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Amy Choate-Nielsen
Amy Choate-Nielsen took some time in San Juan County, Utah, to explore what it means to detoxify.

There’s a theme that keeps popping up in my life: detoxify.

It started a few months ago when a friend asked me, “What could you eliminate from your life that would add to your life?”

I had a few thoughts. I could eliminate some of the ways I waste time, the stupid TV shows I watch on the internet. I could eliminate some of those dumb games I play on my phone. Heck, I could probably eliminate my cellphone altogether, but each of those things was an indulgence. And when I had a free moment, or at the end of a long, tiring day, rather than read, or sleep, I indulged — I did not eliminate.

Amy Choate-Nielsen
Amy Choate-Nielsen took some time in San Juan County, Utah, to explore what it means to detoxify.

The difference between my day and my grandmother’s day is that people in my day have so many indulgences available at our fingertips. They’re convenient and they can catch you if you don’t pay attention. Slowly, you might start to realize something is wrong, but by then it’s far easier to indulge than eliminate, until finally, a detox is in order.

Last week I went to a salon to get a haircut and the stylist said to me, "I can feel a tiny amount of paraben buildup on your hair. Let’s use a detox shampoo to get that out." I sat in the chair as he scrubbed my scalp and I rolled those words around my head. I had questions, like, what does buildup feel like, what does it do, and what happens when it’s gone?

By the time my hair was dry, I felt lighter. I swear my head was freer. It felt good. And I think subconsciously it was a step toward a greater detox I’ve been dreaming of for years.

The next day my husband and I left town and drove to a place in southern Utah that is so far off the grid it is inaccessible to most vehicles and unreachable by cellphones. To drive the road that leads to this far-flung lodge, we needed to cross a creek, which happened to be running high by the time we approached its banks close to sunset. We watched high-clearance trucks and jeeps dive into the flood, spraying water up to the sky on either side of their hoods and burying their headlights in the abyss for just a moment before they emerged and jumped onto the sand on the other side.

Instead of forging the creek, we left our car on the safe side of the bank and caught a ride out to the lodge, peeling off our first, comfortable layer of protection and convenience. I felt a little uneasy leaving our car behind, and a little embarrassed to confront how attached I was to that darling piece of metal.

By this time, it was dark. I could only see a small circle of dirt road that twisted and turned and sometimes dropped steeply ahead of our driver’s headlights. We were over an hour away from the closest cellphone tower, in a place where the local cows and crows have seniority because there is no human superiority there, only survival. We borrowed some blankets and pillows from the main house and then travelled another mile to our lodging — a mud hogan with futons, dog hair and an outdoor bathroom. It was remote, and beautiful, and the definition of secluded.

As we drifted off to sleep, I noticed my urge to check my phone and set my alarm like I always do as I am going to bed. I felt a pang of detachment as I realized there was no point, because there was no way I could contact anyone, and then before I realized it I was gone for the rest of the night.

In the morning, I explored my surroundings for the first time. I found a hill and climbed to its peak to get a better view of the river far below, the cliffs that were miles away and the sandstone spires along the horizon. At first I thought it was quiet, and then as I listened, I heard at least three different kinds of birds talking to each other as they floated on the chilly currents of the desert morning. I heard the wind sweeping across the rocks and sand, and I heard insects chattering.

After a few moments, I could hear it all so clearly, it was like a cacophony of sound. And yet the stillness was intoxicating. Puddles of water and drops of dew all around me glittered their reflection off the sun set in a brilliant blue sky. I closed my eyes and let the warmth sink into my cheeks, just breathing and listening.

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I sat there, not knowing for how long or short, with no phone or watch to measure time, and I felt that theme present itself again: detoxify.

There was a little bit of buildup on my brain, and this experience was going to scrub it out, but again I had the question — what does buildup do, and what happens when it’s gone? Next time I’ll tell you how organic food and 30 hours without a phone have shifted my way of thinking and pointed me toward a cleanse.

Invisible buildup, watch out. I’m coming after you.