I am ashamed of myself. I know the signs; I’ve heard all the warnings. I can even identify the behavior in others.
Houston, I think I have a coffee addiction.
It started after baby number two, but it wasn’t because of the baby. I was trying to keep up with my older child, a toddler who tested me incessantly, steadily draining me of energy and patience.
“You know there’s one on Mayfield,” one of the other moms told me at school drop-off. “It opens early and stays open late. You can get it any time,” she added knowingly. The directions were simple; the sign was easy to spot.
I pulled up to the essential drive-thru window and placed my order. “Pull around,” said the disembodied voice, deep and muffled. I felt like that character in the after school special called High School Narc. You know the one with the actor who played Tad Martin on All My Children.
I paid my money and it was all mine—a large iced coffee. It seemed innocent enough. That is, until the next day, and the day after that. I was hooked.
I found myself making excuses to drive down Mayfield. Suddenly, Dunkin’ Donuts was on the way to everything–the grocery store, the dry cleaners, preschool, my neighbor’s house. If I lived in Boston, this wouldn’t seem like a big deal, since there is a Dunkin’ Donuts on virtually every corner. But I live in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio—a city where coffee drive-thrus are a rare commodity, with most of them being Starbucks.
As the weather grew warmer, I began venturing out of my car to try other “dealers” where I could get my daily fix.
Of course, since my “problem” was perfectly legal, trendy and socially acceptable, enablers were in ample supply everywhere I went.
I passed it, I tried it. I went to bed dreaming of the next morning’s coffee, nearly shaking with joy at the thought of imbibing another cup of that precious elixir. Bliss.
I began to exhibit classic coffee addiction behaviors, like hiding the coffee cups way at the bottom of the garbage can. I was guilty and I knew it. Then came the inevitable day when I got caught. My husband found an empty cup I had forgotten in the car—I was like a caribou in headlights.
“You’ve been drinking again?” he asked, running his accusatory finger around the rim, as he entered the kitchen from the garage.
“Hmmm?” I asked, running toward the dirty dishes in the sink, but, stealing a glance at the styrofoam cup, hoping to see lipstick on it. I had stopped wearing lipstick months ago to avoid leaving any telltale imprints on coffee cups. C’mon, it’s not like I wanted to be caught.
“You’ve been drinking a lot. Do you think you have a coffee addiction?” he asked again, baiting me.
“I can quit any time,” I said, not meeting his clean-as-a-whistle-I-don’t-even-drink-any-caffeine eyes. He chuckled—or was it a chortle?
“You know,” I said, “you’d probably like it if you tried it. You don’t have to be so, so–square all the time. It’s just one sip,” I added, flipped my hair and walked out of the room. My high school boyfriend came to mind—I imagined us sipping macchiatos together. He’s probably drinking ten cups of coffee a day with his super skinny latte-loving wife. I’ll bet he doesn’t even go to work just so he can stay home with his wife and drink coffee all day—man, she doesn’t even know how lucky she is.
In the end, what was it really about the coffee that I loved so much? On the face of it, I was drawn in by the aroma and the way my body relaxed as soon as I swallowed that first sip.
But I came to realize that it represented something more: A cup of coffee in my hand wasn’t a baby bottle, a dirty diaper, a ringing phone or a bill to pay.
It reminded me of a younger self who drank coffee at work with my colleagues, who could sit and read the newspaper uninterrupted, and who could laugh endlessly with my husband. The coffee made me feel like the pre-motherhood Stephanie Schaeffer. I vaguely remember that woman and occasionally miss her. I miss her most when I can’t have my coffee and my head is banging so hard that I don’t even know my own name.