I smashed things at The Break Room, Charleston's new "rage room," and I really do feel better.
It's amazing how busting up an old computer monitor with a crowbar and shattering wine bottles with a baseball bat can relieve so much stress — and in just 15 minutes, no less.
Last Wednesday, I woke up feeling pretty good. The weather was sunny and cooling down for fall. I didn't spill any cranberry juice on my shirt while eating breakfast. My car was working. I was having a good hair day.
I picked up my friend Jordan in North Charleston, and we drove to West Ashley. To smash things. For fun.
'Breaking' the rules
The Break Room provides a space for people to rebel against what is deemed socially acceptable.
Owner Cole Wadsten, 24, puts it this way:
"It's a euphoric feeling to do something you've been told your entire life not to do."
Wadsten, who graduated from the College of Charleston and teamed up with former classmate Jay Greenfield, first heard about rage rooms before they had even come to the United States. The first one opened in Japan in 2008.
Wadsten was intrigued by the idea of getting a group of friends together and going to a space where you could break things safely without worrying about consequences, and where you could deal with negative thoughts and emotions in a positively destructive way.
He says he immediately thought such a venue would do well here, but at the time he didn't have the means to open one.
Soon after his discovery, rage rooms started popping up across the country. This month, Wadsten opened the first one in South Carolina.
"The whole thing's like a social experiment, really," Wadsten says. "Who's here? Who are they here with? Why?"
The Break Room offers a variety of options. For example, you can bring your own box of breakables (perhaps things that remind you of your ex?), or go ham on a grandfather clock. Prices range from $19.99 to $169.99, based on what items you smash, the time you spend smashing them, and how many smashers are involved. Some of the items available for splintering and shattering include glass bottles, old computers and printers, boomboxes, TVs and furniture.
"We need junk, but not just any junk, specific junk," says Wadsten, who has teamed up with local restaurants, including Triangle Char & Bar and Ruth's Chris steakhouse, to procure glass bottles and some kitchenware.
The Break Room, pictured on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019, on Belgrade Avenue in West Ashley, provides safety wear and items for patrons to take t…
For the rest, he scours thrift stores, hits up the old houses of hoarders and scopes out estate sales. It's a constant search for breakables to keep stocked.
Focusing fractured feelings
Since opening in early September, Wadsten says most of his clients have been groups of women, ready to rage.
"It's a healthy way to combat negative situations in your life," Wadsten says. "I mean, you're not breaking your own stuff."
From my time raging out to metal music (there are speakers set up so you can play whatever songs you like) and swinging a bat at inanimate objects that have literally done nothing to me, I can attest that it's an endorphin rush, similar to ones I've gotten by running or working out at the gym.
But I didn't bring any specific negativity with me as I picked up a crowbar. I wasn't channeling my feelings about an ex or letting any anger or pain rise to the surface. Mostly, I was focused on the exhilaration of doing something that I had been told my whole life not to. I was giddy in there.
For some, though, strong emotions might be top-of-mind when booking a session. Wadsten says a few local therapists have already sent clients his way to relieve stress in a way that's roughly equivalent to other physical activities, like kickboxing or karate.
It's not an alternative form of therapy, but a supplemental one that might offer a short-term solution to a long-term problem, he says.
There is a major difference between those other physical activities and smashing things at a rage room, says Charleston psychotherapist Laura E. Sabatini, who puts The Break Room in the same category as the Cat Cafe or ax throwing.
"It's sort of the whole scream-into-the-pillow thing," she says. "In school, we didn't study it necessarily as anything that would be therapeutic."
Just randomly breaking things, without making connections between your emotions and actions, isn't therapy in itself, Sabatini says. With kickboxing and karate, there's discipline and a feeling of empowerment, skill and mastery. And therapy provides the chance for a deep dive into your feelings and a method for coping with them.
Coker started Jiu Jitsu as his own form of therapy after an eight-month period during which his brother died of a heart attack, his wife divorced him and members of his family stopped talking to him. He said it gave him a place to take all the extremes that he was feeling and process them so they did not come out in other areas of his life. He says he can see how a rage room could provide similar relief, if only for the short term.
"Doing anything vigorous will relieve stress, but doing something vigorous that reminds you that you can be dangerous if you have to, it’s just good for the psyche," he offers. "The world can be dangerous, so it’s good to know that we can also be dangerous. I think that helps reduce anxiety in the long run."
As I suited up in a jumpsuit, face mask and gloves and grabbed a metal bat, I didn't think smashing an old CD player to smithereens was going to solve my problems. But I did get a rush from it, and afterwards, yeah, I felt like I could manage the day's stress — maybe not with a bat, but with a mindset influenced by the thrill of feeling your own power. I was in control.