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Breaking an addiction to coffee

How I stopped rationalizing my habit

From the March 1, 1999 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel


I never liked coffee as a teenager, but when I started my first job as an adult, a morning cup of coffee with my friends became an important part of my routine. As the years went by, my coffee drinking increased to the point that I got headaches if I didn't start my day with a cup of Java. In fact, I was rarely without a cup in my hands.

Why was this a problem? Isn't drinking coffee an activity millions of people all over the world enjoy? True enough, but there's not always comfort in numbers. I'd read in a book, whose ideas I deeply respected and tried to live by, that one could have a "depraved appetite" for coffee and other substances. Try as I might, I couldn't get that phrase out of my thought. Here's what the book, Science and Health by Mary Baker Eddy, says: "The depraved appetite for alcoholic drinks, tobacco, tea, coffee, opium, is destroyed only by Mind's mastery of the body. This normal control is gained through divine strength and understanding" (p. 406).

For years I felt that this statement, written over a hundred years ago, didn't apply to the modern world, where drinking coffee is so widely accepted. I even wondered how coffee could be relevant to my understanding of God. So I rationalized: drinking coffee couldn't really be as depraved as drinking alcohol, smoking tobacco, or using opium—none of which I did. Besides, those were obvious addictions, and I wasn't addicted to coffee, so I told myself. I just liked sharing a cup with friends. Why should I give up such an apparently harmless social experience? Also, I wasn't aware of any serious health problems associated with drinking coffee, so I figured it couldn't really hurt me.

With this conviction, the habit of drinking coffee fell away naturally and completely in a single day.

Rationalizations. I was using convenient, popular excuses to mask and excuse my addiction.

Eventually, I started to think more deeply about the issue. A search of the dictionary showed me that a depraved appetite is a desire or craving destitute of good principles. To me, that meant a desire or craving for something unlike God, who is all good. Yet God's man, the divinely made selfhood of each of us, naturally turns to God for his satisfaction and identity because God is his source. When I understood this, I was able to admit that I was addicted to coffee, and that I was turning to it instead of to God for fulfillment. In that light, I could see that one addiction wasn't really any better or worse than another, since they all work from the same basis, promising satisfaction from a source other than God, divine Spirit. So much for my first justification.

My second rationalization was that the success of my friendships depended on sharing this particular drink with them. The Bible answers this justification in the story of Daniel and his fellow Hebrews living in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar (see Dan. 1:3–15). They proved that success was not dependent on eating or drinking what everyone else did but rather on their obedience to God. Furthermore, as Science and Health discusses, status is no measure of identity or success: "Take away wealth, fame, and social organizations, which weigh not one jot in the balance of God, and we get clearer views of Principle. Break up cliques, level wealth with honesty, let worth be judged according to wisdom, and we get better views of humanity" (p. 239).

The third argument for drinking coffee only attempted to justify my desire with what I believed to be popular medical opinions. But these opinions didn't have anything to do with my relation to God. And wasn't that what I was really interested in?

I had recently been learning more about Soul, another name for God. I'd found through my study of the Bible and Mrs. Eddy's writings that man reflects the qualities of Soul—in particular, purity. Over many months I continued to pray to see how to purify my thinking. I began to understand that it wasn't so much the actual act of drinking coffee that was depraved, but the thinking underlying the addiction. In fact, it seemed to me that the desire to use anything that would usurp the power of God to satisfy His child would classify as a depraved appetite.

I found help in these words of Jesus: "Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?" (Matt. 6:25). At this point I understood, theoretically, that it was possible to heal an addiction to coffee. Yet practically speaking, I didn't see how I could give up a thirty-year-old habit. I knew I couldn't just switch to decaffeinated coffee and colas, since every time I had tried that, I endured the headaches associated with caffeine withdrawal and eventually returned to the "real" stuff.

Finally, though, the day came when I realized that it was time to obey the truths I was learning. God supplied me the courage to trust that He could heal the addiction. I recognized that my true, spiritual identity as a child of God didn't include an addiction or attraction to impure thoughts. God hadn't made His idea, man, able to be addicted, and I could not claim to be anything but His child.

With this conviction, the habit of drinking coffee fell away naturally and completely in a single day. As I took my stand for purity, I found that thoughts from God strengthened and helped me through each hour. Every time a desire for a cup of coffee came, God provided me the strength and support to make the correct choice. I did not have to depend on human willpower to accomplish the healing. Nor did I experience the headaches associated with caffeine withdrawal.

I still have friends, and I can now see clearly that sharing friendship was not based on the use of coffee. More important, I have found great joy and freedom in a better understanding of my true identity as a child of God.

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