The Value Of Two Cents, or, I’m Dealing With My Own Change So You Can Keep Yours

(This began on Facebook. The question was a real question.)

You know what I can live without? “Although this is an internal discussion within a marginalized community I am not a member of, here’s my 2 cents!”
We already know your opinion, thanks.
Question from the audience: Fliponymous, and this in all sincerity: are the opinions and points of view from people outside the community of value? If an outsider expresses their view could it provide something of substance to the conversation and, if not, could be an opportunity to educate the commentator on the issue? Or, is it better to shut non-community-members out of the conversation all together because their experience is too far removed from the circumstance to have any value.

I am honestly curious on this. Being a white middle-class hetero-cis-male I am almost always on the outside of conversations–and tend to stay out of them as well, both to preserve my peace of mind and to respect the community having the conversation but I sometimes wonder whether it is appropriate to take part, usually hoping to learn more.

There are two kinds of conversations had in marginalized communities. External conversations are general discussions where anyone’s input is welcome. Internal conversations are just that — discussions about how we are going to solve our own internal issues. Discussions about labeling are common, and frequently contentious. In these cases, the opinions of people who are not stakeholders are generally already well known and/or irrelevant, and frequently disruptive. For example, when there’s a discussion about bisexual vs pansexual as the appropriate label for people with attractions to multiple sexes/genders, a straight person wandering in and saying “Labels are just words and don’t matter” not only fails to add anything, but is actively disruptive, no matter how well-meant.

As a community we’re sensitized to this sort of thing. While it’s possible that a person outside the community might have something substantive to add, in the vast majority of cases at least part of the problem is because of people outside the community setting the terms – in the bi/pan Label Wars, for example, much of the debate is driven by straight and gay-developed Queer Theory and its expression in academia to the point that definitions of bisexuality not historically used by the community are in textbooks.

Brief aside: There is something that makes me uncomfortable with the terminology “outsider” being applied to a cishet person participating in an LGBT-focused discussion. Outsider is a misnomer here — views and opinions that are informed by the Overculture do not suddenly transform into #UnpopularOpinons because you’re in our space, even if invited to be. Being the only heterosexual person in a room full of queer people does not actually make you a minority.

The question “are opinions from outside the community of value” might be more properly expressed as “are opinions from outside the community unknown.” In the vast majority of cases, we already know what straight people (in general) think, and frankly the odds that what one individual outside the community has to say is different or valuable enough to be worth taking up air in the debate space (because discussion takes energy) are slim to none. (I fully expect to be pilloried for that statement, Reader, please take note of who objects to it.)

The “opportunity to educate” argument, while superficially plausible, falls apart for two reasons. One is that any internal discussion on an issue large enough to even catch the attention of the Overculture is big enough that there are phalanxes of volunteers working to educate the masses about it. The actual discussions where we are trying to solve our own problems are inappropriate venues for education.

Here’s an analogy for you. If you’re a Christian, and you want to know more about Judaism beyond what you can get from reading the easily available material, do you a) contact a local rabbi and sit down over coffee and ask questions, or b) walk into the nearest synagogue during Shabbat service and start asking the people around you what’s the deal with not lighting a fire on Saturday morning and it seems to you that it’s perfectly OK to set a timer so the TV comes on so you don’t miss Seinfeld because a timer’s the same thing as using a thermostat and you love Seinfeld because he’s Jewish, right?

If you get gently asked to leave because you’re disrupting something that is not directly your problem (even if you think it is because, hey, you have to give your more orthodox Jewish employees Saturdays off, and you’re a good employer because you do), is that the same thing as being “shut out of the conversation”? And believe me, when you look at the way queer people are excluded, any response that you get from us is gentle as eiderdown on a jasmine-scented breeze in comparison.

The other problem with the “opportunity for education” argument is, of course, the expectation that all members of marginalized communities have the obligation to drop what they are doing and perform an Act Of Education for anyone who demands it – or anyone who doesn’t want to be educated. Frankly, it’s hard to tell sometimes the difference between the honestly ignorant and the concern troll. There are days where it takes every ounce of energy we have just to keep going, and expecting us to always be willing to spend it on your enlightenment is actually pretty aggressive.

One of the places where this has been coming up recently is in the issue of labeling the entire LGBTQ community. GSM has been suggested, as well as a new one, SAGA. One of the arguments put forth for this is that the (seemingly) constantly-shifting initialism is “confusing”. This aspect is often mocked with constructions like LGBTQWTFBBQ or LGBTQIABCDEFG.

Here’s the thing. The fact that the debate is happening is proof that we have not settled the matter internally. The reason there is no debate about the word “gay”, for example, shows that that particular label has been resolved internally, at least enough that the gay community is comfortable not only using it but having it applied to them. (Are there individuals who object? Sure. But we’re talking about the community as a whole, which means consensus, not unanimity. Take notes, that one will be on the quiz.)

It is not my problem if cisgender heterosexuals are confused by the initialsm – which they aren’t, they are confused by the fact we as a community have not reached a consensus around appropriate terminology. We’re still arguing about the word Queer, and that’s an internal debate that’s been raging since 1990. I had a discussion recently with a straight person – a great public ally to us, in fact – and they decided to argue that they would not accept people using the word queer to describe their child because of its history as a slur. But it was not their decision to make. It is their child’s choice to accept or not accept the word. And their opinion, as a cishet person, does not have any weight with the queer community as a whole. As a white person, there are racially charged words I’m not comfortable with. I have the right to not use them, I do not have the right to tell people of color what words are appropriate for them to use.

There is an internal debate in the Queer community about LGBT vs GSM/GSRM/GSD/SAGA vs Alphabet Soup. I personally favor LGBTQ+ or QUILTBAG. I personally oppose any initialism or acronym that either divides or erases the bisexual community. In my opinion, Alphabet Soup divides, while GSM etc erases. There is no consensus on this yet — I know of at least one person who I highly respect and consider a friend and mentor who is completely opposed to me on this matter. And we can and will talk about it.

But if you are cishet, kindly keep your opinion to yourself – it’s not helping for you to tell me how much you prefer one or the other, because it is literally not your problem.

One final example: there has been debate in the transgender community over transgender vs trans*. I used trans* in some articles here because at the time, the best information I had was that it was preferable. Since then, I’ve been informed that it isn’t, so I don’t use it anymore.

What I did not do was get involved in discussions among transgender people about how I felt one was more appropriate than the other. And you know what? I did not feel shut out of the debate at all, any more than I feel shut out of the primary election for the political party I’m not affiliated with. Once primary season is over, then and only then it will be my problem who the other side runs against the candidate my side decides to run against him. Just as people who have already decided to vote for him, have no business telling me who I should support in order to run against him.

(This is what happens when I tell someone I consider myself essentially retired from blogging. I get inspired.)

Thanks to Ken and Eric, who got me started, and Camille, who introduced me to the original thought.

Posted in Identity Politics (non-monosexual), Privilege | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

My Corpse Will Not Be Your Movement’s Foundation

No one is as clear and raw as Aud.

Even Aud

     Coming into an all day Bi+ Institute, where seconds before people in the room had been talking about how the Bi+ community, how the terms, bi,bisexual, and biromantic had at times saved their lives, and then raising your hand to state that you feel that those very labels, should be abolished in favor of a different term, like pansexual is violence.

   At the time I personally was too gobsmacked say anything. I personally take this moment, this utterance, as the trigger that sent me into a dissociative episode that lasted not just the whole rest of the day, but had extreme mental health consequences weeks afterwards.

    I felt hurt, so much pain and hurt. I’ll never forget the looks on people’s faces. The sheer pain. But also the sheer, unbridled rage. I at the time failed everyone miserably in not calling that statement out…

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Posted in Bisexuality | 6 Comments

Now in private practice


Howdy! I’ve just opened my own private psychotherapy practice here in Saint Cloud, MN. Details are available on Psychology Today as well as a bunch of other places online, including my website.

Here’s some information. Queer focused — bi, trans, gay, lesbian, asexual, all genders including nonbinary/genderqueer, all relationship structures (monogamous and polyamorous). I’m not an expert on kink but I know enough to not be afraid of it, or automatically assume that it is the problem.

Mission Statement: Prism Mental Health LLC strives to create a warm and accepting therapeutic space where people of all gender identities and sexual orientations have the freedom and safety to express all facets of their authentic selves and explore the challenges of existence. All people have common experiences to share, cultural differences to celebrate, and unique experiences that can be understood through these similarities and differences.

Population Served: Adults (18+). Prism Mental Health LLC does not discriminate against people based on race, color, creed, religion, national origin, neurodiversity, marital status, status with regard to public assistance, familial status, disability, sexual orientation, sex and/or gender identity, HIV status, or age. Prism Mental Health LLC focuses on providing services to members of the LGBTQ+ community and those who love them.

Patrick RichardsFink MS NCC LPC:
I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (MN 1805), and a member of the Minnesota LGBT Therapists Network. I practice existential psychotherapy, which tailors therapy to individuals and uses a variety of techniques to help people heal themselves through the therapeutic relationship. I work with individuals, traditional and mixed orientation couples, and people in other relationship structures.

Posted in Bisexuality | 3 Comments

Guest Post: How to Find a Bi Competent Therapist by Estraven Le Guin

This is a thorough and important guide to finding a bi-affirmative therapist written by a friend and mentor.

Even Aud

“One US study found that over a quarter of therapists seen by bisexual clients erroneously assumed that sexual identity was relevant to the goal of therapy when the
client didn’t agree, and around a sixth saw bisexuality as being part of an illness. Seven percent attempted conversion to heterosexuality and 4% to being lesbian or gay. Many therapists were openly uncomfortable about bisexuality.” (Page, E)  Another British study found that bisexuals were treated worse than  gays and Lesbians by their therapists. At a recent training of monsexual therapists on bisexual issues that I did, even though the therapists were middle-aged or older, most of them were quite surprised to find out that bisexuality is not just a phase, and that bisexuals can be monogamous. You might think that by going to a so-called LGBT treatment center, you would be assured of bi-competent care, but some of these organizations are known for their covert hostility to bisexuals.
So how do you find a bi-competent, or at least a bi-friendly, therapist?

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All Of Me

Dan Savage tells me that I’m straight because I’m a cismale in a long term monogamous relationship with a ciswoman. It doesn’t matter to him that we met because we were interested in the same man, or that I had sexual relationships with men before I met her – that was just experimentation, confusion about my identity. It doesn’t matter that my sexual fantasies include my own gender as well as genders different from mine. As far as he’s concerned, I’m just an open-minded straight guy.

To another person, I have no reason to attend a conference for queer people. Everyone is bisexual, he says, so it’s just plain silly for me to identify myself as such. According to him, all labels for sexuality should be set aside, because we’re all human beings.

According to the local plasma company where college students augment their income, I am “MSM” – a man who has sex with men. And because I have had unprotected sex with a man at any time in my life, I am a potential disease vector, and thus ineligible to get my $35 for half a liter of claret.

According to someone else, I’m gay. Because I work with the queer community, because I identify myself as belonging to the LGBT population, I clearly have no attraction to people of genders other than mine.

According to yet another person, I’m not only gay, but maliciously so, using the woman I am married to as a free housemaid and babysitter, condemning her to a loveless marriage with either no sexual fulfillment or only that which I can bring myself to fake while I go out and spend my energies in the arms of a myriad of anonymous men.

To another unasked opinionator, since bisexuality is an exact 50/50 split of attractions, and no one is exactly 50/50, no one is bisexual, so I’m just a self-hating gay man who’s afraid of the label “gay” and need to grow up and get together with a man so I can experience real love for the first time.

To some others, I am not only a fence-sitter, but a bench-sitter, because bisexuals are not active in the queer community and have never fought for gay rights. Rather we just sit back and soak up our straight privilege.

In the eyes of some, my use of the word bisexual is offensive and hateful because it indicates a deep hostility to transfolk, that it’s the equivalent of using “chairman” or “postman”, that the very word erases anyone who is not in “the gender binary”.

To others, it means I am only sexually and romantically interested in cisgender people, that I don’t love people for who they are but am only interested in a very specific and narrow range of genitalia, that all of my judgments about people are based on what genitals they were born with.

To a lot of straight men, I’m just a faggot, a pervert, a probable child molester, and someone whose urges are so uncontrollable that I will rape them at the first opportunity because either they are the most attractive men on the planet or my tastes are so indiscriminate that I don’t care about anything but my own sick pleasures.

Some people think that I obviously have a boyfriend on the side, or hang around rest stops for quickies with truckers, or that if I am monogamous, it’s because I am repressing my real self.

There are even a few who want a cookie for recognizing that I actually do exist because a researcher finally recanted his previous work saying I didn’t. Because science knows everything about everything, so if one study says I was straight or gay and lying to myself about it, that must be the case, but now I’m permitted to exist – weird and immature, or some third sex, or really a woman trapped in a man’s body, but now that Science Hath Spoken, I can be there. Over there, please. Far away. I still can’t be here where they are standing, after all, I might assault them.

To some people I’m angry.

Those last people? They may be right. But I’m not angry all the time.

What I am all the time is a person trying to get through life, trying to carve out a better world for my family and for my communities. And when I think about sex, which is not every seven seconds like some people think all men do, I find myself attracted to lots of different things. Strength. Vulnerability. Intelligence. Softness. Hardness. Things that are not necessarily restricted to any particular gender.

Gender presentation is important to me, in fact – but it doesn’t have to be cisgender, and it definitely does not have to be the elements that are considered by society to be “appropriate” for their “sex”. It doesn’t have to be exclusively masculine (I like men who are sensitive, a little soft, men who are able to be tender as well as forceful). It doesn’t have to be exclusively feminine (I like women who are strong physically and mentally, woman who can open the pickle jar when I can’t, women who don’t shave any part of their bodies). It doesn’t have to be either – I can look at someone, speak to someone, be attracted to them, and walk away with no gender label for them at all, people who use pronouns like ze and hir.

Some people think it’s trendy or hip to claim to be bisexual. As a bisexual man? There’s nothing hip or trendy about it for me. It’s not something I choose to be because it makes me more enlightened or more open. It’s not about being more attractive to gay men by being “straight-acting”.

It’s just who I am.

And it’s something I hid from almost everyone for almost three decades, and it’s something I probably would still be hiding today if I hadn’t been lucky enough to come out in a place where the queer culture embraces bisexuality as a valid identity.

I came out because I could no longer be dishonest. I could no longer walk around presenting myself to the world as a straight man, turning a blind eye to homophobia – I didn’t even know about biphobia yet – because I felt like speaking up could blow my cover. Avoiding contact with the queer community. Isolating myself. The classic long-term closet experience.

As a bi man I face the same prejudice and ignorance from the homophobes as a gay man in the straight community, as well as some specific challenges from both the straight and the lesbian/gay communities. Challenges like being erased, and then blamed for that erasure. Challenges like having a therapist ignore the stress being in the closet caused me because he didn’t understand that I could be married to a woman and still be queer. Challenges like hearing an identity development model that requires rejection of heterosexuality for full maturity quoted weekly.

And the old Kinsey Scale Blues. I am so, oh so tired of the Kinsey Scale being shoved in my face. “So, what percentage straight are you? Oh, you don’t look at it that way? Well, I need a number. Let’s see, you haven’t had sex with a man in two decades and change, so I’m going to say 80%. That means you’re only 20% gay.” “Bisexuality is Kinsey 3, half-gay and half-straight. Oh, you’re not ‘half-gay’, you’re a whole person? You’re gay all the time and straight all the time? That just doesn’t make sense according to this authoritative model that’s been around for 60 years and all this research is based on it so it must be the only valid way to look at it.”

I’m not half anything. I’m bisexual, through and through, and I have been, in spite of the research, in spite of the attitudes, in spite of whatever myths are current. As long as I have been aware of my sexuality, it has been directed at a few people across a wide range of gender identities – less people than a lot of straight people I know.

I’m an integrated person, and coming out was a stage of that integration, a way to bring my public face into congruence with my inner self.

I have become a therapist – an out, bisexual therapist – who is trying to build a practice working primarily (but not exclusively) with people who are bisexual. So they don’t have to spend time they should be working on themselves trying to explain to me that, yes they really are bi, no they don’t need me to help them get off the fence and pick a side, yes they are feeling rejected by both the worlds they walk in, no they aren’t promiscuous and greedy by definition (but that if they have those traits, it’s because they do as individuals, just like straight and gay people can have those traits). So they don’t have to educate me before they can start helping themselves. So they don’t have to explain what a mixed orientation marriage is and risk being told they need to divorce so they can be who they “really” are.

I am all of me.

Posted in Bisexuality | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Gay, Lesbian, ________ and Transgender

This will be brief.

People need to belong.

Abraham Maslow’s heirarchy of needs describes how people are able to get their needs met. First is survival. If you don’t have food and water, or other things you require to keep drawing breath, there is little else you can strive for. People stranded in lifeboats rarely write political manifestos. Once this need is met, you can attend to other matters of safety. Once you are safe, then you begin to look past the next breath and look towards belonging.


People need to belong. We are gregarious beings – not truly social like honeybees or naked mole rats or the coalescent hives of Stephen Baxter’s later Xeelee novels, nor pack animals, but like the bonobos we are close cousins to we assemble ourselves into troops and tribes – and communities. We define these tribes in many ways, from genetic and/or household familes all the way up to nations and races. In this early 21st Century milieu, one of the ways we define communities is by sexual orientation, something that some dismiss as “Identity Politics”. We are political creatures, though, and identity is important in a thousand ways.

There are a lot of models of identity development, some of which I have written about in this space, some of which I will explore more in future posts. The fundamental fact, though, is that the presence of a welcoming community of people who share important characteristics is a must. There is a reason that the header of this blog contains the phrase “To live a life of integrity in a community of mutual support”.

This is one of the many reasons bisexual erasure is a problem. It prevents people from recognizing themselves in others, because it prevents people from seeing others like themselves. A community of invisible people is not a community that can empower its members – a community of invisible people is not a community at all, but a Cantor dust of scattered atoms, occasionally randomly connected, with only the power that each individual is able to bring to bear.

If we cannot find each other, then, we cannot satisfy our need to belong, which means that on some level we are unable to build self-esteem, and without that ability, self-actualization is forever out of reach.

So how do they keep us from finding each other? Lots of ways, including the incessant redefinitions of bisexuality to justify Anythng But Bisexual labels. But the one that is catching my eye (and ear) recently? While it’s not exactly brand-new (it’s been going on for a bit), the newish way to erase bisexuality is gaining traction. Senator Al Franken has done it. Articles about LGBT issues have done it. And Entertainment Weekly recently did it. Now, I don’t think of EW as anything of real lasting value – those of you who have spent time with me in these pages know that academic journals and science fiction novels are more my cup of tea. But I recognize that things like EW and People and supermarket tabloids have a much wider readership than The Journal Of LGBT Issues In Counseling.

Which is why it’s a big deal that Entertainment Weekly devoted an entire issue to “gay, lesbian, and transgender entertainment”.

It’s just the most recent in this growing trend. I’ve been to functions in queer spaces where LGBT was unpacked as “gay, lesbian, and transgender”. It is undeniable erasure.

Part of the problem is that for quite some time the initialism LGBT have been being used in bothersome ways. For example, frequently articles about queer people in the news will say “gay” or “lesbian” if the person identifies as such (or, of course, is bi but has at any time in their life has even hinted otherwise for any reason, or if the author simply decided to gaywash them), but if someone clearly identifies as bisexual (or any of the other words that people use to stand in for bisexual) the media will refer to them as LGBT. Which is ludicrous on the face of it.

What that does is erase bisexuals, because let’s face it – you and I both know that 99% of the time, LGBT is pronounced “gay”. And no one is L, G, B, and T all at the same time.

So for some time now, there’s been this sort of half-assed inclusion where people will write LGBT, and then unpack it as “lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender”. Which seems better than nothing, right? Except if you look closely, the only place the Big Bad B Word is mentioned is in the unpacking. It’s a phenomenon I call “Ctrl-R Inclusionism”.

Only now, they are even omitting that tiny nod. Which shows just how much they never meant it in the first place. “Lesbian, gay, and transgender” may leave out half of the community they are talking about, but in a way it’s more honest (and easier to fight) because they’ve really been leaving us out all along.

We’ve simply been so used to settling for crumbs and will-o-the-wisps that we’ve let it happen.

Posted in Bisexuality, Identity Politics (non-monosexual) | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Why I’m Afraid of My Coffee Cup

I’m afraid of my coffee cup.

For 30 years, beginning at the age of 15, I smoked approximately 30 cigarettes a day. In that time I made two serious attempts to quit. The first time I lasted 8 months. The second twelve. Between those times I did things like: get gas money from my teenage child because I had spent my cash on cigarettes – and spent his on them too, sold off a set of comic books I had been collecting for several years for about 10 percent of face value, pawned the antique sword my wife bought me for Father’s Day some years back and failed to redeem it.

Can you imagine that. That sword was a gift of love that meant a lot more to me than I can easily describe, and I sold it for cigarettes. Yes, I claimed I needed the money for gasoline or for paying the power bill or whatever, but the truth is, I sold one of my most prized possessions, something I genuinely loved, for cigarettes. That wasn’t the first time.

When I was about 20, I had a hardcover copy of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. Paid $25 for it, the most I had ever paid for a book. Sold it to a bookstore for literally the price of two packs of cigarettes at the time, which would be about ¼ the price of one pack today. When I first started smoking, I could buy a pack at the local chain convenience store for $0.76. I would say things like, “If they hit $2.50 a pack, I’m done.” But, of course, like the fabled frog in the stewpot, I just grumbled and paid the price.

When I was a teen, I used to pay what was at the time exorbitant rates for specialty cigarettes. I remember paying $35 for a carton of Sobranie Black Russians. They were beautiful, black paper with a gold foil tip, triple filter (with charcoal in the middle filter), made with imported Balkan tobacco. They were sophisticated and oh-so-grown-up. I went on one of the few actual dates of my life with someone who thought I was at least 30 years old instead of 17, solely because of what I smoked and how I smoked them – casually, with just the right combination of insouciance and sophistication, lighting them with a plain steel battered Zippo that I struck by flicking against my leg, and closed the same way. I also was served alcohol in the bar that night, without being carded or questioned.

I loved to smoke. That’s the dark secret, I think. I didn’t like paying for them, and I didn’t like having to stand outside in -20 weather to have one, but in the end I really, really enjoyed smoking. If I could take the habit up again right now without consequence, I would do it right now. This minute.

But this isn’t actually about cigarettes. This is about coffee. And why I am afraid of my coffee cup.

In November of 2014, about two weeks after I took up smoking again (after a year without) I continued to ignore the pain in my chest that had been there at varying degrees of intensity for what in retrospect has to have been at least six weeks, but growing steadily worse for the preceding three. But after going upstairs for a cigarette, the pain got too intense for me to play off, and I ended up in the hospital. Three days later I was released with a stent in my heart, a stern admonition that 45 was much too young to be having heart attacks, several new prescriptions, and prohibitions on salt, tobacco… and caffeine.

Now, my love affair with caffeine is longer than my sometimes tumultuous relationship with tobacco. I literally drank coffee at my grandmother’s knee. Spent large portions of my young adulthood staying up all night in 24-hour casual family dining restaurants. I mean, the night I met my wife, after the party we went to Denny’s (with her date) where I wooed her with a Flintstones coloring book, while we drank coffee. Over the last two decades it’s been rare that we didn’t have coffee. When I worked in telemarketing, I once literally bit a coworker because my supervisor didn’t bring me coffee fast enough. Once I got my own office, I had my own coffeemaker – and that was besides the 2-4 energy drinks that I had every day.

I was drinking Mountain Dew by the case as well. When my diabetes was diagnosed, I simply shifted to sugar-free – and continued to mock people who drank decaf. My coworkers down the years have always joked about how much coffee I drank: strong, black, creamy, cappuchino, mocha, latte, iced, flavored, plain, sweet, bitter. It didn’t matter as long as there was lots of it. Weekends at home were pot after pot of coffee. Back when alcohol was an option for me, my favored drink was, you guessed it, Irish Coffee. Or, at least, coffee with some brand of Irish cream liqueur in it. (That night where I got served at the bar at 17? What I was served without question was Kaluha in coffee.)

The night after I was admitted to the hospital, I had classic caffeine withdrawal symptoms. I was offered morphine for the headache, but declined because it seemed a bit out of proportion to the symptoms – I had just had morphine for the first time the day before, and felt like it was something better saved for more extreme pain. I mean, caffeine headache? Not a big deal, I had those all the time.

I had those all the time. I went without coffee/Mountain Dew/energy drinks for a day, and I got that thumping pound behind the eyes. I knew what it meant. I knew the cure – just get me a cup of coffee. Hello, nurse? Can I get a cup of coffee over here? No, not a cup of decaf. A cup of coffee.

Please. Give me a cup of coffee. Please.

Jump ahead three months and a bit. I’ve avoided caffeine, on doctor’s orders. A few people have told me that I seem calmer, but I don’t feel any less anxious and tense. I’m drinking cup after cup of decaffeinated tea – and complaining about it. “I’m going to ask my doctor for a variance,” I tell anyone who will listen. “I haven’t had coffee for three months, so I’m not quite awake yet.” So I go to my appointment, and I tell the doctor that the lack of caffeine is having a negative effect on me. He thinks, for a moment, then twinkles at me. “You can have one” holds up a finger, pointed at the acoustic ceiling tiles “one cup of low caffeine, green tea or something like that. One.”

I smile and point skyward myself, a symbol of great victory. “One”, I repeat, grinning. I feel like I’ve been released from an odious burden.

And I went to work, and did not stop on the way to get a cup of half-caff. And drank decaf tea all night. And made a pot of decaf to have this weekend.

I’m afraid of my coffee cup.

I do not think that I will be capable of controlling myself in any terms other than strict and severe abstinence. When I started smoking again, after a year of not, I went from 0 to a pack in less than a week. The last time I quit smoking, it took about three days to be fully entrenched again.

I don’t have any idea what caffeine will do to me if I start using it again. Clearly there is some physical risk, because if there wasn’t, my doctor would have said “Drink all you want.” I’ve had days in the past where my heart pounds like a pigeon trying to escape the dark cavity of my chest, because of too much caffeine (it was in high school, and involved taking my caffeine in tablet form rather than in a beverage). How much is too much, now that I have a piece of titanium shaped like the spring from a ballpoint pen residing in my frontal cardiac artery? Can I drink just one cup of low-caffeine beverage?

I don’t think I can. I’ve given up other things without significant difficulty, because I didn’t have a problem with them that reached anywhere near the level of addiction. I eventually quit smoking cigarettes, because I was presented with the Addict’s Choice: Keep using and die, or quit using and just maybe live. That was what it took to get me to quit smoking. $7.80 a pack when I had no income didn’t stop me, having to go outside to smoke in brutal Minnesota winter didn’t stop me, my kid’s teachers wrinkling their noses because his coat reeked of tobacco didn’t stop me. Almost dying, lying in a hospital bed for 3 days with no certainty that I would ever get out of it again? That was what it took. And they told me no salt, no caffeine, no cigarettes.

I cut down on my salt. It’s hard, but I can do it. I’m still taking in a lot more salt than They would like, but three months ago They told me I couldn’t have butter either, and that’s good for me now. I have not had a cigarette since The Last One. It was a Marlboro Black, strongly flavored, and I finished it in spite of the pain in my chest and down my left arm. And I’ve stayed away from caffeine.

But if I start drinking it again, I am afraid that I will do the same damned thing I have done all my life: I’ll build a tolerance in a short time. And I’ll start drinking all I want, because hey, it’s not affecting me, and it takes two cups for the headache to go away, and my heart’s just pounding because of the blood thinners. And then I’ll tell myself that I can handle it, shows what They know, like butter and eggs.

And then I’ll light up. And that would be the death of me. Because of a lousy stinking cup of coffee.

I’m afraid of my coffee cup. And, like any other addict covering up the tracks he’s leaving on the banks of that river fabled in story and song, I lied. I said “this isn’t about cigarettes, it’s about coffee.” But it’s not.

I am afraid of my coffee cup because it sits next to the ashtray. And it always has.

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