Silence Is Golden: What Happened When I Actually Stopped To Listen

  • June 1, 2017
What Happened When I Stopped and Listened

Have you ever thought, if you just stopped to listen, something amazing might happen?

Then again, how will you ever know, if you never take the time to find out?

To become a Crisis Line Counselor, I went through two weeks of training with the Contra Costa Crisis Center. There was so much to learn–sometimes, it felt like too much all in two weeks, but I gained so much from my experience. 

We learned some astonishing and upsetting facts about what goes on at the Crisis Center on a day-to-day basis. They take in over 60,000 calls per year. These calls range from anything as simple as a referral to a local food bank, to serious crisis calls.

And needless to say, it can be a lot.

At first, as a new volunteer, these numbers and facts were overwhelming to think about at times. But, I knew it’s where I wanted to be.

And I wasn’t about to quit before I even got started.

My desire to help others grow, achieve and overcome far outweighed my self-doubt about whether or not I thought I could be brave enough to actually take a real crisis call. 

Our trainings consisted of Crisis Center volunteers and speakers who taught us about what clients might call in for on daily basis–sometimes multiple times per day–and areas they often would need support in: losing housing and needing resources on finding new placement, talking to someone after losing a child, being on the brink of a psychotic episode, and even actively thinking about taking one’s life.

The list actually went on quite a bit.

One of the most important pieces of advice I received was, “Sometimes our callers are just calling to talk to a real person. They feel like they have no one in their life who is willing to take the time to really sit and listen to them. The greatest gift you can give someone who’s calling our hotline, is to listen to them”.

It’s funny because, after spending a day training on the heavy topic of suicide–what it is, how to spot it and what to do once you detect someone is at risk–the first thought that came to mind, at least for me, was how do I make them feel better? How can I make this pain that someone is feeling just go away?

And the truth is, you can’t.

You can’t make someone’s pain of losing their 2-month old child six months ago to SUIDS, just go away. Or their pain of living a life filled with nothing but seemingly never-ending mental health visits to hospitals and therapy offices. And the endless medications that don’t work without horrible side effects. And the feeling that no one’s ever going to understand them–that doesn’t just go away.

Nothing is simple in the realm of mental illness, I’m learning. It’s unique to everyone–and it affects each person so differently. No two diagnoses are the same.

You might think, well then what the heck is the point of all this? The trainings on grief and trauma, the example crisis calls, the steps of assessing for suicide risk–what’s it going to change? Well, I didn’t exactly have it all figured out myself, but one thing was for certain: listening to others, was both a privilege (for us) and a gift (for them).

When we first practiced taking crisis calls, at first it was tempting to bombard the “caller” with questions. Are you safe? Who are you with? Where are you? Blah, blah, etc. 

 Not that those aren’t critical pieces to taking a call, but sometimes we just missed the point of it all. We (I) forget that sometimes, all the caller wants is to know that there’s someone out there listening. Letting them talk about their day and how their boss is such a jerk. Or how they used to love it when their husband played guitar and sang along really off-key. Or how much they missed their son’s laugh or how they really just can’t seem to get out of bed today.

Sometimes, people just want to be heard. And that’s the point.

You think to yourself, I don’t know what to say. Let your silence be okay. Let it not be filled with anxiety, worry and thoughts of I wish I knew what the right thing to say was or I wish I could do more. Instead, let it be filled with compassion, warmth and hope. I hope that I can bring this into my own relationships, outside of the Crisis Center: how to listen actively, speak less and really just be there for someone.

Because I’m learning that being there and listening, is just enough.

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