A Year Without Coffee

Ask me two years ago and I wouldn't have believed that the future me would be writing this, from Los Angeles, while drinking tea instead of coffee. Moving to L.A., yes, that was something l've had my heart set on for a over decade. But coffee was life. It was my identity, hobby, and addiction. It was also my poison.

Like most coffee drinkers, I'd bolt to the kitchen first thing in the morning to start my brew. French press or Chemex at home, pour-overs at coffee joints. On the coffee-snob dial, the needle pushed hard into that red-zone of "total bitch" status. No gas station coffee, no fast food coffee, no coffee-in-a-can, no cream or sugar, no fucking pumpkin spice, no Starbucks unless it was the last stop on a long and lonely highway, and every Keurig swill-machine on the planet should be melted down into bricks to build an inescapable wall around the Keurig factory.

I've drunk coffee all my life*, like a junkie for the past 12 years, until my colon led a revolt. The year prior to quitting coffee I'd gone to a few doctors about my gastro issues: the bloating, the random pain, the daily discomfort that I practically took for granted. Physically, life sucked most of the time. I underwent the obligatory allergy skin test, which showed no indication of a coffee/caffeine sensitivity. They suggested the next step be a colonoscopy. I scheduled it for January 2015.

Then, unexpectedly, we were presented with the opportunity to move to Los Angeles in early 2015. Life was in upheaval, so the colonoscopy got rescheduled and rescheduled again. The first half of last year saw exhaustive house hunting. If you know greater Los Angeles, you know there are many hills and winding roads. Driving up those hills to the open houses punished me with motion sickness. Every weekend for seven months, open houses and nausea. Same daily routine: stop off first thing in the morning for coffee, take a Dramamine, visit houses, fall asleep in the car in between houses- knocked out on pills. Oh, forgot to mention, when I take Dramamine I get extremely agitated. Like, road-rage-don't-talk-to-me-I-hate-all-humans-and-your-baby-isn't-cute agitated. So what was I supposed to do when I actually lived on one of these roads? Take the angry-pills or puke every single day?

Sure, at some point I noticed a potential connection between coffee and car sickness. But denial is a powerful force when your addiction is being threatened. So I tried switching to half-caff. Nothing happened. Then decaf: less motion sickness but still upset stomach and random stabbing gut pain. Conceding that I was beginning to see a coffee-caffeine connection, I abruptly quit drinking coffee last June and switched to black tea. A caffeine-addicted brain would get headaches without a little splash of something**. The gastro issues improved immediately and markedly. And on those days when we'd be riding in the hills, I postponed my morning cup of tea and the car sickness all but went away. Great! And also, oh shit! No coffee ever again?

At the end of last July we finally bought a house. Of course it ended up being on a winding road up a hill, but I could ameliorate the issue by drinking less tea. Then my parents visited last August. Tourism and dining ensued, and during a Sunday brunch I absent-mindedly said to the server, "I'll have a cup too." My stepdad had ordered decaf coffee and—old habits die hard—I joined him. Half a cup later I said to the table, "What the hell am I doing? I'm not supposed to be drinking coffee!" By the time the meal was over my intestines had staged an uprising. It felt like my flesh was dissolving from the inside out, and it came to be my last cup of coffee. Ever. What a shame my last cup tasted like piss.

So, I eventually got that colonoscopy, plus an endoscopy for good measure. Those two cameras met somewhere in the middle and, at age 39, I received a clean bill of health. A lifetime of coffee flowing through my hoses and nozzles, combined with the anxiety of thinking something could be wrong "down there", had me convinced they would find a festering ulcer or a species of tape worm that only breeds in coffee-rich environments. But the pipes turned out to be as clean as Katie Couric's.

Here's how quitting coffee has improved my life:

  • Decreased anxiety, something I've suffered with for two decades.
  • Decreased gastrointestinal pain, bloating, and cramping.
  • Decreased motion sickness, something I've struggled with to a great degree lifelong.
  • Decreased crankiness and agitation. I thought I was crabby without coffee but it turns out I was crabby with it. Although, if you ask my family, they probably don't see much difference.
  • Plus, no more stanky coffee breath.

Counterintuitively, I also have a significant increase in sustained energy throughout the day. Guess that's what happens when you're not being poisoned anymore. I still drink black tea, but by the cup-full rather than the pot-full. I enjoy the mental sharpness provided by caffeine, but it doesn't need to reach red-eyed quivering zombie status. If I know I'll be traveling a windy road, I skip the tea and I don't get car sick.

If physical addiction to caffeine was 40% of why I never quit coffee before last year, then 60% was easily sheer stubbornness. Stubborn to think that coffee was a social necessity, a sacred ritual, an irreplaceable bitter lifeblood that would only drain from my veins the day I died. Then, with the flick of a switch, I changed my mind. Something once so vital, was sapping me of vitality and I was no longer willing to live compromised. Sound too dramatic? Just ask a coffee drinker to quit.

P.S. Colonoscopies are far simpler and quicker than I'd convinced myself, and SO not worth all the anxiety that contributed to mine being delayed a year and a half. If the doctor tells you to get one, get one.

*In my single digit years I was already a regular coffee drinker.

**The standard home-brewed coffee contains approximately 90-110 mg of caffeine per 8 oz. cup. The same amount of brewed coffee at Starbucks contains approximately 180 mg. Black tea contains significantly less caffeine at about 50 mg. per 8 oz. cup. Contrary to popular belief, a shot of espresso contains far less caffeine than a cup of brewed coffee—approximately 75 mg. per solo shot of espresso at Starbucks. Source: Caffeine Informer.

A Year Without Coffee by Brad Waters via ProvinceJournal.com. Copyright 2016.