LOVE AT FIRST SIP
I was 30, in Cancun with my first husband, and I felt alive and free. We were in a café and the smell of coffee and sweetness was too hard to resist. It had rarely occurred to me to order coffee in my 20's, something I associated with adulthood and therefore I did not drink. Suddenly I felt grown-up. I ordered one.
My first cup of coffee. Mind you, it wasn't just any cup of coffee. "Café con leche" would be my first cup - more like ice cream or coffee cake. The warmth, the sweetness, the smell, childhood memories flooding my mind and the vapors wafting in the air, entering and filling my body.
I was enthralled. And, I was hooked.
ONCE, TWICE, THREE TIMES A LATTE
Back home in New York, coffee began to appear up to three times in my daily routine - the wonderfully free stuff at the office, Starbucks before or after work, maybe after lunch if I had stepped out. I never went "crazy" -- three was my daily limit, at the time.
But the more I drank, the more coffee became my morning companion and my afternoon rescuer. Feeling tired? I turned to coffee. Feeling festive? A cappuccino after dinner. Feeling blue about the start of my day? Coffee was there for me. We were partnered in this frenetic dance together, for 15 years.
THE LOVE AFFAIR OF ALL AFFAIRS
During those years, I was twice married and divorced. I never cheated and I never lied, in the "traditional" sense. But I definitely was not completely available or honest to my partners or myself. To coffee, however, I remained loyal. Ours was a consistent, comforting, and predictable relationship.
I was enamored with coffee - though I would never have admitted it at the time. Most days (gulp) I turned to my coffee more frequently than to the men with whom I shared my life. If given the choice to linger in bed with my lover or arise to my extra hot latte, well, you can guess the answer...
THE ROOTS OF A HABIT
I often reprimanded myself for the space coffee took in my life, knowing it couldn't be good for me physically, but unable to sever the emotional and mental ties that bound us. I never smoked and rarely drank alcohol, but I can recall the cigarettes my mother would hold so elegantly between extended fingers, and I imagined she felt similarly. Coffee had become part of my persona, like cigarettes were part of hers.
I recall my father's daily intake of coffee. His choice was espresso. He drank it upon waking and throughout his workday. During the workweek he ate only once a day, at home after 12 hours at his medical practice, rejoined by his family. Coffee was his daily sustenance (intermingled with cigarettes).
And over the years, as I pondered my relationship with my parents, and with coffee, my parents, coffee, my parents...it occurred to me that there might be a connection. My relationships with my mother and father, defined by a lifelong struggle to experience validation in their eyes and receive "my idea" of their unconditional love.
And I thought about my relationship with coffee. And something clicked.
Metaphorically speaking, the coffee was my father, and the milk was my mother. And this strange sentence, the more I thought about it, the more it made sense.
Coffee had become a placeholder in the empty space in my gut and heart that still longed for the love and validation from my parents and thought this to be an adequate substitute. And with the death of my mother, one year ago, this inquiry started to shed light on how my relationship with coffee, among other habits and learned behaviors, was masking a deeper truth, and unsuccessfully meeting my most basic fundamental human need: love.
EXCUSE ME WHILE I STARE INTO MY DRINK
I have made an ongoing practice of personal growth and know some things about psychology, so I wasn't surprised when I made the connection: coffee had become mother-father love.
And as I consumed my coffee and my daily intakes of "mother-father love," I began to recognize that that which I desired -- the unconditional love available to us all in relationships (our parents being only the "original" relationships in our lives) was kept at bay as I sought the love in a substance that could never fill that empty gut and heart space.
And I recognized several ways that I was avoiding my best life by continuing my "love" affair with coffee:
1. Distancing - At times, when meeting friends or colleagues at the coffee shop, I would find myself paying more attention to my latte than the conversation. And I've already mentioned how it came between me and my partners...
2. Judging - I couldn't understand people around me who could "take it or leave it." I even judged people who didn't drink the stuff, all the while judging myself for drinking it - and worse - for needing it.
3. Resenting - When I didn't have time to stop for coffee between dropping off the kids at school and meeting my first clients of the day, I found myself feeling very angry and resentful. My need wasn't being met!
4. Numbing - I realized that coffee numbed me, and I wondered what I might be missing in these "awake comas."
5. Physical Incapacity - I noticed how my throat hurt and how my singing voice was affected, and how reflux had become an issue. And as singing and speaking are central to my work and pleasure, I became afraid.
6. Potential Health Issues - After my mother's death I knew I needed to start becoming more accountable for my own health. Blood tests revealed that my adrenal system was in bad shape, affected at least in part by my large consumption of caffeine, and if I didn't make some life changes...
And as I connected the dots -- childhood loss and longing; desperately seeking a substitute; ignoring the real issues; sabotaging real growth -- and I honestly faced my complex relationship with coffee, I recognized that our relationship must come to an end. And so it did.
THE PRACTICE OF LETTING GO
As I come back to myself, I am called to practice regular "self-forgiveness" for the poor choices I've made, and I am grateful for the gifts my relationship with coffee has given me - the gift of awareness, the gift of learning, and the gift of clarity.
And with this awareness and the practice of releasing this habit that has, up until two months ago, inhibited my ability to give and receive love, I know the next release will be easier. And I know there is much, much more to release...
Here's to a new year not of half-hearted resolutions, but to a year experiencing all the ways that life (and our habits, and our addictions) offers us doorways to healing.