It took me two full years to start drinking coffee. 

When I was in first grade I got low marks for “self-control.” First of all, why is that even part of the grading criteria for a six-year-old? Second of all, they were right. Historically, I have had a hard time doing things I don’t want to do. Anything that causes me discomfort is generally dismissed unless I decide it’s important. Learning to do my taxes? Off the table. Going to the dentist at consistent intervals? Maybe when my teeth fall out. Monitoring my spending so I don’t deplete my life savings in one month? Live fast, die young, baby. Let’s just say I’m lucky I got vaccinated before I learned how to run.

Joining the caffeinated beverage big-leagues? Now that is a venture worthy of my toil. Goodbye frappuccinos, hello sour bean water! My senior year of high school I laid out a detailed plan of attack. Hot chocolate to mocha, mocha to latte, latte to iced latte, iced latte to iced coffee with milk (coconut), iced coffee with milk to black iced coffee. Is this what it feels like to be alive? By the beginning of my sophomore year of college, I had become an honest-to-goodness black coffee devotee. Sometimes I dabbled in cold brew. I wish the story ended there.  

My senior year of high school I also put a ban on all sugar. No candy, no soda, no cake, no yogurt, no fruit — only nuts and meats and carrot sticks and anything with zero grams of sugar on the label. I had read that this type of diet was key for ‘mental acuity.’ With college applications and SAT scores around the corner, it seemed like a good idea. Healing from the inside out — a harmless lesson in self-control. It felt great, quite honestly. I can’t say that my SAT scores improved, but it was easy to maintain. I felt clear-headed and energetic all the time. I transitioned from mocha to latte (unsweetened).

When I came to college things got more complicated. I couldn’t control what I ate or when I ate or who I ate with. Latte to iced latte. I ended freshman year vowing to be better, but my definition of ‘better’ had changed. Iced latte to iced coffee with milk (coconut). Over the summer I worked at Anthropologie, haven to bohemians and middle-aged women alike. It was fun, but it required a lot more looking into mirrors than I was used to. No more milk.

I got healthy at the same time I got sick.

Iced coffee.

It was self-medication. French fries became kale and root beer became green tea and pasta became the eighth deadly sin. My body cried with joy and my skin sang one million hallelujahs. With this slice of tempeh, I consecrate the temple that is my body.

But my temple wasn’t built exactly like the others. And my skin’s hallelujahs sounded off-key and my body’s tears felt like saline and the more kale I ate the deeper the pit in my stomach sunk. Maybe I should try spinach.  

I spent my sophomore year in yo-yo. Eating nothing, eating everything. Iced coffee. I started feeling guilty all the time. Everything felt like a competition. Is everyone working out more than me? Eating less than me? Taking supplements? Waking up earlier? What are you ordering? Me? I haven’t decided yet. Iced coffee. Maybe I’ll just stay home.

My body loves me, but my brain hates me — should I be eating more avocado? I think this might be deeper than my large intestine. Or maybe I think too much? I should start meditating. How can I quiet the voice in my head that screams bloody murder every time I pick up a fork? Please — I’ll give you arugula if you give me peace. No deal? I need earplugs. Or maybe a turmeric latte — unsweetened with hemp milk (rich in Omega-3s). I’m so tired of this.  

I started putting milk in my coffee again. Still iced, still unsweetened, but with a little bit of oat. Or almond. Or soy (god forbid). Something to cut the bitterness. Maybe my body loves me a little less, but I’m learning to love me a little more.