According to legend, there once was an Ethiopian goatherd named Kaldi who noticed some of his goats eating red berries from a bush. After chewing on the berries, the goats who were tired from a long day in the sun, hopped around energetically and bleated happily. Kaldi was intrigued. So he popped a few berries into his mouth, wincing and puckering at the bitterness, just as he was ready to spit them out, he felt a surge of energy and a wonderful sense of euphoria. It just so happened that a monk from a nearby monastery witnessed everything. When Kaldi was away, the monk picked some of the berries to share with his brothers at the monastery. That evening, the monks were able to stay up all night, alert in prayer, asking forgiveness for stealing Kaldi’s berries. (This story was adapted from Zoltan. See “Works Cited”.)
It took me about 3 weeks of agony to stop drinking coffee. Kicking caffeine was harder than running my first 50k ultra marathon.
Now that the cravings for coffee are completely gone, I occasionally ask myself if I made the right decision. After all, many grandmasters, writers, and mathematicians enjoy the psychoactive benefits of arabica. Sometimes, I miss the manic episodes and on-demand vigilance that coffee gave me. In terms of creativity, I think coffee may have given me a slight edge. Whenever I needed to bang out a post, I’d brew a pot of java.
For the past year, I’ve been in an artistic slump. The urge to write, to play music, sometimes, even to paint or draw hasn’t been as strong. I know that it’s foolish to wait for inspiration because the Muse only shows up when I do. I’ve got to put myself out there for the magic to happen. It’s impossible to paint a masterpiece without a brush in your hand. Even so, I often ask myself:
Would drinking coffee guide the strokes? Am I distorting the past? Was coffee really my Muse? Or just a monkey on my back?
To discover the truth, I’m going to slip into the socks of Benjamin Franklin. After all, he was one of America’s wisest citizens. Whenever the great man was faced with an important decision, he would take a plain piece of paper, draw a line down the middle, and put a plus (+) on one half, and a minus (-) on the other. By listing all the positive elements on the plus side of the paper and all of the negative ones on the minus side, his decisions would become obvious.
Here’s my list of Pros and Cons for drinking coffee.
- Gives me energy and a slight manic twitch to write blog posts, draw goofy skulls, and play the didgeridoo. Looking deep into my blog, some of the most exotic posts were written when I was hopped up on caffeine. Most of my sketchbooks were filled after percolating a pot of coffee. I even used the grounds to “coffee wash” some of my tattoo flash sheets.
- Escalates social inclusion. When I quite coffee, I felt ashamed and exiled, like someone on Survivor with a secret immunity idol who was blindsided at Tribal Counsel. Whenever I tell my friends and coworkers that I’m not part of the Java Tribe, their shocked expressions do little to betray their contempt. I can hear their thoughts, “He’s not one of us. Is he Mormon?”
- Coffee is expensive. It’s very easy to drop 5 to 10 bucks a day on it.
- It stains your teeth and breath.
- It makes me manic, which can be a plus when it spurs creativity but also a negative when it makes me believe that my wife was replaced with an ultra-sophisticated, lifelike, robotic surgeon who sews microchips into my scalp while I sleep, giving government agents the ability to control my thoughts with a radio transmitter; thereby giving them the ability to influence my behavior for military applications.
- It may have caused some of the mysterious panic attacks that I suffered from years ago.
- Everyone else is a slave to it. The mass of men lead lives of desperate caffeination. I don’t know any coffee drinkers who can bear the horrendous headaches from missing their morning cup. Caffeine withdrawal is so serious that it’s in the DSM V:
…abstinence from caffeine induces a withdrawal syndrome of headache, fatigue, and drowsiness which begins within 12-24 hours and lasts about 1 week. The syndrome can be severe and appears to be one reason for continued use of coffee. The prevalence of this caffeine withdrawal syndrome is unknown.
Caffeine withdrawal but not caffeine abuse or dependence should be included as a diagnosis in DSM-IV and ICD-10. Future research should focus on whether some caffeine users exhibit clinical indicators of drug dependence.
(“Should Caffeine Abuse, Dependence, or Withdrawal Be Added to DSM-IV and ICD-10?” http://dx.doi.org.proxy.lib.pdx.edu/10.1176/ajp.149.1.33 -direct link requires paid access to DSM-5 online)
The cons outweigh the pluses. I’ll stay clean, eating magic mushrooms or drinking ayahuasca whenever I need a little inspiration.
“Should Caffeine Abuse, Dependence, or Withdrawal Be Added to DSM-IV and ICD-10?” Ajp 149.1 (1992): 33-40. Web. 13 Nov. 2015.
Zoltan, Melanie Barton. “Coffee.” Food: In Context. Ed. Brenda Wilmoth Lerner and K. Lee Lerner. Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale, 2011. 138-141. In Context Series. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 13 Nov. 2015.