When it all started to happen, I didn’t know what to think. Volunteering to answer calls on a rape crisis hotline is far from the usual agenda of a college student’s summer vacation. My mind was whirling so quickly, my body so rigid and tense that I probably wasn’t capable of producing a coherent thought. I sat by my phone for 8 1/2 hours with no movement. No calls came in. But when the first call finally did come in, I felt my throat constrict – my voice turned into that of a tiny mouse. My heart seemed to leap up to rest on my collar bone and my vision turned to tunnels.I quickly became swallowed up in every cliche of stress in existence. I listened to a scared, quiet voice on the other line. They were just as scared – in fact far more terrified – than I ever would be. They’d been through a hell far worse than I could imagine, and they needed to talk about it, to sort through the fragments inside of their mind and put together some kind of a clear picture. They asked me for help. The moment the call ended I was tossed into a river of further anticipation, because the victim wanted to call again. I sat up straight with my eyes glued to my cell phone for ten solid minutes before even realizing what I was doing. I then went into the kitchen and sat to the side, listening to my parents talk. I cannot remember what they said, nor did I feel a single one of the twenty minutes pass as I sat there.
As the stress slowly faded, washed away and my mind began to thaw out like a slab of freezer burned ground beef, I came to a very specific realization. I love this.
I don’t know if there are words for the mix of emotions that cascade over you when you volunteer ten hours of your day to a be a victim’s advocate to such a horrific crime… You stand on the other side of the fence, wanting to understand, thinking you have an idea of how horrible the person on the other line must be feeling in that moment, and yet at the same time you can’t – and never will – know what they feel. I found myself staying silent for the majority of the call, letting the victim talk, knowing that it might take a while to say what the victim felt they needed to say, but also pausing for myself because I could not think of anything that I thought would be helpful to that person in that moment. When someone has been raped, and now wants to make sense of the mix of emotions in their head, what in the hell are you – a person with no fucking idea what they went through – going to say to help them?
Its easy to feel like that. And to be honest, I have felt that I may not make a good therapist when my psychology degrees are all said and done… I tend to lack confidence in myself, so the idea that my insight might help others is hard to believe as it is. But you know what? Tonight I remembered my hotline trainers saying that ‘No matter how badly you think you’re doing, remember that you’re listening to them when they need to be heard’… I’m not sure many people fully comprehend just how important that listening portion is. In talking to someone else, these victims (and people in general) are not only talking to the other person but they’re talking to themselves. It took me some time to realize that in listening to them I am not only there to maybe offer a new perspective, but I also get to witness as someone goes through the process of making sense of something tragic and moving forward from it. Stressful, yes, but also amazing.
I realized that I love this job, because of the people that I get to help. When that victim calls, I am able to spend some time talking to a person who is far braver than I think I would be in that situation. I get to listen to someone sorting through the wreckage and hopefully coming to some sort of conclusion by the end of the call. I get to witness resilience firsthand. I think when these thoughts came from my thawed out mind, that’s when I had this uplifting feeling in my heart. This feeling of knowing how awful humanity can be, but then that second feeling of knowing what humans are capable of overcoming. Its also got a weird way of instilling appreciation in my own life. The thought that someone is struggling with these thoughts and these awful events having happened to them, makes me feel like shit for complaining about something like having to go to work. My hope is that in working with these victims more regularly I’ll establish a firmer sense of gratitude for the world around me. Just because nothing amazing is happening, doesn’t mean that it isn’t equally as great for simply being okay.