American Detox: The Myth of Wellness and How We Can Truly Heal

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 by Kerri Kelly

This post is an excerpt from American Detox: The Myth of Wellness and How We Can Truly Heal by Kerri Kelly, published by North Atlantic Books, copyright © 2022. Reprinted by
permission of publisher.
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Getting Over Your 'Self'

Right around the time of my self-help revolution, my marriage fell apart. 

No longer were we the people we had married. We were growing apart, and I was desperately trying to “self-help” save us. Much to my then-husband’s dismay, I made him eat tofu, read The 5 Love Languages, do partner yoga, and chant mantras. I insisted I knew what was best for us and had the Truth-with-a-capital-T on my side. I flaunted my new practices, preached my enlightened ideas, and upended our life until it was unrecognizable. Not only was I determined at all costs to become my best self, I tried to drag him along for the ride. But I wasn’t trying to help us. I was trying to change him. And after eighteen years of “’til death do us part,” I walked away. I will likely never fully understand what went wrong or what could have been. I only know the pain that was left over in its wake. Divorce is like a flesh wound: a part torn away never to be retrieved. There was no praying away my pain, no manifesting love and light in the midst of so much loss. Despite my relentless attempt to find myself, I ended up more lost and alone than ever.

Looking back, I can see now my part in the death of our marriage. While I can’t control how two people change over time, I can own that my obsession with finding myself and fixing us is part of what drove us apart. Self-help didn’t save my marriage; it gave me an out, a way to bypass the beautiful and brutal work of being in relationship. So many of us attempt to engage in self-growth and -actualization in a vacuum. But we do not live in a vacuum. We impact each other and we are impacted by each other. True, integrated self-growth includes both self-acceptance and acceptance of others. I learned that lesson too late.

The idea that I am alone, that I can depend on no one, that I must fend for myself and by myself, has caused me more suffering than I can measure. It is the wound of my parents’ divorce that drove me to become an independent, self-sufficient child, and it is the wound of my own failed marriage. But it is also the ideology of self-help that convinced me that I had the power alone to solve all my problems. I exhausted myself with morning rituals, checklists, confidence poses, journaling practice. Everything had to be optimized. Self-help spawned an obsessive never-ending battle to improve myself (aka perfection) that is never won. This inevitably leads to failure and pushes us further apart from one another. When we are stuck in our silos of self-improvement, we become cut off from the very source of well-being: each other.

Individualism sells us the lie that we are better off by ourselves. It convinces us that self-improvement is the cure to all that ails us. It says that needing help is a weakness and we should trust ourselves above all else. And it says that we are separate and exceptional beings that should pursue self-betterment at all costs. What it doesn’t say is that none of your greatness would exist without the system of labor and exploitation that makes it possible, that your self-actualization is too often accomplished on the backs of others. And it most certainly won’t admit that while you’re finding yourself, others are struggling to survive much less be enlightened. Self-help is a part of the all-American mythology of the self-made man. But that dream wouldn’t have been possible without the theft of lands and the exploitation of labor. No one gets anywhere on their own. Our individual and collective flourishing is only made possible by the many interlocking contributions that make society work.

What we are so relentlessly seeking is a purpose not for the sake of purpose, but purpose in relationship to the world. The human condition is one of connection and belonging. All of the crises we have faced—whether 9/11 or climate change or the coronavirus—underline the interconnectedness that has always been and the inadequacies of our self-oriented lives. We are not separate from the suffering of our people and our planet. Only when we can unhook ourselves from the demands of the self can we accept ourselves and embrace the true self—the self that is part of something bigger than the self. To do this, we must reject the lie of separation and reclaim our connection to ourselves and one another. In many ways, this detox is an invitation to come home to the truth of who you are as an authentic interbeing.

Healing from individualism invites us to examine our need to “go it alone” and see all the ways in which we are at war with ourselves. Our relentless yearning for the better self is often driven by a rejection of the vulnerable human self. We end up forsaking the parts of us that are flawed, imperfect, and not “normal.” We don’t trust ourselves so we don’t trust others, tearing us further apart. This split not only works against our healing but inevitably sets us up for suffering and isolation. In A Hidden Wholeness, Parker Palmer notes: “We arrive in this world undivided, integral, whole. But sooner or later we erect a wall between our inner and outer lives, trying to protect what is within us or to deceive the people around us. Only when the pain of our dividedness becomes more than we can bear do most of us embark on an inner journey toward ‘living divided no more.’”

When I couldn’t tolerate myself—the self that felt isolated and inadequate—I tried to construct something else, something other, some better version of myself. But othering ourselves or anyone else doesn’t move us toward wholeness and liberation. It keeps us stuck and small in its attachment to form and actualization. It is an insatiable cycle of always wanting, never satisfied, and therefore chronically suffering. In my relentless seeking, I had forgotten the fundamental truth of who we are—that we belong to each other. Of course, we cannot see another’s divinity (their inherent dignity and worthiness) without seeing that in ourselves; and conversely, we see our own more clearly in relationship with others.


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Kerri Kelly is the founder of CTZNWELL, a movement that is democratizing wellbeing for all. A descendant of generations of firemen and first responders, Kerri has dedicated her life to kicking down doors and fighting for justice. She’s been teaching yoga for over 20 years and is known for making waves in the wellness industry by challenging norms, disrupting systems and mobilizing people to act.

A community organizer, wellness activist and author of the forthcoming book American Detox: The Myth of Wellness and How We Can Truly Heal, Kerri is recognized across communities for her inspired work to bridge transformational practice with social justice. She’s been instrumental in translating the practices of wellbeing into social and political action, working in collaboration with community organizers, spiritual leaders and policy makers to transform our systems from the inside out. Her leadership has inspired a movement that is actively organizing around issues of racial and economic justice, healthcare as a human right, civic engagement and more.

Kerri is a powerful facilitator, TED speaker and is the host of the prominent podcast, CTZN. You can learn more about her work at and


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