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At The Colonics Spa, I Gained the Strength to Battle My Dragon

Time to burn some palo santo, open my heart chakra, and get weird.

At The Colonics Spa, I Gained the Strength to Battle My Dragon
Trunk Archive

Los Angeles turned to a dusty mirage as I whipped down the CA-60 toward Desert Hot Springs. On the Tony Robbins podcast, a guest talked about the armored knight confronting the dragon in the lair. In Jungian theory, the dragon hoards treasure. Claiming it (overcoming the dragon) is the hard part, because in order to do so, one must look at themselves, especially the parts they don’t want to see, and become who they most need to be.

I have a dragon, an individual who causes me grief. The dragon isn’t exactly in my life, but they’re not out, either. We’ve had confrontations before, and as I watched the desert highway whipping past the windows, I thought about the latest confrontation that awaited us in the next few weeks.

The podcast offered the idea that people who are awake and alert and act in accordance with the highest ethical principles are aware of such threats and decide to confront them. The last time I confronted my dragon, I coped with Wellbutrin, too much sleep, and picking my lips until they bled. I picked them as I thought about this, feeling fear, disgust, and shame. This time, when I confronted the dragon, I wanted my behavior to be different, stronger, and better, although I wasn’t sure what that meant, exactly.

A pair of gates off a dirt road sealed me into We Care Spa's twenty-acre campus, where I checked into the sprawling executive suite for three nights. I'd read that this place was where Rooney Mara and Joaquin Phoenix met and beloved by Tom Ford, who called a weekend of colonics and fasting "fun." It's a legendary spa known for its colonics, juice fasting, and spiritual programming, and I was ready for some hardcore woo-woo.

I snapped a photo through an oblong window, framing prickly pear cacti, aloe sprays, and the San Jacinto mountains. The consequent phone image had a white orb, making me think of @emilythemedium, an Instagram account assessing orbs. "White orbs are associated with Divine energy, innocence, and purity," Google informed me. A positive sign. I threw on my bone-colored Colorful Standard sweatsuit that gives “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest” vibes and headed into orientation.

Best Intentions

Mari, the shaman, sat sukhasana on a cushion, facing me and five other women in "The Lotus Room," which was the size of an Apple store. She asked us to create an intention while at We Care and write it in our notebooks. I thought about mine: "To get a good story." After all, I was here on assignment. When I pitched my editor the idea of a We Care story, her exact words were, "You had me at colonics;" I had signed up for the full experience, whatever it might be.

I'd also signed the nine pages of consent and disclosure forms before I'd come (PSA: do your research before doing colonics, as there are risks), and even done the "strongly recommended" four-day pre-fast, eating only fruits, juices, steamed vegetables and chickpeas while omitting alcohol and caffeine. I'd also had eight ounces of prune juice, senna tea, and two tablespoons of olive oil each night.

What other intention did I need, anyway? I gave up smoking 15 years ago, all animal products eight years ago, and alcohol a few months ago. After a recent blood test indicating elevated cholesterol, I'd even recently kicked most simple carbohydrates and sugar.

Perhaps my intention could be not to die of embarrassment in the colonics room, I thought. I giggled into my allotted dinner—a cup of hot, puréed zucchini—and took a required enzyme pill called Regulator Plus. I retired to my room to take a bath and go to sleep.

Life in Plastic

After 7:30 a.m. yoga with a delightful teacher who compared a flight-like pose to landing in St. Barths, drinking We Care's proprietary drinks and teas, and lounging by the diamond emoji-blue pool, the clock struck 11. A therapist named Shari greeted me with a warm smile for my first-ever colon hydrotherapy. I told her I was nervous.

"The key is letting go," she said. "Relaxing. Which can be hard for people, especially the first time, because this part of you is the first thing we learn to control."

In case you're also uninitiated, here is the definition for colonics as given in We Care's liability waiver: “During a 45-minute session, a total of approximately ten gallons of filtered and sterilized water flows into and out of the large intestine via a single-use, disposable rectal nozzle.”

While this was happening (and I could see what my body "released," as is the We Care parlance, on the machine), Shari talked about how colonics are the only way the body can clean itself from build-up that may have been lurking inside for a long time. I asked how long.

"Someone once released a Barbie shoe that she remembered eating as a kid," she said, rendering me speechless. "Listen, I'd say it was an urban myth, but the person who said it works here."

When my colonics were over, I thanked Shari, who was a magical angel-nurse.

It's a Metaphor

I called my boyfriend and told him about the Barbie shoe. "It's a metaphor," he said, and when I asked, "For what?" He acted out a scenario of a little girl, angry with her mother, who ate a Barbie shoe, and the shoe symbolized the girl's rage.

I started thinking about everything we, especially women, have absorbed over the years. The literal toxicity built up in our bodies: emotional, political, and sometimes plastic. That idea resurfaced later that day when I met a woman from Toronto who comes to We Care twice a year to "Put Humpty back together again." Most of the guests I met were regulars and single travelers, and one employee told me it's common for women to form group friendships while there and then travel back at the same time the following year.

Later, when I spoke to Susana Belen, We Care's founder, she told me that one couple from Michigan comes every year, sometimes twice. They come every Christmas, decorating their suite with a tree and lights. If you add up all their visits, they’ve spent one full year at We Care. Another woman once stayed for six months.

The place helps people get rid of, um, stuff they don't need, and people swear by it.

Founding Mother

Susana Belen came to New York City from Buenos Aires in 1956 at 18. A few years later, she was married with four kids and living in Palm Springs. She and her husband divorced. She wouldn’t see him again for ten years. She was 30 years old and panicked.

A friend recommended she see a local chiropractor who had a colonic machine. He put Susana on juices and teas and gave her a schedule to prepare at home. "Two weeks later, I was a totally different person," Belen told me. "I could smile; I could talk instead of cry. I said to myself, there's something magic about doing this. And I read every book I could, learning about the vegetarian diet and yoga."

She was also looking for spiritual reasons for why everything had happened, and a few years later, she ended up at a retreat in Montana. She was walking through Yellowstone, and a thought struck her: "You need to go home and teach yoga." At that point, she had only attended a few yoga classes.

While also working as a designer for Bullock's department store, she taught herself to teach yoga and convinced a local bank to let her hold classes in conference rooms when they weren't being used. She grew a following, including a woman whose arthritis healed (the woman was also the editor of The Desert Sun, who then wrote a story about Susana for the newspaper).

In 1986, We Care Spa had its grand opening in a house that Susana built. By then, it had a colon therapist, a massage therapist, and a yoga teacher.

"Our belief here is there are chemicals in the water that you drink and the food that you eat, and in the air and in everything you touch," Belen said. "Either you inhale it, you put it on your mouth, or you absorb it through the skin. Once these chemicals get in, they don't come out unless you do a cleanse. They're surrounding every cell, tissue, organ, and fluid of the body, disturbing the normal function of every cell. So any disease is caused by the chemicals acting on the body. The only way you can cleanse them is through fasting, green drinks, chlorophyll, and sauna, through the five organs of elimination. But we live in the middle of pollution. So it's not one time and you're done: you get more chemical pollution, so to cope, my recommendation is to fast one day every week, three days every three months, and a whole week every six months."

Belen told me she was turning 86 that week. "I don’t take a single medication… In the 50, 60 years since I started this, I have never had a cold, a flu, or an upset stomach—nothing."

Natural Solution

Natasha Glasgow, a clean beauty expert who has been to We Care Spa 12 times, offered a talk the weekend I was at We Care Spa. I also had a one-on-one session with her, where she asked about my pain points. I told her about my lips; dried out from three courses of Accutane, and how I’d picked them every day for years. I'd been to the dermatologist who prescribed all manner of pharmaceuticals that didn't work. Eventually, I gave up.

"Sometimes, I won't leave the house if my lips are really bad. It's holding me back, I'm ashamed, and nobody really knows," I said. "It feels like some form of cutting."

Natasha's eyes were gray-blue pools of empathy.

"What do you put on them?" she asked, and I presented my trusty stick of Corti-balm.

"Oh, honey, that's the problem! That stuff might fix the open wounds but also dry your lips out. You need something on top to seal in moisture. Try lanolin."

I felt hopeful and headed into a 90-minute treatment, during which I was dry-brushed, painted with castor oil, then papered with castor oil-soaked sheets and bandaged up to sweat out more toxins. The next two nights, my natural circadian rhythm was restored: I woke up each morning sans alarm clock for the first time since I can remember. I was a mountain of energy and aced my next colonic.

Dirty World

My first solid food in three days was a clamshell-ensconced salad with tahini, which We Care gives you when you check out. Usually, I would have gobbled it up in my car thoughtlessly, but my new wisdom glorified slow chewing. I shredded the greens into mulch and ordered lanolin from Amazon.

In the lot, I half-expected to see Susana, who still lives next door to We Care (they underwent a massive expansion in 2019). "I walk back and forth every single day," she'd told me. "Someone always stops me to say, 'You saved my life, Susana. You saved my husband’s life, or my mother's life. It's very rewarding what I do because I see people change and improve. I could be retired by now, but I was told I needed to do this."

I looked in my rearview mirror and admired my lips, which I'd sealed with the moisturizer I'd brought from home for two days; I hadn't touched them once. They were healing, and that small victory, combined with restored lightness and energy, made me feel like I'd upgraded my armor for facing my dragon.

A few minutes later, I drove my car into a gas station. The pump felt filthy; I slathered on hand sanitizer before pulling onto the freeway home. Returning to the asphalt reminded me that my car needed a smog check, another dirty thought interrupted by Florence and the Machine's “Dog Days Are Over” surfacing on Spotify. I cranked it full blast, hurtling with equal intensity back into the polluted world. But something had changed. As the podcast had said on my way there, I felt more alert and awake than ever. I was who I most needed to be. I would confront my threats. I hadn't set an intention, but I'd found one.

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