It’s a Sunday morning in rehab and I’ve made a terrible mistake. In a foolhardy attempt at self-improvement, I’ve decided to abstain from coffee for the morning.
I’ve been reading Roger Walsh’s Essential Spirituality and working my way through the exercises. I’ve landed on “frustrate an addiction,” where he suggests you “choose something you are attached to---perhaps cigarettes, certain foods, or television---and decide to go without one for a specific time period, such as a day.”
I pick coffee, but a day is too ambitious for my liking, so I decide to give it up for a morning. I’m expecting an ultra-spiritual experience, where I can examine my attachment to coffee and be fully mindful of the experience of craving.
Instead what’s happening is that I’m feeling murderous towards the chipper techs who stop by my room every 30 minutes and tell me to get out of bed.
Because I’m not doing that. If I can’t have coffee, I’m not getting up.
My attitude at this stage in my life is, “If I can’t have the things I’m addicted to, I’d prefer to be unconscious or dead.” It’s why I started abusing sleeping pills when my addiction counselor put me on Antabuse, a medication that makes you violently ill if you consume so much as a drop of alcohol, and why the suicidal part of my brain frequently whispered, “if we’re going to have to be sober, don’t you think we should…”
Eventually, I cede defeat. I decide the un-improved version of myself is better than the lands-in-prison-for-killing-the-next-person-who-tells-me-to-get-out-of-bed version of myself and go get some liquid gold.
And you know what? Almost seven years later, I still haven’t done anything about my coffee addiction.
I don’t plan to.
Here’s what I’ve come to believe about my attachment to coffee: it’s not about the coffee. It doesn’t matter if you fill my mug with decaf or tea, I just need something hot in a mug to face the day.
Why? Because for years and years, that hot-cuppa-somethin’ was my lifeline.
When I was a teenager descending into the hell that is disordered eating and crash dieting, there were times when coffee was the only thing I’d consume in a day. It was safe no matter what arbitrary rules I set for myself AND it warmed my freezing cold hands.
When I was newly sober and facing the crippling social anxiety that I had treated with alcohol, invitations for coffee saved me. I knew that no matter how uncomfortable I was talking or being with people, I’d least I’d have the guaranteed comfort of coffee.
When I spent years trapped in the dark hole of depression, gallons of coffee kept me afloat. Not just because it supplemented the energy I didn’t have, but because sometimes my cups of coffee were the only good thing about my day.
One time I even interviewed Elijah Wood and he called me out on being preternaturally attached to my coffee mug. So it’s a thing.
But today, instead of fighting it, I’ve decided to embrace it. It’s why I make Mental Health Mugs.
Because, despite whatever my nattering “you’re terminally unique” brain likes to tell me, I know I’m not alone in this. I know there are millions (maybe even billions) of people like me, people whose hot-mugga-somethin’ gives them the strength they need to make it through another day.
And I think those people deserve to be cheered on. Not to be told to “try harder” but to be praised for the Herculean effort they’re making just to survive.
So I put encouraging messages on coffee mugs. Because I know that the people I want to cheer on are going to have mugs in their hands every day anyway. And I want them to know that I’m rooting for them. That I get what it’s like to feel how they’re feeling. That they’re not alone in their struggle. None of us are.
These mugs aren’t mugs. They’re a movement. A mental health empowerment movement. One that reminds us that it’s okay not to be okay BUT also that there is hope. That none of us are doomed to a lifetime of suffering. That recovery IS possible. That once we become empowered to pursue the solutions that work for our unique circumstances, we get well.
There might even come a day when we're well enough that we're willing to get out of bed even if there's no coffee...but let's hope we never have to find out.
Originally published on www.mentalhealthmugs.com as "Why Mugs?" on November 29, 2017.