Since I was a kid, I hated the smell of coffee.
My dad would wake up way before the sun and make a pot of coffee. The burnt aroma wafting through the house. “The Best Part Of Waking Up” to him WAS the Folgers in his cup. The metal can popped open. The scooped out dried powder into the white filter.
He would sit in the light of the kitchen and read his Bible at 5am before he’d head out to the garage to work or to a neighbors to build a porch or to plow snow for extra cash so the local college professors and staff could get to work.
A little coffee mug sat on the counter next to a coffee pot that would be waiting for him when he got back.
He’d make it at 5pm sometimes after a nap. He worked hard and needed that coffee.
My mom would always make a face when she came downstairs in the morning and smelled the coffee. She was a late night person while my dad was an early morning person. She’d stay up to watch the weather at 11pm and my dad would be asleep by 8. He’d be up before the sun and she liked to sleep until 8am if she could.
It wasn’t until I was well out of the house that my mom started drinking coffee. I’m not even sure why she started. 20+ years of smelling my dad’s and somehow she decided it was time. He’d make a pot of Folgers and leave a little in the bottom for her. When she woke up, it was just enough to mix some sugar in and drink before she went to work. When they had a microwave (which was short-lived), she’d warm it up and make another face as she drank it.
If you were to ask me as a kid, coffee was gross. It smelled bad. It tasted bad. It did nothing good for you. I had no idea why anyone would drink coffee.
When I was a kid, I didn’t have a good relationship with sleep.
I was an insomniac from a young age and would stay up late making up stories, dreaming up big ideas, and reading. When I had my own room, I’d press my little metal desk lamp into a pillow so it would give me a sliver of light and not show under the door. (I burned the cover of more than one embroidered pillows reading at night.) When I did actually sleep, I’d have panic-inducing nightmares called night-terrors – so I kept myself from sleeping by keeping myself entertained.
I didn’t need caffeine – and I didn’t sleep. It’s like my brain was wired on. I never took naps and I didn’t get tired.
It wasn’t until I became a full-time entrepreneur that I was really introduced to coffee. About two years into my branding agency, one of my coworkers got me a caramel latte. The sugar, the frothy milk – it was so delicious. Starbucks sugar coffee was my gateway drug to real coffee.
The caffeine did nothing for me, but the coffee habit was in full motion. I loved getting a latte and sipping it while I worked.
Over time – just like my palate for wine – my coffee palate changed and became more refined.
When I was in Bali, I learned from a local roaster about roasting beans, about organic growing, and about the grinding your own beans. I learned how to love coffee. I learned the health benefits of coffee. I fell in love with local coffee shops – you would never find me anywhere near a Starbucks.
That was the same year three different healing professionals told me separately and without provocation that something happened to me when I was three to cause me not to sleep. I dismissed the first two because I truly believed I had been born an insomniac based on the stories my mom would tell me about never napping as a baby or toddler.
When the third healer asked me to ask my mom if something traumatic happened when I was three, I finally did.
At first, she pondered and said, “not that I can think of.” And then – “Well, you were in a car accident when you were three, but nothing happened to you.”
In 1983, we were in my dad’s 1950’s GMC pickup truck without seatbelts. A woman in a small yellow car turned in front of my dad and we T-boned her car. Our truck was fine – she and her car were not. I was in my mom’s arms when we hit the car – and although there wasn’t any physical evidence of trauma, my developing brain shifted.
It wasn’t until 35 years later that I would find out I’d been suffering from mid-brain trauma almost my whole life. It meant that my fight-or-flight response was turned on 80% of the time – which is the polar opposite of what it should be.
I was awake for the better part of 35 years. Of course I didn’t need coffee to wake up or stay awake. My brain was keeping me awake – letting me know to be on high alert all the time.
It wasn’t until I found the root cause and started working on my own healing that I was able to start sleeping. And along the way, my night terrors ended.
My husband is a professional sleeper. He can fall asleep in two minutes flat and stay asleep for 12 hours. He can sleep through an entire international flight if he puts his mind to it. We have very different sleeping schedules, but he caters to my sleeping needs since he can sleep anywhere.
After my husband and I got together, we became coffee snobs. He needs his coffee and I just love it. We got a coffee maker that grinds our beans fresh and makes espresso-based drinks. It’s a ritual now.
I am still working on healing my brain – and probably will be for the rest of my life – but I am also very aware of the stories we make up.
The stories about why we do and don’t like certain things. The stories about why we are the way we are. The stories of our traumas and our joy. We all have them, yet most of us have no idea where they come from – or even take the time to see how they fit into our lives. Or even if they do anymore.
I still don’t need coffee – I just really like it. I like to wake up before the sun, make my perfect cup of coffee, and turn on a lamp in the living room to write while my husband sleeps.
And we take our own coffee over to my dad’s house now. Yes, he still drinks Folgers from a can in a coffee maker that sounds like a really loud dishwasher. And yes, my mom still drinks the last of his coffee.
Think about your little everyday stories. The ones that make you who you are – and then ask yourself why those stories matter. Or why they don’t. Ask your family for stories – or even ask them what happened – or why things happened the way they did.
“Finding, acknowledging, and giving a voice to my stories has felt overwhelming, even suffocating at times. Two months later and I find myself s t i l l in chapter 1. I hope there’s no exact formula to this process because this particular formula seems a little crazy but here I am- processing and grateful.” – Londa Sherwood-Austin, Rockstar in SPEAK With Confidence
If you don’t ask, you won’t find out. And your story matters.
STORY PROMPT: What are your first memories of coffee?
(Share in the comments or tag me wherever you share your story.)