By Tianna Vertigan
It’s been nearly eight months since I’ve quit. I had never even thought about quitting until I went to the café. I’ll admit, I had too much. I’ll never forget the head rush. No matter how hard I tried to fight it, the bitter liquid overwhelmed my senses. Dizziness and invincibility seemed to sink in like the knot in my stomach. I found myself doing laps around the nearest 7-11. And that’s saying a lot, because I hate running. That makes me sick, too. A lot of things make me sick. However, I figured I could overcome this addiction. I thought it would be easy. Surprisingly, I was right. That day, my mind was turned away from the substance immediately, no second thoughts. I quit cold turkey. I wanted to finally focus on myself, to change the way I was feeling. However, to others, my fixation on quitting such a minor substance seemed childish. Especially to my parents, both heavy smokers and alcoholics, I, the clear black sheep of the family, had crudely chosen caffeine as my drug of choice.
I may be tired now, without caffeine to carry me through the day. But mostly I am tired of the myth that coffee stunts one’s growth. I’m tired of people assuming that I stopped drinking coffee so I could finally reach five feet. No. This is particularly ludicrous when there lies a far greater issue with caffeine. I did it so that my body would stop reaching such intense anxiety levels.
Sometimes when I drank coffee I would feel like a child, racing around, pretending to have a so-called “sugar high”. Have you ever seen those obnoxious kids that boldly proclaim stupid phrases like, “I feel like I’m on crack!” as they burst out of the store, slurpees in hand? That’s what I’m talking about. I pity them. Still, I can relate to them, far too much, though as a teenager I’ve developed this feeling called embarrassment, for acting so utterly ridiculous. I feel almost insecure, guilty, weak, not being able to have a coffee without getting this mysterious caffeine high. As I got older, the need for caffeine increased, and so did the effects. I felt it more and more each time, fully aware of how it could shake me, when all I wanted was for it to wake me. A lot of things make me tired. I tried a lot of things to fix this. After lack of energy comes lack of motivation and so on comes depression, and a whole lot of swallowing pills. Unfortunately, the only stuff I could get my chubby kid hands on had caffeine in it. After having dumped loads of caffeine in my body, I became sick of it all. It was almost as if my body, as a natural instinct, tried to reject the substance altogether. It got to the point where the caffeine high felt more like a caffeine overdose.
“A small double-double, please,” I used to say to the Tim Horton’s cashier. For years, I had to say this all the time, that is, until anxiety got my tongue. Burnt it, actually, on the same hot coffee that I was asking for. A cheery “Hi, what can I get for you?” cannot simply be followed by a decaf double-double; that’s just depressing. It almost feels immoral. That’s also too many words for me to stutter on. Besides, coffee isn’t the only hot drink in which I take two creams and two sugars. My favourite tea is green tea, as long as it’s decaf. However, even in caffeinated teas there is still far less caffeine in them than in coffee. In tea, there’s more variety, more health benefits, better breath-but whatever floats your boat. Don’t get me wrong, I love the taste of coffee, and would never go after any avid coffee drinkers for infringing upon my liberalist tea-supportive views. I used to love a good dark roast- trust me, I do so have a refined palette. I even like those papery seaweed snacks. But now, every time my tongue gets close to that sultry bean water, I start to panic. I feel colours. My ears ring and I try to sit still, yet my foot won’t stop tapping. The clock ticks with my heart beat. At school, I notice more and more people scattering towards their classes and I am constantly awaiting the bell. I feel the scent creeping up on me, inviting me in as if it’s no more than a church brunch on a Sunday afternoon, the delicious dark roast trying to tempt me like the snake in the garden. Nevertheless, deep down in my heart, I know I am not supposed to give in. It does, however, make me feel quite out of place, and like a kindergartener watching a drug deal, I recognize something mischievous. Even the soft scent of my boyfriend’s buddy’s cup of coffee being handed to him every morning gives me a sensory overload.
One time, however, I did have a small cup of joe after about six months of living without it. However, I didn’t see it as weakness, temptation- a relapse. Staying home and writing all day, it didn’t affect me much. It also helped that I was actually tired from staying up until 4am at an ex’s house and then having to walk back early in the morning. I used to drink coffee just for the sake of it, until too many afternoons sneaking the last bits of the previous morning’s coffee led me to believe that this was an unsafe practice. Of course, my motive that day came from what all high schoolers’ motives come from: deadlines. With Monday only a matter of hours away, I needed to work fast. I needed motivation. I needed to feel alive. So, I took a chance. Unfortunately, I cannot give much insight as to what happened, because the caffeine, as I predicted, left my memory in a blur. However, I do remember what didn’t happen. I didn’t get writer’s block. I didn’t talk to anyone. I didn’t ignore my mom when she called me to do the dishes. One would assume that the outcome was positive. But at the end of the day, it all comes down to what I know is best for me. And I know that I didn’t go to bed happy that night.
Caffeine is a different type of drug. Its effects aren’t so easy to recognize, especially to oneself. You don’t stumble around or stutter like with alcohol, or break into a coughing fit every time you laugh like with tobacco, and although your eyes may widen, they don’t turn a hazy red like the morning sky. The only sign of coffee is that your breath smells, though that’s normal, a small price to pay in comparison to what I go through. For me, I feel it in my stomach, twisting my guts towards the nearest exit, giving me butterflies. Then the butterflies turn to moths, and they flock towards the fire in my heart, where I feel it most. Not necessarily emotionally, but I can feel it beat quicker. Harder. Caffeine can cause heart palpitations, and as a person with an anxiety disorder, I don’t need any more of that in my life.
I don’t even drink pop. I’ve never particularly liked how sugary it is, loaded with calories. It’s basically syrup in a can. Aside from that, even if I did want to drink it, I couldn’t, because of what little caffeine it has in it. Even that affects me.
But I thought Brisk was safe.
I mean, it’s iced tea. That’s healthy, right?
I was wrong.
Running through the forest. No, wait, I’m not running. He is. It’s dark outside and I know that. I know I will be fine, but I don’t think he does. I panic. What if he thinks I need medical attention? I can’t have the doctors think I’m insane. I can’t have him think I’m insane! I gather my words to try and get out of my boyfriend’s arms, but it comes out sounding more like alphabet soup.
“What?” he mutters, stopping in his tracks and awaiting my answer. “No, tell me what you were thinking,” he urges, propping my head up. I can tell he’s scared. But instead of saying something to comfort him and let him know the problem, my mind is stopped by the body’s most demanding organ: the eyes.
“I can’t see!” I groan, helplessly. My eyes want to go somewhere. How can he see and I can’t? Hey, that’s not fair! And how does this not phase me? At this moment, I don’t take into account the much larger dilemma of being blind, but am instead rather annoyed at not being able to see my lover speaking to me. I start to giggle. His eyes are pretty.
“Don’t worry, we’ll get you out of here,” he says. I am thinking of how his eyes change, from blue to green to grey. I need to know what colour they are! I wiggle my arm and I feel my shoe hit the earth, yet he’s still got me. My back crunches like a contortionist and is met with a loud thump.
“WOAH!” I exclaim. He is stopped again, and has given up on dragging me but continues clutching one of my arms. Repeatedly, he asks me what the matter is, making me feel a tad bit like a barking dog, like Lassie probably felt when everyone was saying, “What’s that, Lassie? Timmy fell down a well?” except Lassie is a smarter dog than I am a human. However, in this moment, I am overjoyed, ecstatic, feeling oh so clever. Yes, clever, smarter than twenty Lassies, but no more. I have made a break-through.
“I can see!” I yell, immediately attempting to stand up. But he’s still confused.
“What happened?” he says, still paused. I pause too, thinking hard. When it comes time for me to blink, I giggle again. And again. Until we both realize.
“Oh my God…” he says, his voice becoming stronger. “Were your eyes CLOSED?”
Dumbfounded, we both burst into laughter in the middle of the forest. As soon as our feet touch pavement, he puffs out a big breath and says, “Wow.”
“Do you go through this every time?” he asks, strangely awestruck.
“What do you mean?” I say, avoiding eye contact with him.
“Anxiety, you have it that bad?” he explains, trying to imagine my world as he shoves his waving hands in his pockets.
“Well, yeah… I guess so,” I shrug. “Caffeine just makes it that much worse.”
“What? I can’t believe you go through that! You’re so strong, and- and you’ve been through so much,” he stutters, talking quickly now, his mind racing while mine is calming down. I try to keep a balance between blushing, and sounding too serious, until he says it. The validation that drives me over the edge.
I let my eyes give in, turning my head to see his tall frame basking in the yellow street light. But I don’t need that to know where his lips are. I’m almost crying tears of joy, because this boy, he doesn’t even know how happy he’s just made me. And it’s all real, not some trippy caffeine hallucination where I fall asleep in the middle of the forest and somehow wake up without opening my eyes. I count this experience as a blessing. I love him. I don’t have anything to regret, now, though I do know that I want to spare his feelings. So, next time, when I insist on not letting the last of the iced tea go to waste, for him and for him only, I won’t brisk it.
No withdrawals call me back to caffeine. I have other friends now. Friends that support me. A lot of things are my friends. My boyfriend is my friend. My best friend. My dogs are my friends, even when they bark like Lassie. Tea is my friend- but only decaf tea. Brown sugar is my friend. Cream is my friend. Even milk is my friend, but only because it agrees with my stomach. We’re still working through our issue of disagreeing with my tongue. But coffee, coffee is not my friend. For me, coffee is a caffiend.