Thursday, October 30, 2014

Coffee and Other Drugs

So, my favorite story from my time working at the denominational headquarters for the Church of the Nazarene is actually a second-hand story. Like all legends, it may have grown and morphed over time, but the general tenner rings true enough, I'm ok retelling it.

Someone had been tasked with bringing one of our General Superintendents (Six GSs are elected to provide spiritual and ecclesial leadership for the denomination) to the airport. It was an early morning flight. One the way, this driver asked about the rationale for our stance on addictive substances. Ultimately, the reasoning seemed to boil down to avoiding things to which we might be addicted both because not having full control of your actions is potentially dangerous, but also because doing things that may harm your body is, well, harmful. This intrepid driver asked the GS, "So, if this is the reason we avoid potentially addictive substances, why do we drink caffeine?" To which this gracious and amicable leader raised his coffee cup and smiled, saying "Because those of us with power are already addicted."

This humorously and tellingly helps understand the choice we all make in what we consume. Last week, when I put the call out for blog post ideas, one came back asking what my thoughts were on addictive substances with low health risks (specifically coffee). The request came from someone who tired, unsuccessfully, to quit coffee - and, I assume, was hoping for either a guilt-trip motivational lecture or perhaps some guilt relief.

Practically, caffeine fanatics will get little help from me (and I make a point to say caffeine, not coffee, since Red Bull and Mountain Dew seem like far more dangerous caffeine mules than coffee). I ran cross-country in high school. I was mediocre - literally - finishing almost dead center of both the pack and my team in almost every race. I did go to high school in Colorado, where cross country is taken pretty seriously, so I always delude myself into thinking I was slightly above average nationally.

Our coaches really challenged us to give up soda, because it's pretty bad for performance. Me, being a cheapskate and not a huge soda drinker to begin with, decided I'd stop drinking anything but water. Sure, I do occasionally indulge in fruit juice - and I might have a Sprite on the rocks at New Year's Eve - but I've mostly maintained that position, even as nothing I do anymore could even remotely be called "running."

I also like coffee. I don't drink it every day or even every week (see above: cheapness), but say, while enjoying a crisp, sunny morning sitting at an outdoor cafe overlooking Kailua Bay on Hawaii's Big Island, a 16oz double mocha cappuccino made from the darkest, most smooth fresh local Kona coffee might just be the most glorious thing imaginable.

If I haven't enabled at least a dozen addicts by now, I'm not really doing my job.

In all seriousness, addictions are no joke. Some of them can be really debilitating and I do believe all addictions are dangerous. The very definition of addiction is a desire one can't fully control. People are addicted to what are generally assumed to be important and necessary activities: eating, shopping, sex, exercise - I can't imagine my life functioning properly without all of those things.

Yes, some addictions, like meth or heroine, have literally no positive qualities, but I don't think anyone is looking for some excuse to justify them. It's the other ones - a drink here or there isn't going to hurt anything, caffeine helps me get up in the morning, etc - that drive people nuts. Some people. A lot of people engage in these activities without any real moral difficulty whatsoever. Are some of them addicts in denial? Sure. But not all.

I think the bottom line is, if what you're doing hurts yourself or others, you should probably stop - get professional help, if necessary, non-professional help for sure. If someone you care about believes what you're doing hurts someone, stop, please. If you, and the people around you, don't honestly believe your habits really control you, why would you even ask a question like this?

I tend to be someone very fixated on things. I have a hard time putting down a good book or not binge-watching whatever show appeals to me next. I get caught in repetitive practices all the time just because I like the comfort of it. Some might be addictions, some might not - none of them are healthy.

I'm a person who struggles with discipline. When one part of my life becomes undisciplined (buying a candy bar every time I check out at Walmart), chances are the rest of my life will spiral into an undisciplined, depressing mess.

I have to constantly be checking myself, setting goals, exercising my miniscule willpower - not because any of those habits are terrible on their own, but because they collectively make my life miserable.

So, I don't think that sort of question is one anyone should have to ask, especially of me, unless we're really good friends. I don't know you. The people who do are much better sounding boards for that sort of thing.

If you want my opinion in general: drink more water, get plenty of sleep. Those are both very healthy things to do.

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