My early days with my great love, Diet Coke.
Yesterday, while I was typing at my desk, I started experiencing an uncontrollable shaking in my fingers. My tips would not point to the right keys even though my mental faculties were trying to direct them. And as my shaking continued for about a minute, all I could think about as I kept on hearing my nails against the keyboard was “What the hell is wrong with me?” Since I’ve been back from Everest, I’ve often felt a numbness and tingling in my fingers. On another occasion, my fingers were shaking so badly that I couldn’t finish an e-mail on my iPhone and couldn’t send it.
A quick scan on WebMD led to a self-diagnosis of the early onset of MS. I called my friend whose father is head of a major neurological practice and said I needed to come in and told her my symptoms. She said she’d get back to me with the name of a specialist in MS and get me in right away. I then called my older sister, who’s a surgeon, to ask if she remembered any history of MS. Negative. “I get these tremors, Abby, and my hands will not stop shaking. Sometimes, I can’t even feel the ends of my fingertips,” I said, very concerned, into the phone. “You don’t have MS. You have stress, and you drink way too much Diet Coke. Lay off the Diet Coke,” she snapped back, as if I really were her patient at Northwestern. If you opened my body right now, you might find veins of Diet Coke rather than blood.
There are few things I love more than the taste of that carbonated brown beverage, aka Diet Coke. In college, when my roommate did the Coke/Pepsi challenge, I was the only one of 100 candidates to identify all 15 times if it was Diet Coke or Diet Pepsi. There was never any hesitating, “That’s DC,” I’d respond.
I can’t really remember when I started drinking it. But I was young, maybe three. The picture above is from my parents’ (my mother to my stepfather) wedding, and I am toasting them with a tall glass of Diet Coke. Most friends I know went through a phase when they drank regular Coke and then switched to Diet Coke when they realized they were packing in a whopping 120 calories per 8 oz. serving. I didn’t do it for the calories because when I was younger I just thought you peed them out. I did it for the taste. Just for the taste of it.
In boarding school, I used to go the Market Basket in Concord, N.H., every Saturday to buy two twelve-packs that would barely last me for the week. Tara, my best friend in high school, often said, “You think you should lay off the Diet Coke.” I thought no way in hell. If I hadn’t been so over-caffeinated, I’m not sure I would have stayed awake enough to produce the grades required to get into an Ivy League institution. I know my first book was completely fueled by Diet Coke. Someone joked to me that I should have an IV drip of it while writing and, honestly, I didn’t think it’d be a bad idea except I couldn’t taste it. And, oh, how I love the taste.
I prefer Diet Coke in small glass bottles. They seem to preserve the carbonation the best for the small amount; plus, I find the glass gives off less of a taste than, say, the aluminum can. The can is my least favorite for DC storage, because by the end the bubbles are gone, and I feel I can always taste Periodic Table of Elements Al in my drink. I can take the plastic bottles, but I think they are inferior to glass. But when dispensed out of a soda gun, this method can also provide me with my Nirvana.
Over the years, I’ve been a girl who’s been lucky enough to receive diamonds, even a limited edition Warhol print, but no gift has ever brought me to more tears than when I received my own soda gun. My boyfriend at the time had asked me while we were on vacation in the Caribbean, “What’s one luxury you’d want to have when you grow up?” Without hesitation I replied, ”I’d want my own Diet Coke dispenser.” A few weeks later for my birthday, I received my own soda gun assembled from parts he had scoured Ebay for. Through his network, he even got someone to send up the syrup from Atlanta, and I had my very own Diet Coke gun to dispense that liquid joy whenever I wanted. I was a mess of tears.
I drink a lot of Diet Coke. I drink a lot of caffeine. My day begins with a tall, nonfat, extrahot latte at Starbucks followed by a 12 oz. bottle of Diet Coke all before noon. I’ll have another Diet Coke with lunch, usually dispensed from the fountain where I’m eating. Then around 2 p.m., I head back to Starbucks for a tall, nonfat, no water, with foam, extrahot chai latte (don’t you want to stand behind me in line next time?). Then I have another 12 oz. bottle around 4 p.m., and I usually have it again with dinner. I drink water throughout the day too. I drink a lot, which is why I’m also a peeing machine throughout most of my waking hours. I probably have at least six servings of DC, if not more each day.
This is probably more Diet Coke than I’ve ever had. And it’s due to stress and so much that is going on in my life. It’s my smoking if you will and my comfort blankey. But I’ve noticed as the clock winds down on my twenties, you just can’t do these things anymore without any consequence to your body. You can’t eat half a roll of cookie dough and not gain weight. You can’t drink four glasses of Veuve and not feel awful the next day.
I’ve tried to give up Diet Coke before, and I went to club soda for years. But like a tormented lover that won’t leave me, DC came back. And that first sip was better than even really great ex-sex. But I can’t have my hands trembling, and I can’t be on the verge of thinking I’m experiencing the onset of early MS (which, by the way, is marked more by double vision and extreme weakness). And so the time has come when I need to give up this thing. There are so many other reasons to quit this drug. I’ve read studies that indicate your body reacts the same to the Aspartame as it does to sugar. My old boss tried to convince me that it was eating at my stomach lining. Of course, there will be times that I could have it once a week. Moderation is always the key to anything. But at least for the near future, Diet Coke and I will have to take a long break. Much like when you first break up with an ex. And it’s never easy.