those quiet questions that live underneath all the noise

graffiti of a cuppa coffee -- contains the spray-painted words: "props to soup + soil"

"props to soup + soil" -- love that!

There’s a mourning dove outside my window; I turn off my quiet morning music to listen. It’s mostly just that harmonious throb — whoo, whoo, whoo, in a breathy thrum.

I am thinking about boundaries, about elasticity, self care, and about perfection.

Last week I had my first cup of “real” coffee, fully caffeinated, that is, since around Nov 2009. There’s been a little voice/message/feeling: What would it be like to get coffee? I sipped at F!’s french roast one morning out at breakfast several weeks ago, I listened to the little question filling inside my arms, and finally I walked into the Peet’s and instead of asking for decaf, I asked just for coffee. There was a short hesitation, I caught myself, the words “decaf” and “coffee” got kind of tangled & trainwrecked in my mouth, and “coffee” was the one that got through. (None of this, I think, was visible to the barista. He’s just waiting to get through one more order — whatever, coffee, that’s easy.) I took the small cup over to the adulteration stand and added some sugar, took a sip, and thought I would burst with joy. One of the other customers took note of this big smile and sigh, said something grand like, “That first sip’s the best, isn’t it?” And I wanted to tell him something about the first sip after many months. I didn’t feel like I was falling off the wagon, and then, a little, I did.

I giggled at myself on the rest of my walk to work: naughty girl, what are you doing? I expected the big rush of euphoria that caffeine can deliver, thought maybe I would start talking like a chipmunk on speed (which I have been known to do when caffeinated), thought everyone would know.

I expected maybe a little downside, too.

There was no real rush of caffeine high, though I did get wired — I felt happier for awhile, lifted, more brave. I accomplished a couple of tasks I’d been putting off, confessed to a couple of friends about the caffeine. My neck and shoulders got sharply tense, the way they’d been when I was drinking caffeinated coffee regularly. And then I barely slept that night — my body was sleepy by 10, but my head was still running the rapids, and my heart pounded loud and heavy right alongside it. I woke up maybe five times that night, every other hour, and was still wired the next morning, did some good, somewhat-frantic writing in my notebook, pen racing, almost unable to keep up with my thoughts — this happens much less frequently now since I stopped taking in so much caffeine, and it was great to feel this writing again. (Also good, though, was recognizing the effects of caffeine. I’d though maybe I was just less passionate about my subjects these days, no longer pouring the words out almost like they were on fire inside me — here, last Wednesday morning, I got some evidence that that writing style is a caffeinated one, and not a measure of my interest, passion, desire to write.)

I went through Wednesday feeling like I was in a caffeine-hangover, all crunchy just beneath my skin, cramped, like I had cramp-ons underneath there, tensing everything. I remembered: Oh, this was why. This was why I stopped.

A quick digression: It appears that maybe I haven’t written here about the transition I made away from drinking caffeinated coffee back at the end of 2009, also in response to a quiet little question that kept repeating itself to me: What if you didn’t have coffee today? We were in Miami on a working-vacation, and I was recuperating after a several-month (year?) stretch of driving myself into the ground. I crashed at the end of October, and that’s about when I went to the Trauma Stewardship workshop, and started thinking differently about self care. The first day I heard the little question, I got a cafe con leche (we were in Miami after all, and I wanted one more good coffee if I was going to quit). I heard the question again the next day, and understood that it wasn’t trying to push me into feeling bad about anything — it was just offering a possibility. I didn’t have coffee that day; I probably took some prophylactic Advil, to ward off the headaches. Over the next several weeks, I sort of weaned myself off caffeinated coffee — I’d get a half-decaf in my cup, or go a day or two between cups, and eventually I wasn’t having any caffeinated coffee. I drank black tea for a little bit, but then it was just green tea sometimes, and more often than not, there were days when I didn’t have any caffeine at all. I learned that Chris Knight wasn’t wrong when he said, “There are a lot of decaffeinated brands on the market that are just as tasty as the real thing” and I ate a lot of crow, given how much fun I’d made of the decaf-drinkers in my life over the years. My body felt better, more relaxed. I learned that I could function without coffee, the drug I’d started using in jr high (even on tour!). I learned I could shift my identity as a heavy coffee drinker, and it would be ok.

Back to now.¬† I didn’t have a headache the morning after re-trying coffee, and, after experiencing the effects, I didn’t have any longing to start drinking caffeine again — except, maybe a little bit, my writing self missed that frenetic energy, the driving urge to get the words out, that barely-satisfiable ache that is writing under the influence of caffeine. Here’s the interesting thing, though: just for right now, I’m choosing the ability to sleep well, body-comfort and function in the rest of my life¬† over the momentary writing buzz. That feels like a mental health step. (That actually feels massive.)

There’s something enormous about learning to trust one’s intuition — about listening to those quiet questions that live underneath all the noise, that persist. Every time I listen to and take action on my intuition, I am not disappointed — and that quiet place of light in me knows that I am listening.

There’s also something about checking in with our boundaries/decisions, when it feels safe enough to do so: Ok, I made this decision several years ago to start or stop some behavior because it was good for me at the time — is it still working for me? Do I have to stay with this decision into perpetuity? Sometimes the answer is, Yes, let’s stick with this for now — and other times, the answer is, Oh, you know what? Maybe we don’t have to do this anymore. Let’s try it out and see how that feels. No rushing — no blame, shame or guilt. Just trying it out, and noticing how we feel after. No perfection, just practice.

Want to write about that some? Is there a change you’re thinking about making for your own self care, that would be a big shift in your life, that would entail some loss as well as gain? Want to write about both those sides for a while, 10 minutes or so (5 min for each)? Or what about writing about a decision you made to take care of yourself once upon a time that you’re now rethinking — what does that look like?

Thanks for your ongoing elasticity with your stretching, growing, brilliant self. Thanks for your words, your words, your words.

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