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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Off the Grid: Spiritual growth through scientific experimentation

By Ammi Midstokke

Of all the ill-advised experiments one can undertake, switching to decaf is the absolute worst.

I consider myself expert in matters of poorly considered sacrifices in the name of science. I have fasted on everything from water to juice to air, ran “keto” marathons, and even spent a year living as a vegan. Clearly, my tolerance for suffering is high.

Yet nothing has compared to the pathetic misery induced by giving up coffee. Once when I was growing up, I recall thinking my mother had turned into a zombie. I might have been reading a choose-your-own-adventure book in which every outcome resulted in some kind of plague, but that just made it easier to diagnose her.

For days, she just wandered around aimlessly in her robe, grumbling and scowling at us, hair disheveled and the glazed look of someone sleep-walking through life. Occasionally, there was a verbal burst of piranha ferocity that reminded us she was not just the walking dead. She would eventually succumb to our pleas to fire up the espresso machine again (one of the few electric luxuries in our off-grid cabin) and return to her fully functioning human self while we all sighed with relief.

It was silly of me to think I would somehow handle withdrawal any more gracefully than that stalwart woman. I don’t even drink that much coffee. Of course, the coffee I do drink is high-octane, could fuel a supersonic jetliner, clean the most stubborn sewer clogs or dissolve a corpse. Indeed, I attribute most of my successes and aptitudes in life to this dark elixir.

Then again … studies show. This is my experiment-inducing kryptonite. Any sentence beginning with a claim of research-backed outcomes somehow inspires me to attempt to replicate results in my own body. Though studies showed that rats got more addicted to sucralose than cocaine and I had to draw the line on that one. I’m particularly averse to synthetic sugars, and it’s probably a little cost-prohibitive.

Studies show that caffeine improves athletic performance, but disrupts everything from appetite to sleep to fertility to anxiety. I wondered if coffee makes me afraid of spiders. Turns out, I’m much quicker at stomping on them if I have a cup of Joe on board.

On the first day, I drank a cup of herbal tea. If when I die, I am uncertain of the consequences of my poor choices in life, I will know for certain by what beverages are offered in the afterlife. Drinking tea is like sipping on a dead flower that lost its soul. Or supping from a puddle of grass clippings. It is the clear beverage of the underworld right next to tomato juice.

I realize an entire population of tea drinkers may be appalled by this statement, and I commend their Buddhistic ability to be so pleased with so little. As demonstrated by my arachnid-squashing habit, we’ve already established I lack spiritual depth.

Although decaffeinating brought me closer, because by the second day I was praying for reprieve. I wallowed in delicious memories of buzzing my way around the property from garden to wood pile to laundry. I struggled through my days with a sort of lugubrious fog surrounding my brain and body.

Life without coffee lost meaning. Conversations were empty. I was still terrified of spiders. I still woke up in the middle of the night and nearly ate the face off someone who suggested “perimenopause.” I was too exhausted by the persistent self-pity to take action.

I was literally sorry for myself. I can’t eat gluten, I don’t drink alcohol, smoking is so passé. Coffee was all I had left. Even my fancy Swiss Water Process decaf wasn’t filling the void of meaningful ritual.

Ten days later, I was ready to throw the towel in when suddenly I woke up feeling sort of normal. My brain worked. Being alive didn’t feel like a burden. A kind of order was restored, and I was happy, even giddy about the day. I cleaned the house and organized my office. I smiled while I meditated. I set a personal record on a training run.

A successful experiment is one that provides a usable conclusion, even if it is not the one you expect. Satisfied and overwhelmed with gratitude for the breakthrough, I contentedly made myself a cup of tea and sent my husband a message of love and appreciation. He had been so patient with me these last days.

“I love you, too. I hope it was OK that I made you normal coffee today.”

Ammi Midstokke can be contacted at ammimarie@gmail.com. She will respond after her morning coffee.

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