The smell of coffee always reminds me of 12-step meetings. Especially the smell of old stale coffee. Every meeting I have ever been to has coffee. Sometimes its made in huge industrial vats from coffee that comes in giant cans. The coffee smells hot and burned by the time it is ready. In the Northwest, where coffee is king, some meetings serve freshly dripped French Roast with half and half. Either way the smell of coffee is as soothing to me as the Serenity Prayer. I associate it with an hour of peace and sanity.
When we are new to recovery, coffee is the substitute for a drink in our hands, or a joint in our lips. It gives newcomers something to do when they come in the door of a meeting. They make a bee-line for the coffee pot and spend a few minutes doctoring up their coffee with an assortment of sugar, cocoa, or sweeteners (blue or pink) plus the powdered cremer. It becomes part of the ritual of a meeting to try to make something drinkable out of whatever is available. If you’ve forgotten to eat, then some sugared coffee with cremer will hopefully get you through to your next meal.
After the meeting folks often go out for more coffee and laughs. Jacked up and giddy from coffee, it can be a lot of fun to hang out with friends in recovery. Coffee is also the drink of choice for serious one-on-one conversations with a sponsor or friend.
Like others, I drank immense amounts of coffee when I stopped drinking alcohol. I tried all the combinations (except artificial sweeteners) and learned firsthand that there is a downside to drinking coffee. The first problem is the jitters. Nervous anyway from giving up my old pal Liquor, I got distinctly jittery after a few cups of coffee. Then came the blood sugar drop that inevitably follows the spike coffee provides. Especially if I hadn’t eaten, I was ready for a nap by the end of the meeting but too cranked up to take one. Talk about “restless, irritable and discontent”—that was me after a few cups of coffee.
The second problem was getting to sleep at night. I know now that the half-life of caffeine is six hours. That means that if I drink two cups of coffee at noon, I still have one cup in me at six p.m. I was drinking cups of coffee at 8 p.m. meetings and wondering why I couldn’t get to sleep. I recently heard a young guy in a 7 p.m. meeting complain about not sleeping well. He was drinking Red Bull!
I learned to cut back on coffee at meetings. I switched to black tea, which has only half the caffeine of coffee, or to green tea, which has only a fourth. They don’t make it easy to drink tea at a meeting because if there is tea at all there’s no hot water. Or if there is hot water its in a carafe and tastes like weak coffee and makes a nasty cup of tea. It has gotten better over the years at some meetings but there is still have plenty of room for improvement.
Nowadays, I have my last dose of caffeine in the afternoon. I usually drink tea but there are times that coffee is still just the right thing. Coffee is a good digestive, it helps move the bowels, and it gets rid of some headaches. More than anything, coffee smells like fellowship and serenity. It’s a smell I will always love.