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FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Coffee - the Dark Mother

Carole Townsend

Carole Townsend

Editor's Note: Carole Townsend, a correspondent for the Daily Post, is writing a blog called "Food for Thought." It is available online at www.gwinnettdailypost.com/townsend.

When it comes to habits, I never do anything halfway. Ever. That can be a good thing, and that can be a bad one, depending on the habit. I

believe I have mentioned here before that I used to be a smoker. I

didn't ease myself into it; I was a hard case from Day One. When I

switched to the nicotine gum, I was a chewing champ. None of that namby pamby "pace yourself" stuff for me, no way.

I believe I also shared with you that I gave up both the smokes and the gum more than 10 years ago. Now I chew cinnamon gum like there's no tomorrow. I have to be careful, or I catch myself walking around with a perpetual red ring around my mouth like a 5-year-old kid who's been eating cherry popsicles. Yes, I chew that much red gum. My mother, God rest her soul, would be horrified.

Diet Cokes used to be my go-juice of choice in the mornings. I never was a coffee drinker - not in college, not in those early parenting years when sleep is merely a fantasy, and not during the heyday of my corporate career when I flew coast-to-coast several times a month. If I had a cold, fizzy Diet Coke, I was good to go.

Then I heard on the news a few years back that aspartame is the devil's sweetener, the heroin of sugar substitutes. It tastes great going down, but it somehow tricks your brain into craving more sweets, then hides out in your cells and shows up in the weirdest places, like brain tumors. For all I know, this news could have been nothing more than an urban legend, but I remember hearing one time on the evening news that a young woman had a brain tumor removed, and it consisted entirely of Diet Coke, aspartame to be specific. All the tumor lacked was the famous bubbly logo. That was it. I decided to quit drinking diet soft drinks altogether.

For three days after making that decision, I suffered what I assume was hardcore withdrawal. I had pounding, stabbing headaches, was shamefully irritable and wanted to sleep around the clock. Finally, when my husband couldn't stand my symptoms any longer, I decided out of desperation to try coffee. Java. Jet Fuel. The Dark Mother. And I was hooked.

I started out drinking my own stuff, brewed at home. A gateway drink, if you will. At first, the taste was revolting to me. Oh, but there was caffeine in it, so I just took one for the team and drank it anyway.

Doctored up with flavored creams and consumed piping hot, it actually tasted good to me after a while. But like any addictive substance, the home-brewed stuff soon wasn't enough. I needed more.

As luck would have it, Starbucks was reaching its apex at about the same time that I began craving caffeine on steroids. The little green-and-white distribution houses were popping up on every street corner here in Gwinnett. At my worst, I got to the point that I planned every trip out of the house by what Starbucks joint(s) I would pass. If I passed several, it was likely that I would stop at every one.

Seriously. It was bad.

I remember one Christmas, my girlfriend and I had planned a marathon shopping trip at the mall. We had our lists, our discount coupons and a precious few hours before the children would be home from school. We strategically planned our first stop to be at Starbucks, ordering Venti black-whatever-you-call-thems with three EXTRA shots of espresso.

The rest of that day is a blur, but I do remember making more than a dozen laps around the entire Mall of Georgia, upstairs and down. My heart raced, my eyes were bugged out, and I was chewing gum like a crazed cow, purchasing anything and everything I could slow down long enough to buy. We may have even taken in a movie or two, I don't remember. Anyway, that was the first year I ever finished all of our Christmas shopping in the same day, wrapping included.

Thank Goodness, every good thing eventually comes to an end. I still

like caffeine. I still need it first thing in the morning. But I don't

crave specialty coffee drinks at the expense of pretty much everything

else that's going on around me. And the expense...my gosh, how on earth could I have justified that? You can buy alcohol and many illegal drugs for less than a cup of well marketed black gold. Oh well. Live and learn.

I'm almost afraid to wonder what my next "habit" might be.

Does your day start out with a java jolt, or are you one of the fortunate few whose sheer love of life gets you going in the morning?