Stuff & Things

Can you undo a decade's worth of liver damage in a single week?

I Nearly Killed Myself Finding the Cure for Hangovers. This is How I Recovered.

Eight years ago I started working on a book about hangovers.1 I was in my mid-30s, and in reasonably good health. Sure I drank a bit too much and had fostered some other questionable habits, but I also worked out, played squash three times a week, and had a decent amount of energy.

Now, upon finally finishing that book, I am a goddamn wreck —  50 pounds heavier, always tired, deeply in debt, with high blood pressure, stomach ulcers, a fully saturated liver, and dubious mental health. The simplest things feel strenuous.  Also, now I am in my mid-40s.

I understand that using your own body as a test case for the repercussions of excessive toxic consumption for the better part of a decade is not advisable, health-wise. But now that I’ve mostly survived, the question I’m faced with is how to undo years of blatant debauchery in as quick and mindful a way as possible.

Although the health and wellness industry is apparently booming these days, it’s not as easy to find a place to start as I imagined. I talk to various pathic practitioners, health gurus and boot-camp leaders — all of whom are eager to help, but not in a way that coalesces with the very specific ideas I have regarding how I can possibly be helped. I decide that, rather than trying to make changes to my day-to-day life, what I really need is a new one — or at least somewhere to go and pretend.

If I were some kind of gal in British Columbia, rather than me in Toronto, there’d be several holistic retreat options for me. As it is, I find a place called Grail Springs, near Bancroft, Ont., and book a stay.

I don’t really know what to expect, but on the day I’m to drive to Grail Springs there are no economy cars left at the rental place, so they’re forced to hand over a new model BMW for the agreed-upon cheapo rate. I take this as a very good sign. My new, pretend life is already beginning.

And then, while driving through the hilly sunlit forests to reach my lakeside destination, the sense of optimistic, health-filled fairytale is almost overwhelming. I hadn’t quite parsed the name of this place, but upon arriving, it is clear; in addition to the fundamental theme of wellness at Grail Springs, there is a whole narrative backdrop about the medieval quest for the Holy Grail.

The retreat centre has been designed to look like a castle, complete with towers, turrets and even a slowly drifting flowery moat. My room is princely and lush, opening onto a balcony that overlooks the lake. It all feels opulent, peaceful, and much less cheesy than one might imagine. After so many years of eating, drinking and carousing like a lord, I am ready to embrace the more measured, ascetic aspects of castle life.

My first visit is with the lady of the realm. Madeleine Marentette is the holistic, business-savvy high priestess who created Grail Springs. She has radiant eyes, golden flowing hair, and a famously healing touch. She is, among other things, a raja yogic teacher, a soul coach, a and a bestselling author. We barely speak the same language, and yet somehow we get along immediately.

She asks what I’d like to focus on during my stay. I assume I could do with some high-level detox, but also I’m up for anything.

Lady Madeleine smiles at this, and lists some of the treatments available at Grail Springs, including Crystal Light Bed Healing, Raindrop Therapy, Fire and Ice Cell Renewal, Axiatonal Alignment, Chakra Balancing, Elemental Alchemy, Colon Hydrotherapy, Moon Cycle Massage, and Bio-Energy Photography.

“In fact,” she says. “Why don’t we start with that?”

The next three days are among the most ridiculously healthy of my life. They involve guided meditations, infrared saunas, Swedish kinetic massage, Austrian mud elixirs, kundalini yoga, lymphatic dry brushing, crystal bowl sound journeys, and a heckuva lot of juice.

According to Marentette, Bio-Energy Photography is the result of “new scientific technology that allows us to capture a visual image of your chakra levels.” Apparently chakras,  which represent our “life force energy,” emit an electromagnetic frequency that fractures into seven different shades of light. In this way, when I press the front of my hand against a sort of space-age palm-reader on Marentette’s desk, bright-coloured lights begin to form and pulse across a rendering of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man on the computer screen before us.

After a minute or so, Marentette captures the image in stasis and prints a photo of my bio-energy. Then, using cutting-edge software, she does an assessment of my chakras. There’s a lot of green, indigo and violet — suggesting “high degrees of spiritual, emotional and intuitional intelligence.” The intelligence of my “mind, feelings and communication” is more mid-range, while the Red Root Chakra, containing my body’s intelligence centre is at a miserable 35%.

“Not all that bad,” says Marentette, beaming. “But we do have a lot of work ahead of us.”

The next three days are among the most ridiculously healthy of my life. They involve guided meditations, infrared saunas, Swedish kinetic massage, Austrian mud elixirs, kundalini yoga, lymphatic dry brushing, crystal bowl sound journeys, and a heckuva lot of juice.

Grail Springs has an award-winning kitchen. But as part of my cleanse I stick entirely to their bevy of homemade antioxidant, replenishing juices — in all 7 colours of the chakras. I can feel my pores, organs and third-eye slowly opening, along with my bowels.

By far the most visceral treatment I undergo is the “Ion Cleanse Detox Foot-bath with Oxygen Inhalation Therapy.” This is a process whereby you put your feet in a small tub of water and then an electrical charge is introduced. To me this sounds like yet another test of my low body intelligence, but the spa lady insists it is safe.

According to her, the Ion Cleanse Foot Spa works like this: a dual electrode module placed in the water creates an electromagnetic field which in turn instigates a process of osmosis whereby energized ions in the water draw toxins out of your body through the more than 4,000 sweat glands located in the bottom of your feet. Or something like that.

What I do know is that the water around my feet turns from crystal clear to bilious yellow, to toxic green, to rusty red, to biohazard brown, then finally death-like black. The spa lady happily narrates each new colour as it drifts to the top: “Yeast,” she says. “Heavy metal. Joints. Liver stuff. Tobacco. Cellular particles…” It is like seeing the detritus of the past decade ooze out of me, the flotsam and jetsam of my life curdling to the surface. It sticks to my skin as I shift my feet in this bucket of sludge and slime.

“All of this was inside me?” I say.

“Yep!” says the spa lady, brightly. “And there’s probably a lot more where that came from!” Then she puts the oxygen mask on my face, and leaves me to my thoughts.

In the end, I thoroughly enjoy my stay at Grail Springs. Of course there are moments when the wary reporter in me questions, for instance, how much scientific scrutiny the bio-energy photographs or ionic cleanse footbaths would effectively withstand. But there is no denying how I’m feeling from just a few days of meditation, moor mud, woodland walks and cleansing juices. A wonderful sense of hope and healing pervades all of Grail Springs, and it’s easy to want to believe in it.

The only truly charlatan moment comes during an aromatherapy massage on the morning of my final day. The young masseuse is talkative and open about her honed ability to read people’s lives through their auras.

She speaks in such glowing terms of my innate wisdom, my remarkable education, my overwhelming strengths of leadership, vision and all-round awesomeness, that I nearly start to forget the long chain of bad habits, poor choices, spiritual missteps, toxic decisions and very specific character flaws that have got me to where I am. Her seemingly random version of me is much more attractive.

But then she starts doing this sort of divining thing about the book I’ve just finished. “I am getting a word,” she says. “Puh, Puh-something… Puhlitzer…? I think it’s something you’ll be given…? Does this mean anything to you?”

I want to laugh, but it’s so sad. Still, for some reason, I pretend that I believe, and even tip her accordingly.

Before checking out, I do one more Bio-Energy Assessment with Ms. Madeleine Marentette. It appears most of my chakras are in a more harmonious balance, except for that pesky Red Root one; apparently my body’s intelligence level has dipped even lower now.

“So what does this mean?” I ask, gesturing to the screen.

Lady Madeleine gives a shrug. “Could be any number of things. How do you feel?”

The truth is, I feel lighter, cleaner, more energetic, less toxic, and generally optimistic.

“Actually, pretty good,” I say. “For the first time in a long one.”

“So why don’t we go with that?”

References   [ + ]

1. Not the movie franchise. But the book does mention those films. So…buy it.