Fasting into the light

The coroner said she was unusually healthy for a woman her age. Sixty. My mother had reached retirement age with barely a whisper of a health problem. But that didn’t stop suicide from taking her away.

As a child, I sometimes guiltily wished I could have a more ‘normal’ mum. She wasn’t like the other Jamaican mums (nor the English or Indian mums, for that matter), who all huddled at the school gates.

Instead, she had a set of preoccupations I hadn’t seen anywhere else.

She would talk about how apples had been sprayed with pesticides and we shouldn’t eat them. She refused to buy a microwave – too dangerous. And when it came time for my rubella vaccination at 11, she point blank refused to let me have it. I remember sitting alone in a classroom while everyone dutifully lined up. Afterwards when they were comparing their puckered arms, all I could say was ‘I’m not allowed to have it’. Those six words were true of SO much.

Yet, amidst all the ‘not alloweds’, we had chocolate, crisps, fizzy drinks. She wasn’t hard-lined on everything. And I now see she was just trying to protect me from what she perceived to be the worst kinds of harm to my health.

It’s been seven years since she died and it’s only now that I truly appreciate the legacy she left me. And had it not been for a detox retreat I attended in early October, I may never have fully integrated or appreciated the good grounding in health she gave me.

Cleansing, learning and letting go

I spent a week at Cortijo Romero in Granada, a rustic retreat centre where Detox International run detox retreats. The daily programme consisted of two enemas, two cider vinegar cleansing drinks, four fruit and / or vegetable juices, two bowls of broth, and 40 – yes, 40! – supplements, aimed to speed up and support the release of toxins.

I’m here having recently become a mum myself.  As mum to nearly three-year-old Savannah, I’ve been plunged into the unknown. As a result, I’ve become a much unhealthier eater, thinking nothing of wine o’ clock and chocolate on busy, stressful days.

Until now that is. For the six weeks prior to the retreat, I followed a pre-cleanse diet of no meat, fish, wheat, dairy, sugar or processed food. And no dear reader, I’m not a saint, so I of course succumbed to the odd giant bag of crisps that would feed a family of six, and got up in the middle of the night to inhale a chicken leg.

But I’ve detoxed. Stuff came out literally and figuratively. I released emotions, gained mental clarity and am trusting more in my intuition to guide my decisions.

But it was during the talks held by the resident nutritionists and health experts that I finally realised the gifts my mother had given me. The quirks I thought were weird are what forward thinking doctors now advise. She saved me a huge toxic load with the teenage, no vaccine rule. Forcing me to eat Jamaican Saturday soup was a gift (albeit, a hard to swallow one), as was her sudden refusal to even entertain the notion of cow’s milk or caffeine. Both irrefutably bad in her book.

A truly holistic programme

The Detox International programme was holistic, fusing the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Each day began with body brushing and yoga. And outside the core regime of drinks, pills and enemas, there was a gifted, radiant team of therapists and body workers who provided extra support.

There were 21 of us on the retreat. Four men and 17 women, all different ages, nationalities, sizes, shapes, histories and backgrounds. The youngest 22, the oldest 67 – I think. But we were all joined by a common humanity and we formed an unlikely bunch, united in laughs, tears and the power of shared experience.

On a physical level I wanted to feel fit and healthy, to feel like myself again, and lose the last bits of stubborn baby weight. But I got much more than that. I feel like I got a fresh start. I now feel at peace with my mother’s passing.

Celebrating a successful week

We closed the retreat with what’s called a completion ceremony. We all sat in a circle on large blankets and in the middle there was a candle arrangement, and one lit tea light for each of us.

There was a small bowl of crystals – everything from rose quartz to black onyx. We passed the bowl around and were instructed to let one ‘choose us’. Then we each held our crystal between our palms and energised it with the memories of the week.

Finally, we shared something with the group – anything we liked. But not in rote order according to where we were sitting. Instead, it was ‘popcorn-style’ where whoever felt compelled to talk, talked. There was a lot of gratitude, some tears and some deep, personal sharing.

And then there was laughter and hugs, and finally dancing to Pharrell’s Happy, UB40s Red, Red Wine, and to Bob Marley and other assorted lovelies.

Most people left to the sanctuaries of their rooms, but there were a die-hard few who partied on, infusing the retreat with Merengue and Latin vibes, with love and laughter.

The power of humanity

The next morning, at Malaga airport, and on the flight, I am reminded of humanity.

In the queue at Starbucks, I spot a five euro note next to the man in front of me, who was with his wife and teenage daughters.

“Excuse me, is this yours?” He’s not quite sure. It may have fallen out of his pocket but there’s no way of knowing for sure. All I know is that it’s definitely not mine.

“Well since you’ve given me an extra fiver, I’ll buy you a drink – anything you like,” he says. And I happily take him up on his offer.

Later, in the sweltering corridor, waiting for the flight to Oslo, I take off my cardigan and forget to bring it with me when I board the bus to the gate, five minutes’ drive away. I ask the groundsman, standing at the plane if someone can bring it to me. I ask the stewardess too, knowing that I would be absolutely freezing mid-air without it. But neither seem hopeful of its return. After all, the flight was already delayed, and the gate was at least a mile away.

Then, I discover a woman has it – a fellow passenger – who has been walking up and down the aisles of the plane, trying to locate the owner. “You’re an angel,” I tell her.

As I munch my fresh salad with olives and tahini dressing (given to us by the retreat centre as a takeaway), I feel good. I leave with a light heart, and an even lighter bowel – treasuring the gift of life I have been given.

P.S. Thank you to Midi Fairgrieve, Jem Friar, Karen Devine, Anna Begas, Yair Sagy, Ziza Fernandes Sagy and Heath Wilson for guiding us through an amazing week.

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