If I was a more cautious person I wouldn’t write this. I’ve quit dozens of times. I’ve always gone back. This time I think it’s different. A couple weeks ago I was suffering from terrible stomach pains. Bad enough that I went the hospital emergency at midnight. A bunch of people in my circle have had appendicitis. I thought it was my turn.
The wait was reasonably short. Then I was poked prodded and examined all through the night. They took vitals and blood. Their concern, for a ‘man of my age’ was my heart. Eventually, I was on a table with a deeply engaged doctor working an ultrasound. He started to kind of laugh. He apologized and explained as he moved the lubricated wand around my belly, “what I’m doing here is pushing around giant balls of gas… you have gas!” He continued his work. “Wow, this must be really uncomfortable. It looks like it’s going to explode.” His observations seemed to veer from professional to curious, to grossed out.
The doctor explained that ‘gas’ wasn’t a disease. It’s a symptom. “Do you have any idea what’s causing this?” he asked. I did. The 5 to 10 drinks of pop I have a day along with my huge meals had been extended to… I don’t even know… free feeding… over the previous couple days. I was left to my own devices for the first time in a while when my family were all out of the house visiting relatives. I was busy with work and didn’t think about what I was doing. The dangers of the good life.
So I came home and I stopped. I mean I just stopped. I’ve prided myself in being Straight Edge since I was 19. No drinking, smoking, drugs, games, cards, gambling, or vice. I’ve never had a hot drink. I’ve never had a drink in a bar. But that’s where the pop addiction started.
Traveling with bands started in my mid 20’s. Let loose in bars across the country during the day while we waited for equipment, interminable sound checks, and late shows, I’d just sidle up behind the bars and pour myself fountain pop.
Sidebar for pop connoisseurs: It’s often said that pop in glass bottles is the best. It’s often better than cans and always better than plastic bottles. But I believe in the perfect fountain pop. Fresh. Not too much taste. Good carbonation. Clean and sharp going down. Ummmm….
And so 25 years went by fast and the only reason I’ve had to quit is because I knew it was an addiction. And I didn’t want it. So I’d try. Maybe a day. Maybe a week. Then slipping, sliding, sneaking and lying my way back in to it.
Addiction is horrible and soul destroying. Humans are pattern-seeking machines. That’s how our minds work. And addiction is a side effect of pattern seeking that gets right to the core of who we are and the ultimate weaknesses of our wiring.
I hope this time is different. But the feelings are the same.
I take responsibility for this. I know I’m not alone. I know there are others on to the fizzy black shit deeper than me. If you’re reading this I know you’re identifying at some level. I want to share my experience so far, either so you can know what’s behind that door or so we can share the pain. For those of you who aren’t here at this particular level of hell it’s a cautionary tale.
It’s been three weeks since I was ‘gassed’. Almost that long since my last pop.
Day 1 and 2.
Central to my pop story is caffeine. Caffeine is the energy loan shark. It gives amazing things and makes me feel like a million; then it creeps in the night and demands its usurious interest rate that compounds daily. It deeply impacts my feelings of well-being. It aids creativity. It also means I never want to go to bed and once in bed, I never want to get up. That’s the cycle. I know from experience getting off the caffeine is about headaches. Massive, not like anything else headaches. Nausea, blurred eyesight, upset stomach. Epic headaches that block out the sun and leave me curled up on the bathroom floor because there’s really no place else to go. And no maxed out mix of Tylenol, Advil and the rest change anything.
Getting rid of the stomach pain is the only thing that keeps this going.
Day 3 and 4.
These days pass like a knife throwing act at the circus. My feelings of well being collapse. My moods swing widely - noticeable to me and everyone around. There’s a meanness to these days. It’s a dark place where I feel separate from even the possibility of good things happening. Bad news seems to save itself up for these days. The phone rings before noon. Emails come in that open with “I’m sorry but…” and “Unfortunately,…” The truth is I actually get these correspondence all the time. I fail constantly. But on these days the sour messages stab and linger. My mind is like a digital sampler… but it only samples crappy stuff and then loops it endlessly in my mind. Either there’s a fever or the symptoms are the same as a fever.
Now righteousness is driving the bus. I’m going to stop this vice and it will make me a better, healthy, more whole person.
End of the first week.
The gas is gone. My bloated Trailer Park Boys – style stomach has reduced to normal size. I’ve tried drinking Gatorade, vitamin water, and other drinks to stay hydrated but I know that’s missing the point of all this and giving me foul tasting acid reflux. Sleep and rest that would help if I had a cold or injury make this all worse and bring back the symptoms of the previous days.
Crushing fatigue. Lack of focus. Weakness in every part of my body that just makes my body itself seem too heavy to continue to bear and the world around even more burdensome. A kind nihilism sets in. Who cares if I succeed or even stay afloat.
There are really only two ways to fail in life… to become bitter or needy. Both together and you have no chance. That’s where week two lands. And it’s no fun for anyone around me.
It does not effect my sex drive, but it does disaster to feelings of intimacy and closeness. In my world this is all so intertwined that this part of life has to be set aside from the moment. Thank goodness I live with a mental health professional who I can communicate with under any emotional weather conditions.
This is where I am now. Most of the physical symptoms have passed. I’m feeling optimistic about my life without coke. But the thoughts are there. Who am I without this? Will I still be creative? Will there still be fun? What will replace that feeling of euphoria with the first drink of the day? What will drive the late nights of work, creativity and conviviality?
I hate water. I hate mineral water. I hate water with gas. I hate the way it tastes. And yet, water is, I believe the only way out. The only thing that will solve this in the end. I see the other people. The healthy balanced people. Drinking water with their sandwich or salad. It’s just I see it through a long dark tunnel made of sugar, bubbles and caffeine.
I know what next week will bring. Opportunity rationalized into reasons. Trigger events… like fast food. Lying to myself. Sneaking around on myself. Feeling separated from my friends and family who try in all different ways to support me. In the past this is where the story ends. Where I slowly fall back into the bubbly black liquid. No one lies more to me than I lie to myself. My brain will whisper. It will be clever. There will be reason to just have one.
The pop was influencing every aspect of my life. It was consuming me as I was consuming it. Now its absence is near all-consuming.
My confidence is shattered. My feelings of identity are muddled. I have so much less to say I’m noticing giant holes in conversations with people. But, maybe, this quiet, this dark time, is the place from which good things will grow. One thing is for sure. I can’t go on like I was with the pop and expect to have a long happy life. Short term pain for long term gain is the common mantra.
I’m reading articles. The world is filled with them. Doctors say the number one reason to not drink pop is the calories. They’re not just calories. They’re calories in the abcence of any other redeeming feature. No carbs, no vitamins, no roughage, just the straight thing that my brain craves most – sugar – boosted in potency by the caffeine and veiled in bubbles.
I’d like to think it’s different this time. But I wouldn’t be writing this somewhat embarrassing note if I believed that were true. Lunch passed more easily today. Now the afternoon without. Then supper. Then the evening and all it brings will be a persistent pulse of temptation. But if I make it, it’ll be one more day.
The feeling of righteousness is returning. I am feeling stronger than I was. Satisfied that weeks have passed. My belly is normal size and not painful to touch. I’ve lost a couple pounds at least. The skin on my face and forehead is a little clearer and less oily.
Thinking it over now, there’s more good news. I’m sleeping better and waking up earlier and feeling refreshed. (My sleep had been shallow, restless, almost anxious.)
My energy is slowly building even though I feel noticeably tired at some points in the day - A feeling totally foreign to me on pop. My moods are much more regulated and even, and I’m conscious of them in the present.
Today I’m enjoying my work and life - especially Amanda and Dot – and feeling keen to make plans. The dark shroud held over the future is lifting and pieces out ahead are coming into focus. There’s a great summer long-week-end coming up and I’m thinking of other things beside Coca Cola.
Writing about life, citizenship, and Nova Scotia.