When I was young, my father relied on a few staples whenever we fell sick. He claimed these makeshift meds could cure almost anything. They were the ultimate elixirs and potions under the category of ‘do-it-yourself’ remedies.
His primary go-to was bitters, Angostura to be exact. The caramel liquid from the motherland had all kinds of uses. It could, supposedly, send the Grim Reaper packing. It also served as a preventative measure; an “apple a day” sort of serum.
The first response for the flu was a glass of ginger ale with a few drops of bitters. Nausea was treated with a scoop of ice cream laced with the dark stuff. Have a toothache? Don’t fret. You know what’s coming. Half a shot of bitters to rub on your gums of course. Upon reflection, it worked so well (placebo or not) I always make sure to have a bottle, somewhere, in my house.
The other, random, natural product my father classified as a drug was magnesium sulfate, better known by its street name: Epsom salt. Used for hundreds of years to treat aches and pains, you could find several cartons of white crystals lined up on the bathroom shelf.
Although we normally used salt for the bath there were times my father downed several spoons he’d mixed into a glass of water. For the most part, I managed to avoid that astringent horror. But, unfortunately, there were still times I was forced to plug my little nose and knock back a small glass of the salty, oily liquid.
“Drink up! It will cure your food poisoning,” my father insisted.
To this day I still can’t quite bring myself to drink any quantity of salt. My gag reflex goes into overdrive with the first sip. I do revel in its other ‘medicinal uses‘, however. Every week I slip into a scalding hot bath laced with a bag of the good stuff.
I go through so much I might be, singlehandedly, keeping CVS in business.
Thanks to my father’s belief in the healing benefits of salt water I buy into the idea of countering pain with a dip in the Atlantic or a long bath. I thrill in the notion of turning off my phone, lighting some candles, and have Morphine,* Bjork, and Sade serenade me. There is nothing more comforting than the scratch of salt dissolving against my skin. I revel in how the pain my body houses dissipates with every passing minute.
I am an anomaly compared to those who can only tolerate ten minutes submerged—fifteen on a good day. Clearly, they haven’t succumbed to the habit-forming quality of a good magnesium sulfate soak. I envy the willpower they have to keep the addiction at bay.
But no matter how hard I try to kick the habit I return to the scene of the crime, filling the tub come week’s end. And I have no shame indulging in my newest of obsession, which is to add lavender or eucalyptus oil to the water. Shhhhhhhhh! These products make it easier to spend an hour bobbing around, reading the latest best-seller or simply powering down and turning inwards.
I’ve come to accept this new regimen is a part of the larger one at play. It’s a practice in self-kindness and focusing on my needs. Recovering after challenging the last of my boundaries is about doing what works best for this body.
The hour I take is more than a lavish luxury or feckless ritual. Every minute in the tub is one spent on the curative path to healing. The salt is what keeps me afloat, while the heat of the water strips me of my misgivings.