Sunday, October 05, 2008


Coke Addiction: My (Not Much of a) Success Story

One would think a taekwondo instructor would set a better example.

However, it was while sitting across from Master Hong, fifth-degree black belt, trained bodyguard and operator of his own martial arts institute that the fall from my non-caffeinated state of grace began.

An hour before he was to give me my private lesson, and two hours before I was to assist him as he taught taekwondo to his young students in English, we waited in a pizza restaurant, sitting parallel to a refrigerator with a clear glass door filled with all manner of carbonated beverages.

I almost immediately began eyeing the prominently displayed Coke products on the top shelf, as opposed to the obscure Sprite-esque products sitting one row below. It had been a little more than three months since I, to the delight of my non-soda drinking wife, had last consumed some of the dark demon cola. It had probably been only a matter of days since my last Sprite-imitation, because unlike colas, Sprite-esque products are not caffeinated, and thus drinking one will not prompt me polish off a six-pack’s worth by the end of the day.

My streak might very well have continued had not Master Hong looked across our short, two-person table and said, “What do you want to drink? Coke?”

“Yes,” I replied, “I would like that very much.”

Soon, there were two beverage containers on our table: only a can for him, which his taekwondo-trained metabolism can probably burn off just by raising it to his lips, and a more American-sized bottle for me.

It was a warm, sunny mid-September afternoon, and like all addictive products, the first was wonderful. Just like the Sprite-imitations, its taste was sweeter and therefore better than water. Unlike them, it was caffeinated, and thus made me feel good all over. The dozens more that will likely follow will probably be consumed on colder days when I am much more tired, and thus drinking Coke not to feel good, but simply to keep going.

When one or two fails to maintain my energy levels at work, I will continue throughout the day, probably until my throat grows sore, which will lead to whole rash of cold symptoms which – for an American living in a foreign country that’s not-quite-home yet and has harsher weather – will devolve into flu symptoms hampering my work performance more severely than the lack of any cola ingredient.

My wife, who grew up in a home where soft drinks were never offered, cannot stand the their taste, is wary of their health effects and celebrates whenever I wean myself off of them, albeit temporarily. She’ll never understand the pull of caffeine, so all I can tell her is to be glad they’re not drugs. I certainly am.

I remember the 1990s, when the most prominent feature of that era’s famous musicians – aside from their disinterest in shampoo, designer clothing or competent singing – were the songs they wrote, which, even when they weren’t actually about the use of needles, were clearly aided by them.

I argued with my parents about whether the popular alt rock songs of the day were about such topics, because a) I didn’t want them to confiscate my record collection, just as I was starting to figure what my peers were interested in and b) having not been in the habit of needle use, I couldn’t actually spot references to the practice even when it was obvious. If a singer was clearly saying something about a needle and spoon, I assumed that he was singing a song about eating ice cream while knitting. I assumed that it was this practice that had made the singer very unpopular, which would have gone a long way in explaining why his songs sounded so depressing.

The true meanings of these songs should have been evident given that these alt rock stars were going in and out of jail and/or rehab centers. Every time I go for a stretch of two or three months without caffeine, only to start again, I think about the musicians I once venerated, cleaning up just long enough to release a new album, getting hooked again on the ensuing tour and having their bandmates threaten to fire them.

The way my personality seems to respond to addictive substances, I’d probably be just like them, only unable to afford expensive rehab.

However, if it were illegal drugs, or at least cigarettes, there might be more of a support system in place. Unlike smoking, which is banned in many indoor facilities and sometimes even outdoors, Coke is prominently displayed in restaurants, convenience stores and vending machines everywhere, tempting so many of us down the path of corroded teeth and higher body fat percentages.

If only government action were taken on this issue, banning the sale of caffeinated products in stores and the drinking of them in most public buildings. I could be saved from their ill effects, and then the government could move on to protecting me from other evils, like the eating of doughnuts and the reading of newspapers.

Until then, if I want to kick the Coke habit for good so that my kids won’t ever know their addictive properties, I’ll have to do it by myself.

Avoiding lunch with taekwondo instructors might help.

Maybe you should use cigarettes to kick the coke habit and gain a support group. Of course, when I first read your title I thought you were blowing rails.
I remember the days when we could both burn off a Coke by walking to the fridge. Long gone are those days my friend. I know exactly where you are coming from because Brandy and I are trying to quit smoking. It's hard not to smoke a calming cigarette after a hectic day of telling people that they are not qualified to scratch my ass, let alone hold meaningful employment. But we soldier on. We soldier on.
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