Sometimes it’s the little things that get you. Mine is that bottle of Coca-Cola. Ahhh, that instant rush upon that first slurp, which is soon followed by the birthing notes of satisfaction and then the relief in a predictable *burrrrppp*! Excuse me! I can now think clearer. All charged up, I now want to attack that fearsome to-do list. There’s a spring in my step, a sparkle in my eye, except the effect is temporary, the illusion omnipotent. The bottom always falls out, and there is always a speedy slump to even deeper depths than before I could open the pet bottle. It was a small, occasional hookup, but unknowingly now find myself deep in bed with Coca-Cola. Ooohh mammaaa…!

Post a long tiring day at work, when the sun is still high in the sky, beating down on my head so hard like a professional baseball player hitting a home run, the idea of an ice-cold drink is extremely appealing. Walking to Reliance Smart, the biggest and the nearest convenience store, with my mouth dry, my hand automatically reaches for Coca-Cola. What started as an occasional trip to the store to quench my thirst, has now become a weekly routine. It got to the point that I started buying the 2.5-litre bottle to save myself from the frequent trips.

It’s a wonder I haven’t yet been banned from Reliance for purchasing weapons-grade quantities of the stuff. I have a brand of choice, and yet I always prefer drinking straight up from the bottle for maximum coolness. Never from a glass, and never to be saved for later. My love is true: Planting my lips on the neck of the bottle feels like an extended kiss! And I live for that “ppp-sheeewww” sound that accompanies every time a new bottle is being celebrated! The happy bubbles! The sugar rush! A bottle alone is enough to turn a crummy moment around.

As a fellow working on a modest stipend of INR 16,000 a month, this is becoming a costly habit, but I cannot instantly taste any cheaper or alternative brands of cola. It has to be Coca-Cola, none of that Bisleri Spyci shite. Pepsi is occasionally welcome, but drinking Pepsi in a world that harbours Coca-Cola seems asinine to me. You should never settle for the second-best. I cannot crave the dull taste of water; instead, the bubbly intensity of a freshly opened bottle of Coca-Cola.

Taking the empty bottles down to our nearest neighbourhood kachra dabba has now become my weekly walk of shame: these discarded plastic bottles squeezing around in an oversized bag remind me that I am out of control. For months now, I have been trying to justify my act of every now and then sipping on a bottle of Coca Cola, which otherwise one would call an addiction, in many ways; my primary rationale being that the black stuff seems so innocent, and harmless.

Coca-Cola is my one and only vice, and doesn’t everyone deserve to have one of those? As far as bad habits went, my dependency on the beverage certainly didn’t make me special. The company sells around 1.9 billion servings in more than 200 countries on any given day. Admittedly, as with any toxic relationship, it can often feel impossible to let go of the irrefutable logic of your one true love. Now with summer at its peak, I have been drinking a lot of it, even though it evidently cools off by the time I make it home.

I see my problem reaching critical mass: How indulging in the tipple puts me in a good mood, for all of an hour, before transforming me into a vexed curmudgeon who cannot then even get herself to throw away that empty bottle.

I see how Coca-Cola is fuelling my life, and how without it I was anything but a lazy sloth. Why not just drink in moderation? I hear you ask. Well, on the outside, moderation seems to be a nice word. But for me, the trouble with moderation is that the boundaries are quite fuzzy. Or simply put, I do not know where to draw the line or what should the rules be. If I previously guzzled down an entire bottle in one go, is moderation drinking it through the course of the day? Or once a week? How many bottles do I have to sacrifice? You can see why this won’t work out for me! *Sobs uncontrollably*

By now, I figured out my trips to Reliance had a lot to do with reigniting my love for Coca-Cola. I need a rehab centre away from my corner store and from all the other nearby convenience stores. And I had the perfect moment to bust out of my routine: I was going to Udaipur for India Fellow mid-point training for 15 days. There, I wouldn’t find the time to go Coca-Cola-shopping. I thought I would be able to go through the breakup in my little room far away from my ex’s siren song of sweet relief. Sure enough, after coming back home, I was off the stuff.

Here’s the problem: I hadn’t laid any groundwork that would help me navigate the difficulties of my Coca-Cola abstinence once I was back in my day-to-day life. I assumed I’d breeze by any coolers of the drink I came across. But as soon as I had my first day back to the grind, I was back in the warm (pun-intended) arms of Coca-Cola.

Since my first attempt failed, I needed to get tough. And the tough roll into their jammies and sit in front of a screen browsing through documentaries after documentaries about the effects of sugary soft drinks on our bodies. I have always been vaguely aware of the negative side effects and cultural inappropriateness of drinking any type of soda, especially the coloured ones, but these films had a strong effect. I learned how after a few minutes after drinking soda, its exorbitant caffeine content settles in the system, sending my blood pressure through the roof and forcing my liver to dispense more sugar into the bloodstream!

I started seeing my future roll out on the screen before me: rotten teeth and rolls of fat. And brain scans of soda-addled hyperactivity! Horrifying!

I’ve also been trying to draw inspiration from one of the most recommended books, Charles Duhigg’sThe Power of Habit. After reluctantly reading it, I managed to make sense of “the habit loop” or the unconscious cycle of habit – cue, routine, and reward. Since I’ve been trying to track mine: Long day at work > need to reward myself > sugary goodness of Coca-Cola to the rescue. The next step, according to Duhigg is to try hacking into it, which he says is achievable by keeping the same behaviour and reward but mixing up the routine.

This led me on to swapping the soft drink for dark chocolate, coffee and also buttermilk. While buttermilk could still pass off as healthy, the other two don’t. But then at least it has now become my starting point. There were days I would find myself standing in front of a cooler talking myself out of the temptation. And then at times, I’ve even given in. Though I’v resorted to drinking considerably less.

If you are able to enjoy the brand responsibly, that is great. I cannot, because the consequences of participating are too great for me – mentally and physically. I need to look after myself, and foregoing Coca-Cola is one way of doing that.

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