The Worst Cup of Coffee Was the Best for My Heart
I loved coffee, but it took a lot of soul-searching to enjoy it without it reminding me of what I'd lost
As I sipped my coffee a few weeks ago, skimming the headlines as I normally do, one in particular grabbed my attention. The American Heart Association had just released findings suggesting one or more cups of caffeinated coffee can reduce the risk of heart failure.
Of course, that was good news. Then I snickered to myself, thinking, but what about heartache? Can coffee help that?
It would’ve been too easy. To have a magic potion, even if it came from something as mundane as a coffee pot, that could ease the kind of pain caused by emotions. It’s where the term heartache comes from, because your heart can physically hurt when it’s broken. There has even been speculation Tylenol can help, further underscoring the mind-body connection.
In my case, the pain came from my divorce, and the years of conflict following it. And though coffee had been a staple in my diet, I wondered if it played a role in my healing or hindering of it, at least in the early years.
I love coffee. I always have. But there was a time when I couldn’t drink it. I associated coffee with my marriage. The smell of it coming from our kitchen. The “perfect” cups that brought us together at the start of a busy day. Or the cups that reunited us in the evenings to share our challenges and stories. Then there were the cups filled with anticipation on early morning rides to the airport before family vacations.
Coffee became a reminder of days past, both good and bad. My divorce left me with only one cup — an empty one — and a broken heart. It also left me with a lack of energy and a decreased appetite.
I sought therapy. I leaned on my family and friends. And eventually, like a baby learning to drink something other than their mother’s milk or formula for the first time, I slowly reintroduced coffee back into my diet.
At first, the taste and smell of it sickened me. With every sip came a memory, and then a feeling of loss.
Still, I persisted. At a minimum, I felt I needed the caffeine to wake up, especially during the wee morning hours when I would begin the Christ-centered meditation practice I developed following my divorce. It was when I conversed with God to figure out how I would get through my day. I looked forward to those meditation sessions, and came to associate coffee with them. After some time, I was able to pour a cup without thinking of the past and feeling nauseous.
A second cup — this one also for me instead of the husband I no longer had — after my morning meditation became the reward for opening my heart again, for doing the work to get to the root of what might be bothering me, and setting a positive tone for the day. Instead of allowing the smell and taste of coffee to turn my stomach, I allowed it to nourish me.
But like many people, I still questioned the physical benefits. As a trained dietitian, I have had a long fascination with feeding my body the foods and beverages I love, that also offer nutritional value. As with many indulgences (coffee is definitely one of mine), there is usually conflicting research about their usefulness.
Suffice it to say I was happy to hear about the new study. So happy that I gave myself a personal challenge: to come up with a new “perfect” and healthy cup of coffee.
For weeks, I experimented with different types of coffee, sugars, and milks. After a lot of trial and error, I eventually came up with organic espresso with soy milk and monk fruit as a sweetener. It was healthy and delicious. Even better, it was my own formula, one untinged with memories of past cups and their associations. It was perfect.
Following a wave of anxiety and depression last month, my coffee recipe came to mean more to me than ever before. When I realized I was out of soy milk, I immediately asked my boyfriend to go to the store to pick up some for me. Any coffee lover knows, a bad cup or, worse still, no cup could cause a hiccup in an otherwise great day.
Maybe he forgot, or maybe he didn’t think it mattered, but he came home with sweet cream instead of soy. It was by far the most delicious creamer I had ever tasted. Somehow, my boyfriend had managed to improve on perfection. And in the weeks that followed, my one cup turned into two, which then turned into three, and finally four — all before lunchtime.
My happiness level abounded. Unfortunately, my weight did, too, which increased by five pounds by the end of the week. Middle age can do that for even the most mindful eater, which apparently I wasn’t, since I chose to ignore how many coffee creamer calories I was putting into my body. And why I had no concern for the additional weight.
The reason I didn’t notice, I now suspect, is that my newer, more perfect cup of coffee had another side-effect: it was helping to lift a different kind of weight off me.
During my marriage, I often felt like I had to be perfect — the perfect wife and the perfect mother — which were all according to my then-husband’s definition of perfection. Otherwise, I feared he would leave me.
It was a misconception that likely stemmed from my mother abandoning our family when I was just 14 years old. I feared that if I wasn’t perfect, whoever I was with would leave me, too. That included my husband, who eventually did leave me, despite the perfect cup of coffee, solidifying my false belief.
After weighing myself several days after his purchase, I gave my boyfriend the bad news: the delicious coffee creamer he bought was the wrong one, and I had the pounds to prove it.
Without even looking up from the TV, he said, “So I’ll go back to the store and bring you the one you want. But I have to tell you, you look great.”
Twenty minutes later, he returned with my usual soy milk. And although it didn’t taste quite as good as the sweet cream, the next cup of coffee I made, and those that have since come after, are far better than any I’ve had before.
Tonyah Dee teaches ways to increase inner strength, stability, and confidence through practicing spiritual disciplines and healthy habits daily. She is a nutritionist, registered dietitian (R.D.), and earned her Bachelor of Science degree from Loma Linda University. She has also earned certifications in Christ-centered life coaching, equine therapy, and meditation. Tonyah has studied the Bible and wisdom traditions of the world for the last 30 years.