It has been 20 days since I last sipped a real cafecito. My hands are shaking, my head hurts, and my family thinks I am crazy. My mornings are empty and my hands long for a hot glass of something to fight the blistering A/C that they blast into the Fusion newsroom.

Caffeine, and all things that contain it, like chocolate, are now off limits to me. But at the halfway mark between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday, why does it feel like I’m living in hell?

Weddings and deaths aside, I haven’t set foot in a church in at least ten years. But this year I made a sporadic decision to observe the Lent tradition for the first time, even though as a child I hated the mere concept of it. A friend down the street who had the video games would have to stop playing them for 40 days a year, and to my young mind the tradition seemed masochistic. Why would you stop something that feels so good, and by all accounts, is good for your social life?

Today I am asking myself some of those same questions.

As a religious non-observer, I decided to give up on caffeine for a few reasons, the first of which is because I have always been fascinated at the dedication of Muslims who celebrate Ramadan, and this seemed like a diet version of just that. The second reason is that while I am an individualist, I know there is something sacred and special about communal experience that is severely lacking in secular society. And lastly, I decided to do it because I needed a good reason to exercise my self-discipline.

The thing about believing in nothing is that nothing is off limits. And while that might make for a good bumper sticker philosophy, it can also lead to living in a bubble where you never question your actions, or bother to contemplate the meaning of the things you do.

Dropping caffeine from my diet has forced me to reevaluate almost everything that I take for granted as a coffee loving citizen. Regular thoughtless (and dare I say reckless) decisions now give cause for self-reflection and careful study of ingredients lists. It has slowed me down and made me second guess my own motivations for loving caffeine so much. Is it the culture of coffee to which I subscribe to, or the coffee and all of its deliciousness itself?

The answer is somewhere in between. I was brought up in a Cuban-American household where the passing of the day is measured not in hours, but coffee breaks. Not to participate in the preparation or enjoyment of the coffee is to not take part in the central ritual of the home.

But while I miss drinking the stuff for that reason, the ability (and flexibility) that observing Lent has given me to say ‘no’ is surprisingly empowering. No matter how much I love coffee and the culture that grew up alongside it, this is an ongoing effort to exert control over my personal life, by addressing one of the most socialized parts of it.

Overall, it seriously sucks, but I can see that it is worth it. If I can change a habit I developed over the course of fifteen years overnight, then I know there is little that I can’t accomplish if I put my mind to it. And the fact that I know millions of others are right there with me, addressing the issues and vices in their lives together, makes me feel a little better about the process. I might be going through my particular struggle on my own, but I am by no means by myself in the fight, and that makes a big difference in how I cope. This worldly conscious is the very essence of the good part of collectivism, with none of the bad parts that have turned me off of religion in general.

Today I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I can confidently tell myself that life without caffeine would be decidedly different– and not necessarily as bad as I imagined it.

Ramadan, I’m coming for you next. And one last thing– thank God for decaf.

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