Meet Me in the Basement

Some thirteen years ago, while trying to save my first marriage, I sat in a therapy session and discussed the character of my Dad. His humor, his love, his tendency to be the life of a party, his attitude about life and how he taught me to see the best in people. He was a smoker, and since my Grandmother lived with us and had asthma, Dad was relegated to the basement or outside to keep the smoke from penetrating the upper levels of the house. 

Dad didn’t complain about being in the basement. Rather, he made it his spot and styled it with a boom box, his favorite CD’s, a ping pong table, and a full-sized refrigerator filled with his favorite refreshments.

As the therapist listened to a highly animated and fun account of my past, he offered very little expression and I began to wonder why he was remaining so frustratingly impassive. I paused in my delivery and he then asked me,

“Where was day-to-day life taking place in your house? Where were the discussions about school, or what’s for dinner? Where did you talk about who’s sick, or getting married, or graduating?

I remember looking at him with this incredulous frown, thinking, “You are interrupting my story to ask me this question, when I’m talking about my Dad?”  His face said, “yes”, so I answered, “All of that stuff was taking place one level up, in the kitchen or family room.” 

“Oh,” he said. “So your dad would have to come upstairs to deal with life’s key issues, such as raising and providing for your family and having a relationship with your Mom?

My emotions shifted then from reflection and amusement to anger and self-talk. Who did this guy think he was? Did he actually think he could criticize my dad and my family life and get away with it? My energy turned negative. I didn’t understand what my therapist was telling me, so he leaned forward in his chair, looked at me, and said:

Michael, your Dad had a physical basement, a place to go to step away. You have a virtual basement. You can be physically present, but emotionally away.”

I was speechless. The truth of what he said was so abruptly apparent, how did I not see it before? I was separating myself from my emotions, my connection to my wife, and my responsibilities in life…very much like my Dad had done, in the basement of our home growing up. I quietly began to gather myself, thanked him for the session, and headed for my car. For the rest of the day the “theatre in my mind” processed these questions:

·      Was this true?

·      Is that why I can’t feel certain things?

·      Am I living in my head, not my heart?

·      Is that why my wife says we’re not connected?

·      If I’m in the basement, how do I get out?

·      Can we recover from this?

This session began another phase of my life’s journey: my quest to connect, to feel, to open, to embrace my own vulnerability, to trust. 

This journey and doing the work has been one of the most precious gifts in my life! I am here, Sikhona, to share, encourage, uplift and support those who want to experience life more connected, more vulnerable, and more present. I know firsthand how hard it can be to recognize where we are putting ourselves in the basement and how rewarding it can be to take it up a level.

It’s hard to put in words, so I’ve coined the phrase “breaking the emotional silence” and I hope to assist others with their intentional evolution of self. 

Look for the next blog in this series where we will explore the virtual basement.     

Sawubona!