I have this very, shall we say, well-loved, book (okay, it's seriously bedraggled: dog-eared, pages are coming out of the binding, food stained) I bought many years ago, ten or eleven, after I just happened to push my grocery cart down an aisle and wound up by the vitamins and cookbooks. Something about the cover, with it's fresh herbs and tall glass of juice, leaped out at me. Intrigued, I picked it up. The book is a day-to-day guidebook to doing a twenty-one-day cleanse. I leafed through it there, and, me being impulsive, within minutes started grocery shopping on the spot for the three week cleanse I took the executive privilege of deciding that John and I would embark upon the next morning. Into the cart went apple cider vinegar and fenugreek, aloe vera juice and daikon radishes. I came home later that day with adorable carrot tops and beet greens peeking out of our canvas bags, the stitching on them threatening to rip from the weight of it all, and as we unpacked, John tried to extract more information about what this new endeavor.
"So, what are we supposed to do?"
"We're supposed to do what the book says."
"But what does the book say?" He grunted, struggling to close the produce drawer.
"Oh, whatever. It'll be fun."
It turns out, the book says colonics, which we came to learn was pretty much the opposite of what John considers fun. (How was I to know?) It also says a bunch of days on a raw foods diet, culminating an a two day juice fast, and then two more days raw. John also did not consider this remotely fun. Also not fun: the apple cider vinegar-water mixture before lunch, the two hour waiting period after meals for a drink, liver cleansing juices for five days, which was pretty much like drinking not-particularly good, room temperature salad dressing, and the raw soups with blended alfalfa sprouts in the starring role. John being a small-town-turned-big-city boy, though, he is always up for new experiences and as with so many of my capricious little flights of fancy, he was happy to indulge me just to see where it went. He did the cleanse with me that year, occasionally calling during the day for advice ("Is it okay if I put ice in my wa- no? Sigh. Okay...") and to give me updates ("I drank the juice but I'm totally not doing the wheatgrass shot - I don't care what the book says - that stuff is disgusting.") and he generally kept a positive attitude except for when colonic irrigation day arrived and the hose took with it one the last remaining aspect of John's virginity. At the end of the cleanse, though, he felt light and healthy, as did I. Still, he said to me with a sunny smile and bright eyes but in no uncertain terms, "Just so you know, I am never, ever doing that cleanse again."
So on my own I have been lo these last ten or so years of cleanses, which I tend to do every spring. In April, like clockwork, when I come home lugging grocery bags heavy as if they were carrying bowling balls, filled to the top with burdock root (every bit as enticing as it sounds), hijiki and more lemons than Minute Maid's most productive grove, he says in his low-key way, "So it's cleanse time again?" I nod gravely. "Yep."
The first few years, John saw fit to reiterate that while he would continue to love and support me, there was no way he'd submit to such torture again; now he trusts that I won't ask. His reluctance is understandable: it is a bear to get through. Frankly, it works better now that we have a child to have one parent who is not competing in a sort of dietary triathlon. When my friends hear of my cleanse, inevitably they are concerned: "You have to juice fast for two days?"; "Broth for dinner? I don't care how long it lasts, that's like being prisoner in a gulag,"; "What kind of sadist wrote this book? What are her credentials? Is she a dominatrix or something?"; " You're excited that you don't have to drink an oily juice this morning? You have Stockholm's Syndrome, girl, and the tyrant is you." Oh, actually that last thought was one of my own.
So, whatever, it may be cruel and unusual, but it works. I come out the other side really revived and refreshed, my metabolism revved up and everything fine-tuned. You know that expression, working on all four cylinders? That's how I feel when the cleanse is finished, everything humming along optimally. Getting there, though, can be dicey, and it's a little bit like going through the different stages of labor. You think you can't make it - you cry, you beg, you swear you'll die - but if you white knuckle it, you'll make it through to the other side. Along the way, though, there are plenty of dark moments.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the liver is the seat of anger. If so, it would stand to reason that cleansing the liver might also release stored anger. When one is cleansing in general, emotional aspects come up all the time, and I often begin to feel like Sybil-meets-Dharma-meets-Regan from The Exorcist, which basically combines into a Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme-like character, who, I'm sure, is a delightful housemate. John is now accustomed to the vagaries of my shifting moods as we ride the emotional cleanse roller coaster, though, and he's pretty thick-skinned about being reamed like one of those many lemons for "sneezing too loud" or "folding the newspaper wrong." Now that I'm entering my final week of the cleanse - one in which I can eat cooked food and do not have to drink salad dressing for breakfast - I can say that I feel very strong and wonderful. The cleanse works. And there are things I learned from it that I never would have known if I had never done an extended cleanse. For example:
* Hearing someone crunch on pita chips while you consume your "mineralizing" soupe du jour of blended alfalfa sprouts for the third night in a row can inspire violent thoughts.
* Licking one's fingers after eating a vegan ice cream sandwich will make you fantasize of putting the finger licker's precious fingers in your Champion Juicer.
* If the CIA is looking for new torture techniques, have the prisoner sit in a restaurant while the others at his table eat French fries and he has to nurse a room temperature carrot-beet-cucumber juice.
* When you are really, really looking forward to your evening broth because it is ambrosia-like compared to your daily regiment of foul liquids it helps to reinforce the accuracy of that otherwise annoying expression, "it's all relative."
* You think about food almost constantly when you aren't eating any. Your thought pattern is like this: I need to call back Jane. She might be making dinner. I wonder what she's making tonight? Hey, I wonder what I'm making tonight. John can make dinner. Is it really so hard? They can have pasta and garlic bread. Garlic bread. I wonder when I can have garlic bread again. Oh, god, I have to drink that spinach juice for dinner tonight. Somebody shoot me. Shudder. A spinach lasagna would be amazing right now. I would so devour it. I'm filing for divorce if John asks me what day of the cleanse I'm on...
* If you have a six-year-old, he will say things like, "I wish you weren't on a cleanse so you could try this pizza. It's soooo good!" or "Wow, this is the best pad Thai I've ever had." You won't be sure if he's being passive-aggressive or just effusive, but did he always exalt about food this much?
* Even though you're not cooking, you create as many dirty dishes as you do when you are because of the endless array of fluids you have to prepare.
* Going downtown, when it entails lugging your water, tea, juice and broth for the day, can feel like a slow death for your shoulder. It would lobby to be emancipated from you but it's too damn tired.
* Your friends will tempt your resolve by saying things like, "You know, you don't have to do this," like you were under the impression that a black-masked bandit with a gun growled at you, "Go on a cleanse, NOW." You weren't actually laboring under that impression.
*Foods that normally don't excite you take on new qualities of deliciousness in your fantasies. The anticipation of steamed vegetables in a few days rivals what a child would feel about Santa Claus visiting, brown rice with a little drizzle of sesame oil sounds like a decadent Epicurean feast of the highest order. Again, "it's all relative" ricochets through your mind.
So, yay, I'm nearly done, and yippee, my skin looks great, and woo hoo, no liver cleansing juices for another year and hey, does anyone want to meet me at the Chicago Diner as soon as Sunday? I will most assuredly not be ordering a salad.