I have a poignant love/hate relationship with caffeine – as I do with all mind-altering substances. I am convinced sensory processing disorder is intertwined in its roots.
Caffeine was not my first love. That was nicotine. I didn’t become a full-fledged caffeine addict until I quit smoking marijuana. I was a one-dependency-at-a-time girl – for the most part. I quit smoking cigarettes when I started seriously smoking weed in 1979. When I quit smoking weed for good (that time) in 1987, I was afraid I would go back to cigarettes. I had small children so I made the very rational choice of coffee instead. It worked pretty well for a while. I drank six or eight cups a day for several years.
But where did this string of heartbreaking relationships begin?
If we don’t count the Valium, caffeine, nicotine and occasional glass of wine Janie consumed when she was pregnant with me…
I was affected by second-hand cigarette smoke from birth. William, my father, had a two-pack-a-day Kool Menthols habit which was lopped off by a heart attack in his early fifties (the age I am now).
Luckily, in regards to the choking, coughing, asthmatic effects of second-hand smoke, William liked to work out of the country, far from the daily responsibilities of immediate family.
My mother had a take-it-or-leave-it relationship with nicotine. She smoked Salems when William was around (and at parties and occasions that involved drinking) but Janie’s main love was caffeine. She began every morning with a Coca-Cola straight out of the bottle and kept one within arm’s length all day.
I had a sip of her Coke whenever I wanted it but, usually I didn’t want it. Janie’s Coke was syrupy, room temperature and sickeningly sweet. I preferred cool-aid. Janie made it for us kids with half the recommended sugar. We all liked it that way, just enough sweetened flavor to override the smell of chlorinated water.
When I was 13 I hung out with neighborhood kids a couple years older than me. Until that time, smoking had disgusted me. I could never get a complete lungful of oxygen when William was home. I lived on short, quick breaths.
Sounds terrible, doesn’t it?
In their defense, I was born in 1960 which put my first half-decade of life in a time when average people didn’t know smoking was bad for you.
I was 6 years old when the Surgeon General declared smoking MAY be hazardous to your health. Repeating these lines to a nicotine addict was tantamount to a challenge and would win you a face full of smoke.
By the time the General declared unambiguously that smoking was in fact dangerous to your health, the smokers in my family were so practiced in ignoring him that it made no difference. The only thing the adults could all agree on was they didn’t want their children doing it.
So, of course, at age 13, with all the “beautiful” people sporting Marlboroughs, I had to give it a try.
“Oh my God, I can’t believe you’re going to do this,” my friend Terry said.
I couldn’t either. Until I reached for her cigarette that evening in 1973, I had been the Surgeon General’s most loyal foot soldier. I hated the eye-stinging cloud that hung in our house when William was home. I cut the General’s warnings off of William’s crumpled empties and left them like calling cards in prominent places until I was told sternly to “Knock it off!”
I had asked Terry and her loyal companion Bill, “Why do you smoke?”
I had never gotten more than a shrug.
Nor were my parents forthcoming. They had neither the time nor the temperament for analytic discussions regarding human motivation. “Because I said so, that’s why,” and, “Do as I say, not as I do,” were their standard responses to most of my questions.
I was more than aware of my own hypocrisy when I took that first little drag off of Terry’s cigarette.
Problems with sensory modulation make a person a lightning rod for chemical dependence. Stimulants, such as nicotine and caffeine are simply dials with which one notches up her energy level. Discovering a tangible control to counteract the weighty muck of under-arousal is like installing a water spigot in the desert.
It took a few minutes to recover from the full assault of sucking an irritant directly into the bronchial tubes and alveoli of my lungs. But when I finally stopped coughing I noticed immediately that I felt more alive – a little nauseated, yes, somewhat clogged and drippy, but alive.
“Wow!” I said, as I surveyed my new and improved perspective. “I get it!”
Terry and Bill were a little freaked out by how hard I fell for nicotine, having barely been introduced. My enthusiasm earned me the “there’s something really wrong with you,” look we neurodiverse folks are so familiar with. It’s the look we usually get when we react honestly to our environment. The person doesn’t actually back away from you – just retracts her head and looks at you long and hard, with a wide-eyed almost-smile, like she’s waiting for you to burst into laughter and confirm that you are just messing with her head.
I hate that look.
From that day forward, for many years, if I had the opportunity, I indulged. Not a lot, just the hit or two I needed to transcend the murk. Luckily for me, I never got over my revulsion for menthols. Had I, I would have become physically addicted much sooner, as William left half-smoked Kools in every ashtray in the house.
I did develop full-blown nicotine addiction by the time I was sixteen.
How do you know you’re an addict?
Hence, I developed an almost maniacal need to escape Janie and all other authority figures at least once every three hours. Elaborate excuses were needed, stories with urgent yet believable plots that would allow me to dash away…
to be continued…