Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Real Thing

I am a junkie, though my addiction is socially acceptable. I can drink like a fish, but never compromise lucidity or morality, and I never need a designated driver.

My greatest weakness is 12 fluid ounces, canned in crimson, heavenly just north of icy, and, with “Dynamic Ribbon Device,” has the best logo appellation of any product I know.

I love Coca-Cola. Rather, I LOVE Coca-Cola.

Very little soda was imbibed during my childhood, but the few one-liter glass bottles we did drink are recalled with genuine fondness. Away at college, external restraint was nonexistent; indeed, I owe my degree largely to Coke’s caffeine, which rendered me quasi-alert through scores of veterinary school all-nighters. After graduation my habit lived on; any thoughts of consequences of such liberal consumption were fleeting.

In 1999, I met my dear friend Donna. I encouraged her, successfully, to adopt Russian twins; she encouraged me, unsuccessfully, to adopt healthier beverage choices. Occasionally, she would e-mail me links to articles extolling the benefits of a Coke-free life. I appreciated her concern, but continued heeding signs proclaiming, “Enjoy Coca-Cola.” Once, she sent a study claiming researchers had found that women who drank even one soda a day were 83% more likely to develop type-2 diabetes than those who drank soda less than once per month. With my aunt a diabetic and a resultant kidney transplant recipient, Donna stoked my fears, though the effect had a fruit fly’s longevity.

My mom harped, too, and offered me a reward to go a month without Coke, betting I’d break my addiction. I selected February, and after collecting my prize, chilled a Coke in celebration.

Coke was my first thought in any crisis. In Moscow last August, suffering the extreme heat wave and acrid smoke, I woke up several mornings feeling smothered by the mask I’d slept in. In a desperate message to Hope, the Lighthouse Project director, I fretted about the smell, my smoke-induced panic attacks, and how Coke proved more helpful than the masks. Hope had before joined the cacophony of voices cautioning temperance, but now she instructed me to buy a case and to down a can whenever I was ready to “freak out.” I followed her orders religiously, and muddled through the week with Coke in hand, an omnipresent pick-me-up.

In GUM Mall in November, the kids, soon to go home to the orphanages, licked ice cream cones. As David videotaped, an especially divine sip of Coke reminded me of my favorite Coke commercial, which incited my singing it (video below). During my rendition, a Gucci clerk listened at the entrance to his store. Afterward, he approached me, and with outstretched hand introduced himself, over-flattering me with thanks for the “music.” Professing his love for America, he was surprised I enjoyed Moscow sufficiently to visit eight times. He wondered what drew me here, though since Russians are divided on the propriety of international adoption, I remained noncommittal. Returning to his door, he invited me to sing at GUM again soon.

Back in the States, assorted stressors kept me quaffing Coke. When December mornings started with Coke as breakfast, and my immediate instinct upon receipt of troubling news was to head for the refrigerator, I realized I could change volitionally, or have health foist it on me. Past experience proved if I stopped drinking Coke during the middle of the year, I would, on a whim, give up with a hollow promise to restart tomorrow; hence, my success was twinned with beginning January 1. My sister, anxious to provide incentive, pledged money for each consecutive Coke-less day in 2011, with the money to finance an adoption fund to assist the Lighthouse child of my choice. This was dirty pool, as it demanded my success, no matter how difficult.

I've seen these children, whom I could help, staring at us by the orphanage door as we left with our children, off to our own lives. Zulya and Lora still linger, as their family sells cats and oranges in an effort to get them home. Discovered too late, 15-year-old Svetlana signed documents allowing her brothers to be adopted while she remained behind, on the promise the family would return for her, once they could find the money. Others, like cheery Vasily or HIV-positive Artem, don’t even have families wanting them yet. Failure for the sake of an addiction would be unconscionable; children not yet picked from our trips need my strident efforts. Even my own little brood joined in, each making a pledge for every day of “sobriety,” hoping to encourage me and the orphans.

December 31 was a five-Coke day. As I opened the can I knew would be my last, I consciously savored the crack of the tab, the refreshing mist-in-the-face it generated, and the first sip’s assault of carbonation. Coke connoisseurs understand not all vintages taste equally good; this wasn’t a top-flight serving, but finishing at 11:58 p.m., my nostalgia was disproportionate to the quality. Tuning in to the Times Square ball drop with less enthusiasm than most years, I felt immediate panic when “2011” lit up.

The first days were filled with headaches, as several stressful moments shoved me perilously close to snagging one of the two Cokes I spirited away in my refrigerator for comfort, but I never succumbed. Finally last night, I was strong enough to tap my foot along with a Coca-Cola commercial parroting my GUM tune. For the first time, I was not craving Coke as I watched.

I could still enjoy Coca-Cola, I’ll admit, but I feel a burgeoning sense of power. I could take one from my refrigerator. Now, I don’t have to. This time, it’s the real thing.


I have 28 days Coke-free days down, with 337 to go in 2011, and after that, hopefully, a lifetime of extreme moderation. If you would like to help me kick my habit, and help a deserving Lighthouse child in the process, please contact me at to make your per diem pledge. Flat donations can also be made; checks should be written to “Beyond the Cross Adoption Fund” and mailed to First Assembly of God, 1608 N. Oak Street, Rolla, MO 65401. Please write “Coca-Cola” in the memo line.  All donations are tax deductible, and will be used to support the adoption of Russian children.