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  • Writer's pictureMary

Caffeine: The (Almost) End of an Affair

The image of the Serious Writer smoking a cigarette, swilling down a glass of hard liquor in the evening or a cup of black coffee in the morning, sitting next to a typewriter or pen and paper is as much of a cliche as, well, toddlers and chicken nuggets.



I was so desperate to seem not-nerdy as an adolescent I briefly tried to get addicted to smoking. Despite the fact that all the women on my mother's side of the family were smokers (past and present), I never could take to it. I taught myself to tolerate it for a brief period of time, but never enjoyed it, much less developed an addiction. I've never enjoyed alcohol either, although I managed to drink semi-regularly for about a year when I was living in the UK. I am ashamed to say this was purely due to peer pressure, and a desire to seem less American, and it was a relief to abstain when I returned to the States.


Coffee, however, was a different story. I started drinking my grandmother's instant coffee when I was 14, and soon graduated to making my own from a drip. Maybe it was self-medication for many things, but I took to coffee like a duck to a swimming pool. Coffee made it easier for me to get up in the morning. It had no calories. It made breakfast taste better. It was delicious black, but also with chocolate, another favorite food. It boosted my mood and energy. I'm a morning person, and coffee is a morning beverage, but in college (where most people stay up late and sleep in) it enabled me to at least keep up with my night owl friends. It enhanced my exercise performance.


Plus, I have a bitter palate, and I could appreciate good coffee. I'm honestly indifferent to fine food (I like peanut butter sandwiches more than any adult should), but I can tell the difference between different roasts and blends.


This is in the past tense, because, while we're not breaking up, for the past week, I've had to radically cut back my coffee consumption. Worse yet, of the coffee I'm drinking, it's no longer what I consider good coffee. It's weak, diner-strength. Unfortunately. I've had trouble sleeping for the past few months, to the point of waking up three or four times a night and not really sleeping during those hours, more like "half-conscious rest." I think age more than coffee is to blame, but I admit that reducing my caffeine radically (even though I'd already limited myself to only morning coffee drinking for years) has made a difference.


What's most surprising is that I don't seem to crave coffee like I used to; it's a bit like how I no longer crave sweets, something unfathomable to myself as a child. That same inner child is staring at amazement at my current self, eating oily fish and greens, exercising every day. What's so weird is that I'm not doing all of these things as a "should" but a "want," because I genuinely feel better doing them.


I don't think there is anything more bizarre as to have one's tastes change, though. Preferences can seem as much a part of our character as our eye color or shoe size, something that seems unalterable...until it isn't.


Just don't mention decaf or herbal tea as a substitute, though. There I draw a line.

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