So Long, Caffeine

IMG_0887As someone who has never been particularly religious (in the traditional sense of the word), nor Catholic (in any sense), I’ve never felt the obligation to “give something up for Lent.”

Well, I’ve decided that this Lent, I’m going to attempt that sacrifice. Not really for religious reasons, but for personal reasons … which I guess, if we’re discussing senses of words, could be the same thing.

I’ve had a love affair with caffeine for almost four decades now. Mostly, it’s been fueled by the need to do something — I need to stay awake to study for an exam, I need to wake up so I can get to work, I need some fuel to write something, etc. And it’s become close to an addiction, because, as we all know, a caffeinated morning is so much happier than a non-caffeinated morning.

But over the years, I’ve also seen that caffeine can have a dark side. increasingly, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to suspect that caffeine, even confined to early in the day, can have effects that last much longer than I’d always assumed. And yes, the notion of “addiction” has always been a troubling one. I know it’s no heroin; and yet, on days when I’ve tried going just a few hours without a cup of coffee, I’ve felt the inevitable headache coming along—a sure symptom of withdrawal—accompanied by the usual uncaffeinated irritability and grogginess … all of which can be quickly cured by a shot of coffee.

So this year, spurred by too many nights of interrupted sleep (It’s now 2:15 a.m. as I write the first draft of this post, for example), I’m going to try ditching the caffeine. It’s more of an experiment than anything else, but it also coincides nicely with the beginning of Lent and the traditional notion of spiritual sacrifice.

I’m not promising anything to myself  or anybody. I may not even make it through one day. There are some significant challenges ahead: an important interview this afternoon at 1 p.m. (WORST possible time!); a deadline Thursday tomorrow; a huge special issue looming next week. But I’m going to give it a shot.

I’m arming myself with herbal teas and ibuprofen. I expect I’ll be drinking a lot of water, and eating a lot of fresh fruit. I will allow myself to drink decaffeinated coffee, even though I know that it often still has traces of caffeine in it. Ditto for hot chocolate. But to regular, strong, black coffee, I’m saying so long.

It’s probably not forever. Maybe when they roll that rock back on Easter weekend I’ll become a coffee drinker again, if I haven’t succumbed to my addiction before then. Or maybe I’ll decide I like the no-caffeine life, and never touch the stuff again. Possibly I’ll decide on some moderate compromise, like a limit of one cup a day.

But the goal now is to make it through today, and then through this week, and then through the month, and then through Lent (fun fact: I had always assumed—without ever bothering to count for myself—that Lent was 40 days, to coincide with Jesus’ 40 days in the dessert. I was wrong; do the math yourself). Whether I’ll learn anything, or whether this sacrifice will make me a better person, I can’t say now. But I ask for your understanding, your sympathy, your prayers (if you got ’em), if I seem a little slow and cranky for the next few weeks. I’m workin’ on it, Lord.

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