week, the thought of coffee made me queasy. I had headaches, so I knew my body wanted caffeine, but I drank black tea instead. Eventually I was able to drink coffee again, but that forced hiatus broke the cycle. I still drank a cup of black tea in the morning, but it has so much less caffeine. I continue to have a cup of Earl Grey in the morning—two on the weekends—and the occasional cup of coffee. But now I’m enjoying coffee in a different context: I go to a favorite shop and have a really good cup, or grab some if I’m out in the cold and want to warm up, or if I’m feeling a little sleepy, or if I just feel like it. The best thing is not needing it in the morning. And I haven’t bought a bag of beans since the terrible headache situation. My coffees are isolated, here or there, often on Fridays as a treat. I’m happy to put coffee in the “treat foods” category.

I realize not everyone has a problem with caffeine or a desire to stop drinking coffee. But I’ve been drinking it since I could be trusted with mildly warm beverages (at least since age 8), and it was time to make a change. The ritual of a warm drink (and the desire for some caffeine) is fulfilled with the making of tea in the morning. (Maybe I’ll start substituting green tea, and eventually rooibos.) I recently moved house and found a journal I kept when I was 22 or 23. Part of it documented my struggle with cutting down on alcohol. I had realized I was abusing it and had promised myself to cut down, and then I started dating someone with a full-on addiction problem, so I promised him. I noted in one journal entry that each time I had broken my promise I had been with a certain person, and in each instance I had justified it—well, the wine was a really good bottle, or someone had bought me a drink. It made me think about choice and promises. Obviously, genuine addiction is one scenario. But plenty of people abuse alcohol or food or engage in certain behaviors because those things are part of a life they’ve chosen, and often because they haven’t prioritized their own health.

If you’d asked me 10 years ago if I considered myself healthy, I would have said yes. If you asked me three years ago, I would have said yes. My current self would not agree, and the biggest reason is not because of specific behaviors but because I hadn’t learned how to listen to the physical and emotional cues my body was giving me. Pain is a way for your body to tell you to address a problem. And I think my anxiety was partially a result of not listening and giving myself what I needed. Sometimes now if I have coffee, my heart races; it’s not a pleasant sensation, but it’s a welcome one because I can feel it, I know why it’s happening. It’s my body saying, Whoa we’re not used to that! Same as when I have more than one alcoholic drink: I immediately get sleepy or woozy, and I’m glad, because it means that my body recognizes it as something that isn’t usually there, something out of the ordinary, something in a different context from my everyday life—which, finally, is pretty even-keeled.

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