Everyone Needs A Healthy Outlet To Tell Their Story

I was reminiscing recently about a volunteer position I held some 40 years ago.

I met a most remarkable woman. She alone had researched and completed a book. All the myriad services offered in our county were compiled in her “Bible.” She was able to find a remote building to house what would become a hot-line center. She became, naturally, its first director. Those in the county community who sought to challenge themselves completed intense telephone training. This was pre-computers. Her rigorous training program brought people together to meet the needs of the general populace.

This “Bible” entailed every known service found in our county. From bus schedules to guides for medical services, this Bible carried the gamut of every conceivable service and more. Complementing this service, training taught us how to properly answer the 24-hour/7-day a week calls. Two people were scheduled for each shift. We were asked to maintain the same shift weekly. Two separate telephone lines answered calls all day, anytime of day. Each person had adequate separation so as not to chance interfering in each one’s calls. Calls were logged so that a thorough review of types of calls could be categorized for reference information.

Information of services in the “Bible” was not finished. Maintaining the Bible meant relevant additions or deletions as services arose or closed down. Calls were not a 24-hour constant. There was down time. Marketing provided this community with sufficient resource awareness of this county-wide hot line. Training included a strict code of silence. Where we were located was not made public. Telephone volunteers could not discuss calls outside the confines of the hotline office. A trainer was available to aid and comfort volunteers who took calls like the one I took on my first shift. A major component of the hotline was the freedom to call and to speak to a trained telephone counselor. Most of us were not in the counseling field in our regular job position. The training provided experience to confidently take on sensitive calls. People who needed someone to talk to could call the hotline. Becoming a good telephone listener proved to be a challenge immediately.

Not one of my fellow volunteers wanted to staff on a Friday night. Many had family, work, or other social obligations. As a single man new to the county, Friday nights worked for me. My first call came in. A man told me that he was feeling suicidal. I had the luxury of putting the call on speaker for support by the other volunteer. I immediately experienced an overwhelming feeling of dread. Oh my God, what did I sign up for? The man kept his call moving for at least an hour as I recall. As he closed, he requested that he call the following week at the same time. I had zero/no experience in talking to a person who was suicidal. I do recall that he promised not to harm himself. At that time, I reviewed the call with a more experienced volunteer/trainer. How I managed the call that night and for months ahead, same day of the week, same time, gave me more insight into the gentleman. Getting ahead of myself for a brief minute, I was relocating out of the county by hundreds of miles. Ahead of my final volunteer hotline shift, I passed the news onto the caller. I thanked him for his calls, perhaps his trust in me. I hoped he would consider getting help and staying alive. Anonymously and ethically, I could not maintain contact with the caller.

Today, 9-8-8 is the suicide hotline that anyone can call. Bear with me for that brief interlude.

The hotline was notified of a mental health workshop. Six of us drove hundreds of miles to attend a worthwhile workshop. You can’t make the rest of the story up, folks.

The woman volunteer whose car we all packed into met the director of the Chicago based Suicidal Hotline. She and he hit it off like no tomorrow. She left by plane for Chicago. The rest of us drove her car back to our county. That was the last we saw of her. What an opportunity!

Several months before leaving the area, the position of Hotline Director came open. A local businesswoman, who also was a hotline telephone volunteer, and I shared the duties. She did the real administrative work and joined me in hitting up county-based towns and villages for funds. The hotline was funded through those and other funding sources. I learned how I could stand up before committees to explain and describe the hotline’s multifaceted services that impacted the entire county. No town or village turned us down. When returning years later to school for my graduate degree, little did we study suicide.

Thirty plus years later, I have read upon the subject of suicide, attended functional workshops, and faced clients head-on with suicidal thoughts, attempts, hospital stays, and yes, the deepest heartfelt loss. Yes, clients spoke of self-harm, took gestures, and yes, some passed. To attend a wake for a client who took his life is indescribable. I met family, learned words of sorrow and sadness, and moved on with the hope that other clients would not carry out self-destructive thoughts.

Like the caller on the infamous Friday night, everyone has a story. Everyone needs a healthy outlet to tell his or her story.

Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.


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