Hi, my name is Andrew, and I’m a diet Coke-oholic.
For those of you who’ve never attended an addiction recovery group meeting, that’s your cue to enthusiastically respond: “Hi Andrew!” It’s important for you to welcome me and make me feel part of the group as I prepare to bare my soul and tell you the heartrending story of how I became an addict.
My addiction started in junior high, which is where I first gained daily access to inexpensive caffeinated sodas. My parents never had caffeinated drinks in the home, and when I was in elementary school my drink choices had been limited to milk (plain or chocolate) or some sort of juice. But when I moved up to the big leagues of middle school, we had a cafeteria where students could purchase Coke, Iced Tea, and other caffeinated drinks.
Give a thirteen year-old a couple bucks and a full range of junk food options at school and guess what he’ll do? I’ll tell you what I did: every day at recess, I bought a Coke and an It’s It ice cream sandwich for 50 cents a pop. By the time lunch rolled around, it was time to chug another Coke.
I became creative in finding ways to finance my addiction. Every couple days, I’d leave the house earlier than usual and ride my bike to the Von’s supermarket on the way to school. There I’d buy a few ten-packs of Juicy Fruit chewing gum for $1. Then I’d sell each pack of gum at school for 25 cents, for a profit of $1.50 per 10-pack of gum, which was enough to buy three cans of Coke.
When I reached high school, I gained the freedom to go off campus for lunch, which enabled me to hitch a ride with friends who could drive to a local McDonald’s, Taco Bell, or other fine eatery. Because these fast food restaurants provided their customers with unlimited refills, I was now able to consume at least two 16 ounce cup-fulls of Coke per lunch, or maybe three cups if I was especially thirsty or thought I’d need extra boost to stay awake in Math.
But my access to my drug of choice was greatly hindered when I went to college at BYU. I remember the first time I got to the end of the cafeteria line where the drinks were located at the Morris Center. I saw the choices: Sprite, Rootbeer, and a rainbow of Fanta fruit flavors. They even had Postum, for crying out loud! But I didn’t want a roasted barley coffee substitute, even if it was true that the Word of Wisdom commends the use of grains for making “mild drinks.” I wanted my Coke, my Mormon coffee!
When I went to the main cafeteria on campus, the CougarEat™, I found the same thing: an array of every fountain drink imaginable except the one I wanted: Coke or something with caffeine. There was obviously a conspiracy afoot, and I quickly learned that caffeinated sodas had been banned from campus to save addicts like me from ourselves. And save me it did. Being largely campus-bound as a freshman, I was able to break my Coke addiction for an entire year at the Y.
But when I got into the mission field, I backslid and turned back to my former ways like a dog returning to his vomit. While serving a Spanish-speaking mission in Colorado, I had easy access to the Devil’s Juice at the local Hardees, 7-11, or any other watering hole. And it was there in the mission field that I discovered other addicts like me. I once had a companion who was completely unable to function in the morning until we went down to the 7-11 at the corner and picked him up a Big Slam of Mountain Dew. He was a pathetic, empty shell of a man, but he made me feel better about myself simply by virtue of the fact that I wasn’t him. And because I could indulge my habit with him without feeling the least bit judged, it was really the best of both worlds. Sometimes when we were gearing up for a long afternoon of tracting in the Summer heat, we’d get hopped up on a couple Jolt colas. “All the sugar, Twice the caffeine!” read the slogan on the bottle.
But it wasn’t until after my mission that I hit rock bottom. It’s a period of my life I don’t like to revisit, but I feel compelled to point out the rocky shoals upon which I was wrecked in hopes that my fellow mariners of life might avoid my mistakes. It was the summer after I returned from my mission, and I was working two restaurant jobs. One at California Pizza Kitchen in the mornings and afternoons, and the other at a mom-and-pop Italian joint in the evenings. The biggest perk of both jobs was my unlimited access to all the free Coke or Pepsi I could ever dream of. I felt like I had won a Golden Ticket to the Wonka factory. I guzzled between 8 and 12 glasses a day, which had the unfortunate side effect of keeping me so wired that I couldn’t fall asleep at night. The upside was that I got a ton of late-night reading done that summer.
Fortunately, one of the books I read that summer, Lord of the Flies, so perfectly illustrated the dark, downward spiral in which I was caught that it awakened me to my awful situation. And as I read Orwell’s 1984, I think I secretly longed for my days at the Y when Big Brother removed my every opportunity to sin. One night as I read into the wee hours of the morning, I committed myself to go cold turkey the next day. I did, and it was miserable. I was a zombie, I couldn’t stop yawning the whole day, and I had a splitting headache. But fortunately, this only lasted a couple of days. And I was clean in no time.
But just a few years later, I had a total relapse. I was in law school, and I was experiencing the chronic sleep-deprivation of young parenthood. I couldn’t stay awake in my daytime classes, and somehow couldn’t manage to stay awake while reading my Civil Procedure textbook at night. In that moment of vulnerability and weakness, I turned to Coke to solve my fatigue problem, rather than relying on faith and prayer. My addiction was only further ossified when I began working at a law firm where, just a short walk down the hall from my office, there stood a refrigerator stocked with orderly rows of Coke, diet Coke, Dr. Pepper, Diet Dr. Pepper, and a whole panoply of verboten suds. These quickly became my crutches whenever I had a late night at the office, which could be quite often.
Today, I continue to wander this desolate path of sin. Only now I’ve moved on to the hard stuff, Diet Coke, which has significantly more caffeine than regular Coke. And oddly, my weekly Saturday trip to the grocery store to pick up a 2-liter of “Happy Juice” for consumption after church each Sunday has become a warped act of religious devotion for me. “Saturday is a special day, it’s the day we get ready for Sunday.”
Some interesting caffeine facts:
8 oz. Coffee: 100 mg. caffeine (may vary)
8 oz. Iced Tea: 47 mg. caffeine
12 oz. Diet Coke: 45.6 mg. caffeine
12 oz. Coke: 34 mg. caffeine
8 oz. Green Tea: 15 mg. caffeine (same tea leaf as brown or black tea, only not oxidized yet)
8 oz. Hot Cocoa: 14 mg. caffeine
8 oz. Decaf Coffee: 4 mg. caffeine
Based on the foregoing, it’s clear to me that I drink the caffeine equivalent of two 8 oz. cups of Iced Tea per day, and almost one cup of coffee. So do I and other Mormons like me need to be worried about that as a Word of Wisdom violation? We’ve been plainly warned:
Never let Satan or others lead you to think that breaking the Word of Wisdom will make you happier or more attractive. (Strength of Youth, 2001.)
The breaking of the Word of Wisdom is often the beginning of the breaking of many other commandments. (Principles of the Gospel, 1976.)
Despite these plain admonishments, I often see other Mormons flaunting their Word of Wisdom violations at church social functions, and in the church building no less. We once had a sister in our ward who, without fail, showed up at every church social event with a Big Gulp of Diet Coke in hand. I suppose she thought it would make her happier, or maybe make her look more attractive in our eyes. But we could all see through her facade. She ended up moving from Southern California to Utah, which ought to be a sobering warning to anyone who so mocks the sanctity of the church building.
At this point I’m just taking it one day at a time. It’s all I can do to stay balanced with this monkey on my back. I can now say I completely understand what Robert Downey Jr. meant when he told the judge: “It’s like I know I have the barrel of a loaded shotgun in my mouth, but I love the taste of gun metal.” I hope to one day find the inner strength and resolve to overcome my addiction. Who knows, if I get desperate, I may even have to book myself into rehab by becoming one of those thirty-something year-old guys living in the freshman dorms at the Y, which was the only place I’ve ever been able to stay clean for long. Fascism feels so uncomfortably restrictive, but you really can’t argue with the results.
So what about you? Any caffeine addiction confessions you want to make to unburden your soul? Have you been crawling into a bottle of Mr. Pibb to drown your sorrows with false promises of happiness? Are you one of those people that thinks drinking Coke makes you look more attractive? Has your caffeine addiction led you to violate other commandments, like breaking the Sabbath with a drive-thru run after church because you had to get your caffeine fix? And if you abstain from coffee out of religious principle, what makes you think your Mormon coffee is any better?
(Click here for an autobiographical musical summary of this post. The chorus says it all.)