Marlena’s Story: Bliss

I had experienced bliss. It's that quiet sort of friend. The one who, the first time you meet, you trust immediately without a word being spoken. It slips unobtrusively into your day and you are so glad it has arrived. You know all will be well. And when quiet bliss slips away, you hardly notice. Other louder things replace it, things like drama, happiness, freshness, motivation, anxiety, accomplishment, and all kinds of things that give one's life meaning. I start most days with a sense of these things, or some of them. But just like when you’re in a noisy room, you don’t notice that bliss hasn’t been back for some time; there’s too much going on.

Let me speak for myself. Bliss hadn't been back for years. I had always been someone who chases after emotions. Although I felt pretty good most mornings, there would arise darker emotions to grapple with before beginning the projects and activities of the day. With sadness, I would have to rise above them. Anger? Look beyond it. Worry? Power through it. There was so much to manage before I could start anything!

There were countless worries to keep me awake at night too. Worry rarely kept me from falling asleep; my nightly glass of wine took care of that. But the worries always seemed to awaken me around 4 a.m. Sure, I’d fall asleep again, and be right as rain after that morning cup of coffee. Coffee wasn’t a quiet friend, it was like a room full of motivational speakers! So I drank my nightly glass of wine, my morning cup of coffee, and I lived with the feelings and content of my emotions.

That nightly glass of wine started to make me worry.

I decided it would be a good idea to give it up. Mostly I just wanted to know if I could do it, but also I wondered if it was causing some of my midnight wakefulness. One glass at night…I didn’t think it was an addiction as we talk about it at Suppers, it was…a comfortable habit.

As it turned out, it was a habit that was very hard to break. There are a million reasons to justify a little sip: There’s the "let’s put an end to an especially hard workday" glass (so important for those of us working out of our homes), the "meeting friends at a restaurant glass", the "meeting friends at our house" glass, the following day’s "we need to finish off the rest of the bottle that will otherwise go to waste" glass. They were all formidable temptations and they succeeded in breaking my resolve most nights. The nights I did skip that glass of wine? I was crazy anxious. It seemed that one-glass habit was going to be stubborn.

I wondered then if caffeine might be part of the problem, but that possibility was too much to bear. I’d been drinking coffee since the eighth grade! I didn’t think I could give it up...my one latte a day! Was that so much? The thought broke my heart. Caffeine was a bonding ritual, a steaming milk-frothy brew presented to my sleeping husband early on a misty morning, sipping while chatting at the window seat, watching the world outside wake up and me waking up with it as that cupful of happiness coursed through my veins. I knew I would feel anxious during the day – that’s my normal – but it didn’t feel connected to this moment. This was the most predictably joyful part of my day. Anxiety would come later, at the end of the day, fixed by that glass of wine. The morning cup was grounding, it was comfort, it was purpose. It was on my mind.

I had to do the experiment and see.

Giving up coffee was awful. The caffeine headaches were nothing; Tylenol took care of that. It was the loss. Just as the glass of wine had signaled the end of my day, coffee had signaled its glorious beginning. Without those beacons, I was lost. I was lost for months, actually – swimming in and out of days, not quite awake, sneaking several short naps in a day. Mostly, there was depression. It was a feeling that something that has always been there was now missing from the day…something I had depended upon.

Who would have thought? They say that “Coffee makes you jumpy but it doesn’t make you jump,” meaning that it is supposed to be helpful for depression. And I could see why. This time of missing my sunrise and sunset rituals did bring sadness, with little to pick me up out of it. When I asked my doctor how it’s possible that withdrawal from coffee could so thoroughly alter my emotional world, she said that there are a few people who are exquisitely sensitive. I’m one of them. In Suppers terms, I’m a “liver type”. My body just doesn’t rid itself of toxins efficiently, and the tip offs for me have been bad reactions to most medications, ultra-sensitivity to wine and caffeine, and deep mood changes when I do get into whatever my liver isn’t handling well.

There were two spots of good news. Firstly, giving up wine was easy! What was that compared to giving up coffee? And the second, immediately I started sleeping like a baby through the night, and that was enough to steel my resolve.

One day, after two or three months, I had a new awareness. The old sort of “happiness” I had known since eighth grade had not returned, but I was no longer depressed. What I felt was a sort of calm…a joyful sort of calm. It was something I think I’ve never known, and I realized that what had felt like happiness wasn't actually an emotion at all. Under the power of coffee, I interpreted my edgy feelings as joy. Calm became enough. But it didn’t end there. In time, there finally slipped into the room that very old friend, bliss.