Bagging it: grounds for divorcing the java monkey

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By Ian Neligh

I needed caffeine. I woke up feeling like my brain was in an unclean fish tank and a hundred miles away. A shower didn’t help rejuvenate my senses, and I stumbled around trying to find a shirt not wrinkled like a dead elephant’s carcass. There were none. This wasn’t all that unusual. Iron in hand, I cleared a space on my countertop and melted a hole in a $40 shirt. I looked at the bottom of the iron and then to the clock above the stove — I was running late for a meeting.

I got into my car, drove to a clothing store. I bought a cheap shirt and, while driving away, put it on. Caffeine remained my major priority. Just before I pulled into a Starbucks, my car’s low-gas warning light kicked on. I stopped instead at a gas station, filled up on expensive gas and hit the road. I made it just in time. When the meeting finished, I finally went to get coffee. The barista looked like an extra from the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” — the coffee tasted terrible and didn’t wake me up. It was then I made a decision that would fill my heart with fear and sorrow. A decision that, to some, seemed like pure madness and nearly left me in a permanent state of gibbering incoherence. I decided to quite drinking coffee.

For me, coffee has always been the nectar of life. I began drinking coffee heavily in the military to get through the 3 and 4 a.m. mornings. I began drinking more and more of the glorious elixir just to re-create the effect it had on me only years before. It got to the point where, when I did drink coffee from Starbucks, it had to have six shots of espresso in it — that’s twice the recommended dosage. Sometimes I would skip the rest of the drink and just have the shots raw, or have them added to a regular cup of coffee. My caffeine intake was getting out of control. I used to joke that I needed to have someone hook jumper cables to my face to wake me up in the morning; it was starting to feel less like a joke.

I felt like a jittering hyperactive version of Christopher Walken — on a good day. If I tried to quit, in order to shake the java monkey from my back, I went through withdrawals and endured headaches and a cloudy thinking process —and when it cleared I felt terrible. All this made cutting back less than attractive.

I was at first tempted to substitute my morning coffee with decaf, but decaf always seemed to me like one of the alien invaders from “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” — it looks the same but any real human can tell the difference.

So I decided to do like our brothers and sisters across the pond and drink tea. Lots of it. With my hands shaking from withdrawals, my co-workers watched me go back and forth more than a dozen times a day to the office kitchen to get my tea fix.

It hardly kept my eyes open, and I had to take the extreme misery of my choice one day at a time. It took over a month. And finally it happened — I was free from coffee. I woke more awake, and could drink one cup of tea and feel functional. I finally beat back the coffee demon. Soon I was drinking decaf coffee, and happily couldn’t tell the difference. These were joyous times, but they were short-lived. The other day I found myself letting the tea steep for twice as long as the day before.

I woke up recently feeling like my brain was in an unclean fish tank and a hundred miles away. Although I try to drown it out, I once again hear the siren song of coffee drifting over the land. It calls to me.

Ian Neligh is a news editor for Evergreen Newspapers.