Since that feels like a very tall order, I thought I'd start my "catch-up" exercise by writing about something was very definitely not on my original list, but was added by my students -- Give Up Diet Coke. I think only a fellow Diet Coke addict can know what a big deal this one is. I've had a 1-2 liter a day habit since high school. That's about 30 years of daily diet soda drinking, beginning with one as my breakfast beverage instead of coffee. I drank it with meals, and while I was working in my office. I always had a supply of coins so that anywhere I went I knew I could get one from a vending machine if I wanted to. I used to make sure I had some for road trips, and during my grad school days, it was the first thing I'd have in the morning when I got up and the last thing I drank at night before I went to bed And then on February 26, 2014, I just quit, and haven't had one since. Simple as that.
I had "given up" Diet Coke a few times before. It is hard to get in sub-Saharan Africa (though regular Coke is literally more accessible than water in many places there), and there have been a few trips to Tanzania where I had to go without for a week or two, until I got back to an urban area or the airport. I also made a major switch back in 2002 when we founded the Saint Michael's College of the Student Global AIDS Campaign, and the inaugural campaign of the group was called "kick Coke off campus" (part of a successful effort to force Coca Cola to make good on a hitherto empty promise to provide HIV treatment for all the sub-Saharan employees of the "Coke family"). In that case, "giving up" Diet Coke simply meant switching the same level of consumption to Diet Pepsi, and when the campaign was over, I was equally addicted to both, and not interested in giving up either.
I think I had pretty much decided that I was okay with this as my Big Vice, and might have stayed with that decision indefinitely, until some of the students of SGAC inadvertently made an intervention. We were having a brainstorm about future campaigns, and began discussing the reasons we still found Coke's presence on campus (and its products globally) highly problematic for a group that supports global health and human rights, As we began discussing the possibility of another Coke Campaign, the students turned to me and pointed out that this time I would have to really give up Diet Coke. Something clicked, and I agreed. Lent was a week away, so I decided to think of it as something I was giving up for Lent, but starting a week early. I decided to start right then and there, and I haven't had one since.
The first couple weeks were tough, but actually I had thought they'd be much harder. I applied a few of the lessons I'd learned elsewhere including the original year of the 52. They were:
1. accountability: telling everyone you know you're going to do something may be a little self-involved, but it sure does work.
2. support: soliciting advice works, too. I wasn't the first person to ever try to give up this habit, and lots of people had great advice, and support. My friend Lilly even sent me a tea set and teas to substitute for my DC habit in my office.
3. one day at a time. The cliché is true. It's much easier to do things for a day than to imagine doing them for an entire lifetime. To my amazement, the one time I attempted to cheat, during Finals Week when I was sitting in my office grading and feeling sorry for myself, I went down to the vending machine and bought a diet soda (Diet Dr. Pepper, I think). It tasted like a bunch of chemicals and after drinking about half if it I poured the rest down the sink.
4. if you think you can or you think you can't, you're right. For 30 years, I thought I needed Diet Coke. It was a huge part of my daily habits and rituals. Turns out I was wrong. All I needed to do was figure that out. Before that it seemed impossible. After that it seemed straightforward. It really is all in our heads. Really.
So, that's the report on New Thing #9. Now to catch up on the other 43!