I had my first cup of coffee since January 7th today. Soon I’m going to be shooting cups of it between my toes. Because I’m not sure you’ve read this in the trades, but caffeine is addictive!
Oh, how I missed it. I didn’t even think I did, because after a few headache-y days (more likely brought on by the fact that I was eating, at the time — wait, what’s that one food? Oh yeah — NOTHING) when I stopped drinking it, my energy level returned to normal and I didn’t feel like I was going to kill anybody more than the usual people I always want to kill. But as I sloooooooowly reassimilate myself to the world of the eating, I have to test the waters and find out if there’s one trigger specifically designed by god to send me screaming to the hospital. So, this week is coffee. Next week, something else. In several months, maybe Cheerios. You wouldn’t expect a sugar-free cereal to be so late on the list, but, alas, the delicious manna that formed all three of my square meals for the first eighteen years of my life must wait for me just a while longer.
But, today, my good friend coffee also made me feel like I was dying. It’s nighttime. I’m still a sweaty, distracted mess. I can’t stop eating. This looks like a sentence: “Bee bee bee who likes jumping neeeeeeeeee!” It’s not.I don’t believe myself to have a classically addictive personality. I bought a very small twelve-ouncer at the Coffee Bean on the corner, drank it black (NO MILK ALLOWED! Coffee, yes. Caffeine, sure! But no dairy, because doctors don’t know anything) over the course of literally six hours, and have been quite a bit more amped up than I’ve found myself in weeks. This, I assure you, is not a psychological response. Caffeine makes me batshit crazy.I used to believe I had a CRAZY addictive personality, and I can explain why I thought that in one word: cigarettes. Because I don’t love addiction, but boy did I love smoking. LOVED it. I liked everything about it. I liked buying them. I liked the ritual of packing them, from the turning the pack over and smacking it three times against my palm to pulling off the plastic wrapping and taking out the first one. What other process is as ritual-intensive that’s even nearly as enjoyable? Eating sushi. That’s the only one that’s close. And, according to my nutritionist, soy is worse for me right now than nicotine. So, take that, Japan.I’m sorry I’m fetishizing something so dangerous as smoking. For the love of all that’s good, don’t read this to your kids as a bedtime story, as you usually do with my posts.Smoking gave me everything I required from an addiction. It gave me something to do with my hands, something to do with my mouth, it forced me to take breaks in my work, it made me take deep breaths (in the rare event I could actually access one), and it focused me in a way that made me wonder if I had a dash of schizophrenia in me. The first time I saw Shine, I was like, “Holy shit. That’s me when I haven’t had a cigarette.” Starting smoking was by the far the easiest thing I’ve ever, ever done.A pack a day and seven years later, I was out of college and living in Manhattan, in an apartment where I could not smoke inside. I was tired of taking an elevator down seventeen floors to stand on 54th Street by myself back in the day when Manhattan used to have more than a three-day winter. I decided it was time to quit. But weaning myself off of a chemical that literally made the world come spinning into focus was going to be a little tricky.Enter…The Gum. Chewing The Gum was like chewing a wad of tin foil covered in ipecac. Oh, yeah. With a delightful peppermint coating. I have never been quite so nauseated as when I tucked that wad of death into my upper gums. I think its success rate must be due to a correlative mortality rate; the only people who stopped smoking with the help of The Gum stopped on account of THEY DIED, just one of the side effects of The Gum they don’t have room to mention on The Box.My adventures in The Gum lasted five days.On February 7th of 1999, I was working on Wall Street (don’t ask) and eating lunch at McDonald’s. I was gone a half hour, and by the time I returned to the office, I had smoked five cigarettes and eaten two cheeseburgers, an order of fries, and drank a large Diet Coke. I was twenty-three and I felt like I had an elephant sitting on my chest. I knew I had to quit either eating or smoking, and I didn’t know at the time that it was biologically possible to quit eating. I threw out my remaining Parliaments and was like, “That’s it.”Holy hell.The first forty-eight hours are never as bad as you think they’re going to be. I was flying on adrenaline and sanctimonious anti-smoking bravado, a walking billboard for thetruth.com, whose cleaner-lungs-than-thou rhetoric I could appreciate for the first time. Actually, that’s not true. I still wanted to take a swing at those smug bastards. But soon the newness started to wear off and I began to get tired. And sweaty. And a little blind in both eyes. And mean. I started to get so mean.I took immediate steps to stave off the withdrawal symptoms. I gave myself license to eat whatever I wanted for six months. I stayed far away from smokers and smoky places. I made myself a thirty day calendar, labeled, “A Nice Thing I’ll Do For Myself Every Day!” The first day was, like, “Buy a CD!” The second day was all, “Call an old friend!” But by day three, my resolve for self-improvement faded, and every day forward became, “Sit in a warm bath and cry. Sit in a warm bath and cry. Sit in a warm bath and cry.” Ever been overwhelmed by the feeling that your skeleton was trying to leap out of your body through your skin? Then you have my exact body chemistry, and once you tried to quit smoking.Eight months of that. I’m not kidding. I was clean until October of 1999. I didn’t touch one. I thought I had made it to the other side. I started going out again, though it didn’t make it easier that every single one of my friends commented repeatedly on the lack of a cigarette between the pointer and middle finger of my left hand. Some friends even got offended, like I had told a mutual friend to fuck off and then insisted that everyone else hang out with me anyway. I had divorced cigarettes, and they thought the wrong parent had gotten custody.One late night in October, I was really, really, really drunk at a bar at around 4AM. And I smoked one cigarette. You know how you hear that that makes people really sick and it reminds them why they quit? Yeah, that didn’t happen to me at all. I was back in, in a hurry. And thus began the worst stretch of my smoking history, and, probably not coincidentally, of my entire life. For the next year and a half, I would smoke a cigarette, mentally flog myself for making such a self-destructive decision, and go through two weeks of psychological withdrawal whereby I promised myself I would never smoke again. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Until March. Of 2001. Sorry, all of my friends and family.That March (fifteen months after I began faux-king once more), I went to a friend’s wedding in Atlanta and spent the entire weekend smoking. I felt awful and I looked awful, just in time for the first real set of post-college photographs that begin to draw the composite of What We Look Like As Adults. And I looked BAD. How bad did I look? The day I left Atlanta, I saw the bride’s family eating brunch in the hotel lobby with four other couples about their age, and I ran up to say goodbye to them before leaving for the airport. I love the bride’s parents, and the bride was one of my best friends in college, so I knew the mom and dad really well. Sometimes the dad said what was on his mind. So I was taken aback — though not as far aback as I otherwise might have been — when the father of the bride put his hands on my shoulders JUST LIKE A REAL DAD, took a long, thoughtful look at me, and announced to the entire table, “Y’know? You really have gained a considerable amount of weight since the last time I saw you.” Who loves you, Larry.I took a car to the airport, got on the plane, spent the entire flight thinking about the kind of person I wanted to be as an adult, and haven’t touched a cigarette since.This doesn’t mean I’m out of the woods, not by any stretch. I have a good friend in LA who was smoke-free for ten years before she went back. I still go outside with the smokers after meals. Even now, I walk behind people smoking so I can breathe in their clouds, as well as the other toxic elements of what’s going on inside of their lungs. Once or twice, I’ve even considered getting really addicted to some horrible drug for a while, just so I could go into a twelve-step program where, apparently, you’re allowed to have all of the coffee and cigarettes you want. Which is all I really want anyway.So it’s not addiction for the sake of addiction that I battle. I already know that the coffee I had today made me ill and shaky, and I have no interest in repeating that feeling tomorrow. So I won’t. Duh. But finally getting the smoking monkey off my back is the only reason I haven’t gone back to it: I can’t smoke because I’m not sure I can quit again. I loved it just that much and I still miss it now that it’s gone. That’s not true for everyone, and some people claim that quitting coffee was harder for them than shaking off cigarettes. Those people did not become the Trainspotting, baby-on-the-ceiling lunatic I became, and to those people I say: if you can have just one, have it for me.I can’t believe how fast I just wrote this.