Day One: Today is the big day. It’s been less than eight hours since my last fix, and the sweet poison is still making its way through my system after last night’s binge. It’s 8 a.m., and I wouldn’t say I’m actually having cravings yet, but a twinge of mild anxiety sparks through my body as I pass the empty cupboard that usually holds my stash and deliberately forgo my regular morning pick-me-up.
I’m OK for now, but I know from experience discomfort will set in firmly by 2 p.m. I know this not because I’ve actually tried quitting before — at least not with any real seriousness — but from all those times through the years I’ve found myself stuck at home for various reasons (sick baby, car trouble) and couldn’t get out to score a fix.
I know it won’t be easy, but I think I’m finally ready to embrace a heretofore elusive freedom from addiction. I want this for myself, and isn’t that half the battle? My body is starting to sense something is amiss and I feel the faintest cries of protest echoing through its cells, but I prepared well for this battle. I’m all jacked up on determination and I plan to ride its buzz all day. I can do this.
Day Two: I’m tired and sluggish, hung over from a night of troubling dreams that provided little rest and left me in a cloud of vague uneasiness that further dampens the foggy morning. The smallest tasks seem exhausting and by 9 a.m. I’ve already given up on the day’s productivity.
At my office a small stack of paperwork distorts into a formidable mound, and I stare silently at my computer’s background image, lost in a stretch of Arizona’s Painted Desert, which I plan to visit in April. I imagine myself there on a hot summer day, hollow and aching with thirst. Forbidden relief taunts me from just beyond an amber horizon, glistening beneath the naked sun. I crawl slowly across the scalding earth, faltering, melting into the softly rolling watercolor hills.
This is harder than I expected.
Day Three: The headaches are the worst. An endless freight train crashes through my skull, tearing a ragged path from one temple to the other. I want to give in, feel that familiar sizzle burn my mouth and silence the pounding in my head.
I remind myself of the dangers of going back: rotten teeth, premature aging, and an array of frightening health concerns. I stay my course.
Day Seven: Some of the fog has lifted and the fierce and blinding headaches have given way to a dull ache. The physical discomfort decreases daily but the hollow longing lingers in my mind. Already I’m running into friends who still use, boldly flaunting their guiltless pleasure in restaurants and gas stations and office buildings. I want to snatch it from their grasp and flee to the cover of a shadowed alley, where my trembling hands feed my dark and shameful thirst.
My name is Jennifer and I am a Diet Coke addict.
I’ve been drinking it since I was 16, when I was lured in by the endless fountain of fizzy, calorie-free liquid made available at my very first job in a fast food drive-thru. We weren’t allowed to drink soda when I was a kid, mostly because we couldn’t afford it, and I grew up drinking nothing but water and an occasional glass of milk or tea.
I never really felt like I was missing anything before, but somehow I associated unfettered access to the exotic beverage with my newfound independence. When I moved out at 17, Diet Coke became a regular staple on my grocery shopping list.
By now I drink it all day long, to the point where it’s actually quite embarrassing. Friends in the medical profession have marveled at the health of my teeth, despite 19 years consuming copious amounts of highly acidic beverage. A recent study revealed heavy use of diet soda causes a level of tooth decay “remarkably similar” to that of a methamphetamine or crack abuse. Yikes!
Whether the result of otherwise careful dental hygiene or extremely fortunate genetics, at 36 I’ve never had a single cavity or displayed any signs of tooth decay, which is rather uncommon even for someone who doesn’t marinade their chompers in phosphoric acid. Perhaps my sole superpower is indestructible tooth enamel — which is useful but overall pretty lame as far as superpowers go — but I nevertheless figured I should probably quit while I’m ahead.
Other health risks associated with frequent consumption of diet soda include kidney and metabolic problems, cell damage, and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Several studies have linked the caramel color in colas to cancer in mice and rats, and while the claim is still somewhat controversial, many neuroscientists swear artificial sweeteners such as aspartame are known neurotoxins.
Interestingly, daily use of diet soda is also linked with obesity, and a 10-year study showed the more diet soda participants drank, the more weight they gained. Many experts believe the strong artificial sweeteners in diet soda stimulate the body’s sweet receptors in a way that triggers cravings for other sweets and leaves the body unable to appreciate more subtle flavors, leading to overeating.
I tend to think that like most things, Diet Coke is probably fine in moderation, but it seems exceedingly unwise to rely on a substance that can be used to remove lime stains from a toilet bowl as your primary source of hydration. I aim for moderation in most areas of my life, but being an addict makes that nearly impossible. It’s time to say goodbye.
There are far worse problems to have, for sure, but I expect I’ll be much healthier when this is over. Until then, keep your distance. I’m liable to bite when I’m grumpy, and my teeth have superpowers.