I have to drink coffee every day. Some people might say that coffee is good; coffee has health benefits; coffee is a social lubricant; coffee is a legal high. I agree with all of those statements, but I also want to point out that crack is probably good; eating raw eggs has health benefits; cigarettes are a social lubricant; and cutting off your own oxygen supply is a legal high. I mean that you could justify pretty much any behavior with those four reasons.
“Coffee is not that bad.” That is true, but I’m still addicted to it. Like any addict to any substance, there is a whole story of how I got hooked. My story is not as maudlin as the story of someone who got addicted to meth or heroin, but it’s a lot more common. Perhaps it is also your story:
Seven years ago I was living in Jerusalem and got my teudat zehut (Israeli citizenship ID) the day before I started a do-or-die job in Israeli tech. It was do-or-die because I had been living in someone’s house in exchange for work, cleaning houses, and freelance writing, and when I made the choice to move out of the suburbs and into Jerusalem I knew that there was no way I could pay Jerusalem rent on my house cleaning/freelance writing money. There were not that many good English-speaking jobs available in Jerusalem; I could either succeed at this job or not be able to pay my rent.
It wasn’t just a job. At my final interview, the one where they gave me my job offer, the HR lady pierced me with her eyes and said, “Are you ready to make this job your life?” And because I had no other options, I said, “I’m ready to do whatever it takes.”
Ten hours a day in front of a computer can drain the life our of anyone, and before long I turned to caffeine to keep me alert. I never liked coffee, but when hot chocolate and tea weren’t cutting it, I started adding instant coffee to my hot chocolate. I added a little at a time until one day I just drank a cup of coffee. The coffee was good. It was instant Nescafe in a Styrofoam cup mixed with aseptic-boxed milk and dubiously chunky office sugar, but it was good.
Within a few months, I graduated to drip coffee, and then to French press coffee. I kept my French press and my own glass coffee mug at the office, as well as a juicer, a knife, and spoon, and a bowl. I pretty much lived at the office. I ate three meals a day there. My weight fell to like 115 pounds. I had chronic diarrhea and indigestion but I refused to get a colonoscopy. The Israeli gastroenterologist was a scary guy, this tall, gaunt, deadly serious Rav Kook dude who I immediately did not want to stick scopes up my butt. That’s beside the point. It didn’t stop me from drinking coffee; I just gave up Turkish coffee when it was suggested to me that I had gastritis.
I worked at that company for four years, and every single day I drank coffee when I got into work and sat down at my desk. In the last year, when I was already married and living in New York and working out of the company’s investor’s office in Manhattan, I graduated to buying large paper cups of coffee on my way to the subway in the morning and then drinking more at work. The office was near LaColombe, Porto Rico Importing Company, and a now-closed but then-wonderful kosher espresso place called Au Breve. As I got more and more disillusioned by my job, I’d bribe myself with coffee to go to work and to get my work done.
It would be easy to blame that job for my coffee addiction, but when I quit that job and moved on to a different one, I kept drinking coffee. And I kept bribing myself with coffee. When I don’t want to do something, whether it is getting out of bed or going to the office or taking my baby to the pediatrician or cleaning my apartment, I tell myself that I can have a big cup of coffee if I do it. As big as I want. It’s like the infantile fantasy of having all the milk I want from this giant breast in the sky. I kvetch like a baby when I don’t have it. I go rooting around for it in my cupboards even though I know it is not there.
I’ve tried to quit. So many times I’ve made myself jittery or had a severe caffeine crash to the point of saying, “I’ll never drink coffee again”. But then I drink it again. The longest I’ve gone without it was a week. When I was pregnant and nursing, I cut down to one cup a day. As soon as my baby went to formula, the monkey climbed right up on my back and stayed there.
Just last week a kosher coffee brewer called “The Chosen Bean” sent me three packets of kosher-for-Passover coffee grounds to test out. I drank all of it. It wasn’t just because I am a coffee addict, but because it was really good coffee, especially the “Moses Roast“. I should be grateful for the free coffee, but it was analogous to sending a drug addict three packets of some “good sh*t” and expecting him not to use it all at once. I spent the entire week jittery and crashing from caffeine, but I couldn’t stop myself; the coffee was so good.
I know that coffee is not healthy for me, but I can’t figure out how to quit. Beyond being addicted to it, I love it. I love everything about it. It is the most delicious and satisfying drink ever created. There is nothing like coffee. I think coffee should have its own blessing; I don’t think shehakol cuts it. I know that I use it to fill a big gaping hole in my heart, but there are so many reasons not to stop.