Excerpt from American Detox
Categories: Health & Healing New Release Psychology & Personal Growth
An Excerpt from American Detox: The Myth of Wellness and How We Can Truly Heal by Kerri Kelly
Wellness—the industry that grew out of self-help and fitness classes and has exploded into everything from yoga to crystals to juice cleanses—promises to make you better, stronger, healthier, and whole. It meets an ever-increasing demand among many Americans to “feel good” and find meaning in a cruel and confusing world. And it’s no wonder. In the face of rising health threats, extreme inequality, endless wars, and our own possible extinction, it makes sense that we would seek relief.
But wellness isn’t just the yearning to be well. It is extreme materialism masquerading as spiritual practice to make us feel good while emptying our wallets. It is the commoditization of political ideas like “self-care” and “empowerment” as something that you can buy. And it is a $4.5 trillion global industry that is servicing the millions of people like me who are desperate to be well.
But while wellness soars, so does inequality.
Inequality has been the purpose of the so-called American Dream for as long as we’ve had one. Colonization, slavery, and capitalism have resulted in a legacy of unequal conditions that runs as deep as well water. A recent study found the US to be the wealthiest among developed nations—and the most unequal. While certain populations are making choices about organic and GMO-free food, the rest of the country is trying to figure out how to feed their families and pay their bills.
The truth is that we—the big we—are not well. Not by a long shot.
I call it the well-being gap: the unequal conditions that determine who gets to be well and who doesn’t. It is a disparity driven not by personal choice but by proximity to power and privilege. And it goes way beyond the affordability or accessibility of wellness products and services. Wherever there is a prevalence of poverty and unemployment, a lack of access to housing and healthcare, people are struggling to survive much less be well. But a well-being gap that leaves many people behind ultimately hurts all of us. It destabilizes our economy, it causes stress that makes us sick, it fuels higher rates of crime and violence, it holds back our children, and it creates an ever deeper divide among neighbors and neighborhoods.
But that’s not the only thing. Everywhere we turn, culture gaslights us with the message that “we’re not good enough.” It says, “Buy this and you will be happy,” “Do this and you will feel beautiful,” “Eat this and you will be healthy,” “Read this and you will be enlightened.” It is a storyline sponsored by a system that profits from our sickness.
The wellness industry sells us isolation and escapism. It dangles the false promise of perfection and purity. And we are just left more alone, more dissatisfied, and more isolated than ever. Fixating on self-help, self-seeking, self-everything keeps us fending for ourselves, neglecting the suffering of our friends and neighbors, and denying our humanity.
Wellness is not making us well. It’s making us worse. While wellness promises enlightenment, the circumstances of our lived reality tell a different story. The many crises we are facing are exponential—from infectious disease to racial injustice, to extreme income inequality, to accelerating climate change. And while wellness exploits our fears and vulnerabilities, it does nothing to address the systems that got us here in the first place. It blames us for our struggles but refuses to acknowledge what’s at the root of our suffering.
To make things worse, most of today’s wellness industry draws on a lineage of mind-body practices, largely from South Asian and Indigenous cultures, that are often a part of spiritual traditions that employ a holistic and collectivist approach to well-being. Yet these practices have been divorced from their original contexts, distorted, and commodified to accommodate racist capitalist culture. In this book I do my best to uncover these truths and how the wellness industry itself has become a weapon of dominant systems to maintain the status quo and distract people from reality. Despite our desperate pursuit, wellness is not making us well. Well-being is a human right, not a privilege. And my well-being is not isolated or separate from yours. That means that true wellness demands that we confront everything that is in the way of our collective well-being.*
No amount of green juice or hybrid cars is going to save the planet. Meditation is not going to undo systemic racism. Ecotourism is not going to solve inequality. But wellness sells us the idea that we can buy our way to well-being. I bought into that myth. I traded in my corporate ambition for wellness purity and realized that it was just more of the same: a constant cycle that keeps us stuck in the status quo and starving for more. And while it is easy to turn away and stay in our gated communities of wellness, we must turn toward the hard-to-look-at truth of our people and planet and demand more of ourselves and one another.
* Well-being and wellness are not the same. I define well-being as the state of being well or feeling whole, whereas wellness is the active pursuit of well-being.