Ashley Sexton Gordon

Column: On the wagon

One year ago, I gave up soft drinks cold turkey. I did it on a whim. No harassing by friends, no suggestions by docs. I had a beach trip coming up, and I decided to give up every sip and bite that I loved to consume and see if that made my body more beach ready. It didn’t. But the purge did make me hate the very skin I lived in and forced me to cry in the shower while banging my head against the wall. I could have used some detox meds.

I am a Diet Coke addict.

There, I said it. I love Diet Coke so much that one year later, my mouth still salivates when I drive by a Sonic. “Forty-four-ounce Diet Coke, please, easy ice.” I was one of those.

I would start drinking Diet Coke right after finishing my hot tea about midmorning, and I drank it until late afternoon. This is no lie. I drank it all day long. I zipped about my day on a caffeine high, and I was able to accomplish so much with such joy. Yes, that dark caramel-colored, artificial sweetener-saturated drink brought me joy. Especially when I was able to grab a Diet Coke in a Styrofoam cup with shaved ice.

“That stuff’s gonna rot out your innards,” one well-intentioned stranger once advised me. Nonsense. “You are drinking the nutritional equivalent of urine,” a co-worker remarked. Poppycock. A family member chided, “Diet Coke will deteriorate your brain cells. Your memory will be shot.” I now forget my response.

I quit for none of those rebukes. In fact, I quit in spite of those rebukes—I resent them to this day. If I want to drink urine, then I will drink urine, dagnabbit. Back off. Step away from my straw with your self-righteous stance.

I gave it up one-day-at-a-time just to see if I could.

I’m not patting myself on the back. Like any true addict, I’m just one carbonated sip away from falling off the wagon hard. My real test came about five months in, when I was required to work the concession stand at my son’s basketball game. Me, serving fountain drinks? That’s like asking a recovering alcoholic to bartend, or requiring an Ideal Protein dieter to serve cake at a wedding. We may look normal, but we have a problem, people.

I needed a coping mechanism. I needed a game plan. I resorted to sipping on a supersized iced tea while hanging tight to the nacho machine. I let other volunteers work the soda fountain. One stray dribble of Diet Coke that hit the linoleum may have sent me lapping it up like a yard dog.

A fellow addict confided in me that his recent trip to a local fast-food chain to order his standard Diet Coke brought some embarrassment. “You come here often, don’t you?” the voice on the other side of the monitor asked after his order. He tried to deny the truth. “Yeah, I recognize your voice.” He was mortified. That is, he was mortified until he received a 50% off voucher for life on all drinks at that establishment. Then he was mortified and filled with joy.

I think I deserve my one-year chip.