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I beat back the urge to try chocolate covered bacon, but later, sitting with a dozen friends before a Thanksgiving smorgasbord of turkey (raised by friends in Conrad), elk, potatoes, stuffing, gravy, cranberries, green bean casserole, biscuits and salad, my mind equivocates. If I'm going to cheat, I think to myself, this is the time. My friends say that if I lie in the story, they won't tell. Lying isn't an option, I say.
I cheat just a little bit. I plop a spoonful of garlic mashed potatoes on my plate and a little gluten-free gravy to go with my turkey and elk—both allowed—and salad. To convey how little this dietary infidelity does to quell my torment, I challenge everyone to chew the first bite of his or her Thanksgiving dinner 36 times. They can't, of course. Their uvulas—that fleshy thingy that hangs above the throat that triggers the act of swallowing—are as unruly as mine.
Despite the potatoes, my friends give me nothing but credit. I forgo the Bloody Marys I typically drink all Thanksgiving Day and sip my detox tea instead. I eat yogurt with nuts and raspberries for dessert as everyone else stretches their stomachs with apple and pumpkin pie. I skip the post-meal coffee. And I'm okay with all of it only because another Thanksgiving tradition lives on—I succumb to the tryptophan-induced stupor and doze off while watching football.
It's the second-to-last day and Martinez meets me again to evaluate my symptoms and discuss the reintegration of foods. During the consultation, she mentions that, if I'm really committed, a great way to end my cleanse would be to clean out my colon.
"Enemas," she says, "are really helpful if you have an issue with your colon or you just want to really do things full-on."
As a journalist committed to probing into even the hairiest of issues, I head to A&C Drug in downtown Missoula and buy a "Fountain Syringe," which is further described on the box as a "personal hygiene and enema system."
An enema, of course, is a procedure in which liquid is injected into the rectum to help expel its contents. Martinez says enemas are preferable to colonics because colonics can inflame the mucosa of the large intestine and deplete beneficial bacteria.
"With colonics," she explains, "the pressure of the water can deplete microbes and alter electrolyte balance. Because the water flowing into your colon does so in a more forceful nature than, say, an enema would, we find that enemas tend to have less of a depleting effect."
The enema system is simply a rubber bag, a pipe and a few feet of tubing with a clamp to stop the flow of liquid. I bring it home, open it up and read the directions:
"Fill the syringe bag 2/3 full with warm water and enema preparation (if desired). Apply lubricating jelly to enema pipe. Suspend syringe bag about three feet above hips. Release clamp to expel air in tubing before inserting enema pipe...Recline in tub with knees drawn up. Gently insert lubricating enema pipe into rectum. Release shut-off clamp to permit solution to flow gently."
The directions prompt me to lock the front and back doors of my house. I'm thinking how embarrassing—and inexplicable—it would be should a friend or neighbor decide to pop in and find me in the bathtub with a tube up my ass. I even shut the bathroom door to spare my dog the sight. I follow the directions, with an emphasis on the gently part.
As I'm lying in the tub, I'm full of two quarts of water, plus some probiotic powder I added for good measure. It feels like the gastrointestinal gravity of eating two pan-fried Taco del Sol burritos followed by three Imodium.
"The idea is that you want that water to be held in the colon for 5–20 minutes," I remember Martinez saying.
So I stand up and shake a little, reasoning that my colon can be cleaned in the same way as an emptied bottle of pasta sauce, and go about my day.
But I'm back in the bathroom in about four minutes, unable to resist the incredible pressure to purge. It comes out, as my fiancée so eloquently put it, like a fire hydrant. I take time to make sure I'm empty, then refill the bag with water and probiotics, lie back down in the tub, and do it again. This time, I'm able to hold it about 10 minutes before I have to speed-waddle to the bathroom. I do it a third time, and decide that the water that comes out is probably about as clean as anything coming out of my colon can be.
I wash the enema pipe, thinking that I may never again be so free of toxins in my life—and that I may reconsider ever doing something so "full-on" again.
My cleanse officially ends at Red's Bar, where I order a double Jameson on the rocks to wash down my Thai take out. But instead of the relief I expected, I feel guilty. It's as if I'm undermining all the good I just did for my health and deranging all those little cells I just worked so hard to unclog.
I don't know if any of the 212 toxins the CDC says could be in my body have been released, but I do know that I feel better—and I didn't even feel bad to begin with. That's probably the most interesting thing. I suppose we are often satisfied enough with how we feel that we don't strive to—or perhaps don't even realize that we can—feel better. That understanding alone makes three weeks of counting my chews and self-administering an enema worth it.
In fact, days after the cleanse is over I'm still largely sticking to the diet, even making MediClear smoothies now and then. Sure, I've fried up some eggs in bacon fat and eaten pizza, but all in moderation, and with less satisfaction than before. That feeling of change, as Martinez said, was the whole point of this exercise—to break some old habits and start some new, healthier ones.
Most significantly, and at risk of disqualifying myself from being a Missoulian, I'm proud to report that I'm still drinking Master Cleanser and detox tea in the morning instead of coffee. Coffee schmoffee. I don't even miss it.