Quitting Coffee

The end of summer is nigh. Labor Day beckons. In the secular world, that’s the signal to squeeze in a few more beach days. For Jews, this is the cue that the High Holidays are right around the corner. And for me, it was always the reminder to start tapering down my caffeine intake.

You see, I used to be something of a coffee addict. I loved both the taste and the smell. And while never a morning person, I was always thrilled to see my beloved tall mug and coffee maker.

My relationship with coffee started in high school. I had Physics first thing in the morning my junior year. While I really enjoyed Mr. Bernero’s class, it was challenging, and I had trouble focusing on the ins and outs of protons and neutrons while I struggled to keep my eyes open.

My parents recommended that I try drinking a bit of coffee in the morning. I agreed to try it and positively hated it. But, needing a kick to keep me awake, I began having a morning glass of milk with a touch of coffee.  That did the trick, at least for a while.

During college, I lived at an intense pace and began drinking significantly more coffee, even adding a 3pm coffee break to my daily schedule. At various points, I decided I was drinking too much caffeine and would eliminate my afternoon coffee, or drink a bit less at breakfast. My plan generally worked only in theory, because axing my afternoon coffee resulted in miserable withdrawal headaches that would find me lying on my bed, wondering when my head would stop exploding. It always did, about three days later.

Every year since then, I’ve tried to keep my coffee drinking to a reasonable level and just taper down in advance of Yom Kippur. As any regular coffee drinker knows, Yom Kippur is the most painful day of the year, and it’s not because of the chest thumping. Abstaining from coffee for a whole day makes a Jew painfully aware of her own human frailty, as she craves it amidst contemplation of the previous year’s sins.

Things moved to an entirely different plane last year. I was newly pregnant on Yom Kippur. Other than my husband, no one at synagogue knew, but for the first time in my life, I had to sit during standing prayers because I felt so ill. Worse yet, I couldn’t even sit through an entire service because my all-day morning sickness was so overwhelming.

The awesomeness of Kol Nidre, for example, was lost on me, as I drifted further into a nauseated haze and fought the persistent urge to throw-up. That was disappointing, but it was impossible to focus. On a day dedicated to all that is holy and transcendent, I felt trapped in the realm of the base. I was physically part of the Jewish community, but I felt spiritually detached. It struck me as ironic, as I was dutifully observing the commandment to be fruitful and multiply.

We had to observe a modified Yom Kippur. For me, that meant a diet of saltines and lemonade, along with a limited appearance at holiday services. This was the first time since my Bat-Mitzvah that I hadn’t fasted and the first time I could remember ever missing large chunks of Yom Kippur services.

I had begun weaning myself off of my daily (morning) coffee when my morning sickness started in early September. But it had become a chore to drink any coffee at all, so I decided one day to speed the process and simply stop cold turkey. That resulted in two weeks of withdrawal migraines. Under ordinary circumstances, I would have found the headaches completely debilitating. In this case though, my morning sickness was so intense that my throbbing head barely even registered.

After that, I drank no coffee for the duration of my pregnancy. I relearned how to rise in the morning without the assistance of a caffeinated beverage, and that hasn’t changed since my daughter, Lila, arrived.

Lila reacted poorly to my celebratory pregnancy-is-over coffee back in May, so I’ve had an incentive to keep my caffeine addiction kicked. On a typical day, this is fairly unremarkable. However, in the run-up to Yom Kippur, it was an important to-do that was already done. Although, it didn’t even matter, because this year, as the breastfeeding mother of a new baby, I already knew I wouldn’t be fasting.

I hoped that my not being pregnant and preemptively eating would help me focus on the spiritual power of the day. If it didn’t, and I found myself distracted by Lila’s multiple daily meals, I intended to cut myself some slack.

After all, whatever my other flaws this year, I have now managed to successfully observe the first and most important commandment of Judaism. I am a Mommy.

4 Responses to “Quitting Coffee”
  1. Mimi Marcus says:

    Luv Melissa’s writing. Please wish her and the entire family a very happy new year, surrounded by the love and joy a family brings. Hugs. Mimi & Steve

  2. Really Appreciate this article, is there any way I can get an update sent in an email when there is a new article?

  3. How To Diet says:

    Great read, I just passed this onto a associate who had been doing a small research on that. And also he basically bought me lunch because I found it for him smile So let me rephrase that: Thanks for lunch!

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