|By Juliana Di Leonardo
When I was in college, I took a course about drug use and addiction. One thing that I clearly remember from that class was that the professor often spoke about the fact that she was a former coffee addict. She explained that she was so dependent on caffeine it made her a completely different person. I didn’t quite understand the seriousness of her experience or how it would relate to my own life in the later years to come. I always thought “Wow, she really can’t handle caffeine, and I’m glad I don’t have that problem”, but I did.
For many years, since I was a teenager, I was always drinking coffee. It started out social, a thing you do while catching up with friends but then it became an activity that was “soothing”, a nice warm beverage, and then lastly it was my way of staying awake and functioning. I was an addict and had no idea because it just crept up on me.
It’s been almost a year since I’ve given up caffeine. I admit, I haven’t been perfect and relapsed a couple of times, but those moments helped me the most in learning a lot about my own addiction. When I finally quit drinking coffee I was a mess. I went through withdrawal and my husband had to reassure me many times that I could not just have a little bit. Once I was able to get beyond that first stage, things became easier. I was able to sleep better, my energy was more consistent, and I was less anxious, but my biggest realization was when I accidentally drank caffeine. When I forgot to specify “decaf’ coffee when ordering at a café I quickly learned that I had been living a life where I always felt like I was having a heart attack along with having my mind being flooded with worries and my concentration being inaccessible. This attachment to what seemingly was a harmless indulgence created a chatter within my mind so overwhelming at times that it would distort my perspective of life and made me feel even more exhausted physically and emotionally.
One of the 7 major addictions (maha-vyasan) spoken about in Jainism is alcohol (daaru), however, alcohol is far from the only addictive or harmful substance. Coffee, tobacco, meat (mansahaar), and dairy. All these toxins were once thought innocuous but are now known to not only harm our health, but also raise important concerns regarding environmental degradation, animal welfare, and human rights. By refraining from harmful substances, we not only clear our conscience, but our mind as well, allowing us to live kinder lives not only to others but also ourselves.
For this week’s Anuvrat, I encourage you to evaluate your life, habits, and daily routine. What have you long thought benign may be holding you back and what vow can you make to eliminate toxicity from your life?
(Juliana Di Leonardo is the Vice President of Humane Long Island. She is a yoga and ballroom dance instructor, model, and artist. Her advocacy for animals exploited by the fashion industry was credited in the 2021 documentary “The Face of Fashion is Fear” and recognized by PETA with a Hero for Coyotes award)
Images courtesy of (Image courtesy: lifehackeraustralia.com.au) and (Image provided)