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knowing your addiction…

December 3, 2014

Well, I have decided that it’s time to set my New Year’s Resolution. It’s time to take the plunge. The only-one-cup-of-coffee-per-day plunge.

Time to get the caffeine monkey off my back.

As far as addictions go, there are obviously worse ones than coffee.

But the fundamental principles are the same.

And like all addictions that start out promising you the world, at some point coffee has stopped being fun. What started out as a boost of energy has become a jolt of irritability; the initial increased concentration became a shorter attention span; the spring in my step became heartburn and chewable antacid pills. My hyper-ness became mistakes at work; I couldn’t meditate properly (too much buzz in my ears), and I am sleeping fitfully.

It hasn’t been that long of an addiction either. I never drank coffee for the first 40 years of my life. It started as the odd summer iced latte on the way to the farm. Which developed into an excuse to go for a walk to a neighbourhood cafe. You know, get out of the office, go for a walk. Which became Saturday mornings in the cafe with the weekend newspaper, and then most mornings before going to work, and then every morning before work. And then a cup of Joe after lunch, meet a friend at a café after work, a pick-me-up before going out on a Friday night.

When that all became far too expensive we started hauling it home in bags. Getting our own grinder. Making our own. Drinking bodums of it.

That’s the fundamental arc of any addiction. Replace coffee with pot, alcohol, food, yoga, meditation, sex, house cleaning, Facebook…etc. etc. …

I have a friend who started out only smoking pot occasionally at parties – and only if someone else had any, and who then offered her some. Which became an occasional weekend thing to do; and then she actually bought her own as a way to relax before bed. After that it was to help wake her up in the morning. Relax before a big meeting. After a big meeting.

One day she realized that she was smoking pot all of the time. In fact, she told me there is a five year stretch in her past where life is pretty much just a pot haze. So she quit. Or tried to. But then, after a couple of months, she shared a joint with friends at a dinner party – what’s the harm? – and two days later she was hooking up with an old dealer and blazing her days away again.

Two years after that, she quit cold. That was six years ago.

Addictions are fascinating to me. They hide all of life’s little (and not so little) traumas. They help make the mundane people more interesting. They make the banal routines of life more endurable. The initial dopamine rush is always great. Sometimes it awakens deeper levels of consciousness. Sometimes the sex is great! (Sometimes it’s fantastic!) At least in the beginning.

My father died of alcoholism in his mid-50’s. He started drinking in high school. He started out a Saturday night drinker. With the boys. It was a way to forget all the childhood abuse. Then his brother was killed in a mining accident and after that it was Friday nights too. Week nights after work. Business lunches. And then all day, every day. He developed alcohol senility and talked to himself. He got cancer in one of his kidneys. Cirrhosis of the liver.

Addictions are killing us. We know our addictions are killing us. Yet, like driving (another addiction?) we are powerless to do anything about it. Sugar, salt, and saturated fat are now killing more people than smoking. Computer screens, video games, porn, suntanning, obesity, drugs, alcohol, smoking, exercise – you name it – the list is virtually endless – it’s all about addictions.

Over-acheivers are addicted to work. Or to money. The Saturday Business Section always features some over-achiever who is up – everyday – at 4:30, in the gym by 5, and in the office by 6. And not in bed until midnight. But these people are rewarded for their addictions. (Until they have the inevitable heart attack.)

Our minds crave our addictions. When I’m not exercising, my brain doesn’t want to get my body up off the couch and go for a cycle – even though it knows it will feel great afterwards. When I am exercising regularly, my body doesn’t want to sit myself down long enough to watch a movie.

All things in moderation as they say. Even moderation (also addictive).

So, the house coffee runs out this month. Then we start fresh. Clean. I know what to expect. As the first day progresses, I’ll get increasingly cranky. Tired. Irritable. There’ll be a nasty withdrawl headache for sure.

I’m addicted. That’s the price I’ll pay. But it’s only for the day. The physical withdrawal to my relatively low-level coffee addiction (3 cup a day average) will be short-lived.

It’s in the days after that where the addiction shows its true fiendishness. The heartburn will be gone. I will meditate more easily. Sleep better. I will feel on top of the world. And on one of those top-of-the-world days I will think to myself “I feel fantastic! Wouldn’t it be nice to have a coffee, while I read my book by the window?” I’ll say to myself some cozy winter afternoon “What’s one extra cup of Joe going to do?”

“Wouldn’t it be nice to go for a latte after shopping at the farmer’s market”, I’ll say to my girlfriend on some unsuspecting Saturday morning. “It’s a beautiful morning. What’s one latte? No big deal.”

It could be a week after I stopped. It could be in three months, or three years from now.

That’s how it starts, all over again.

Addictions. Fascinating.


(This is the beginning of a series – over the next month or so – looking at addictions, and the Harper government’s new bill to address “harm reduction” drug addiction practices in Canada (Bill C2 – The Community Rights Act). The Harper government took a safe-injection site in Vancouver all the way to the Supreme Court, in an attempt to shut it down. They lost every court decision along the way. Bill C2 will be his answer to this defeat.)


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