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07 October 2015 @ 05:00 pm
the neverending witnessing toolkit post, take one  
author’s note: i’ve been writing this entry for two months and i’m still not sure about posting it. for several reasons, some of which will be obvious early on. regardless, here it is. be warned it might go to friendslock or disappear entirely overnight because it’s making me skittish like that. the older entry i link to may also get re-secured after too much thinking, so you might want to read that while you can as it’s one of the best things i posted here - in 2005, if not ever.

the winter i was seventeen, i started to tell my best friend.

it was late. it was a school night. i was secretly in a 6.1 richter scale freak out, the walls closing in on me. so i thought: this is my best friend. i should be able to talk to her. she can talk to me. so here goes.

i told her that when i was in middle school, an adult family friend had gotten increasingly physically aggressive with me whenever we were left alone together, which, at that point, was a great deal. it dragged out for a year. over the course of that year, i became increasingly miserable, isolated, and self-destructive: it was like, deal with that shit for a minimum of four hours two nights a week, then go to school the next day so my peers could assure me i was disgusting and worthless all on my pre-existing lack of merit. with regard to what was happening after school, i was convinced nobody would believe me and, even if they did, nobody would help. i didn’t ask for help. i didn’t tell anyone. i was terrified to tell anyone, because i was certain it’d just stigmatize me that much more; turn me socially from “that freak” into “that freak who got molested.” the conversation with my friend was the first time a word about anything in my history (there’s more) had ever crossed my lips. we were on the phone. she couldn’t see me shaking.

after i told her that, she said, in a small voice, “something happened to me, too.” so i asked, and she told me a horrible experience that involved her narrowly escaping assault when she was fourteen. that moment in our friendship was as awful as it was beautiful. that moment in our friendship was exactly what i needed.

at first.

then, she used the impetus of that disclosure to launch into a frustrating and (as far as i could tell) unrelated anecdote about something her mother had done the previous day. my friend had told me about this that morning at school, but needed to tell me again, so she did. it was an upsetting story that informed my growing concern about my friend’s compounding depression and the way her current dynamic with her parents was feeding into it. so fifteen minutes out of this momentous, potentially life-changing disclosure, friend and me were talking about her baseline problems, instead. in other words, she changed the subject. i let her.

in spite of what i’ll say much later in this post, i wasn’t angry about it. i’m not angry about it. she didn't and couldn't have known. i suspect if she had, she would’ve been horrified. like a lot of traumatized post-adolescents, i guarded my killing secrets as though my life depended on their being kept, not the other way around. frankly, not having to go into the deeper part of what i was trying to tell her was a relief.

it didn’t seem as though my friend had ever really had an emotional advocate before and that’s what i tried to be for her, with varying degrees of success: someone who provided emotional safe space. someone who listened. someone she could say anything to without judgement. someone she could be herself around, even if she was feeling like an awkward vulnerable lonely mess. it’s a role i’ve played for a lot of people and i am glad to do it. it actually relates to who i need to be for my friends.

i’m not angry about it, but it illustrates a problem, something that’s come up for me over and over again, particularly when i need that same kind of non-judgmental, attentive listening and support because i am in a serious crisis and cannot, necessarily, spare the resources for serving as a witness.

the problem, when i was seventeen, is that i was about to tell my friend that the situation had culminated in my being raped. more importantly, i was going to be forced into isolated contact with this same individual over winter break and was scared witless about it. instead of talking it out with someone i trusted, instead of bringing the matter into even the dusky and obfuscated light of a conversation with my friend, i locked in and locked up. i briefly appropriated a switchblade from one of my less observant male friends, kept it in my pants pocket through the entire interaction and a couple days after that, too. fortunately, if there can be any “fortunately” in this story, my rapist had lost interest. could i have used the knife? my public-facing answer remains: no fucking question.

instead of breaking through that initial disclosure, i holed that specific issue up inside of myself for another fifteen years until my first viewing of david lynch's wild at heart put me into emotional shock.

it took me a month to tell ben why.


most people don't know how to listen. a lot of it goes back to the simple reality that the experience of actually being witnessed: without an agenda, without conflict, without competition, without all of those often helpful but occasionally destructive devices that occur in regular conversation - this is disturbingly rare in our society. we are encouraged to be broadcasters, not receivers. there isn't a mandatory american standardized training process for witnessing. there isn’t really any feedback to let us know if we are witnessing in a healthy manner and absolutely no tangible short-term rewards if we are. in fact, a lot of the time? listening makes you feel lonely, sad, and afraid. helpless. nobody ever wants to feel helpless. sometimes i think that our terror of helplessness might actually be one of the things that’s destroying us as a species, but i’m not ready to write about that.

most of the time, our first major opportunities for witnessing are nightmare scenarios: getting thrust into a situation where somebody we care about has been, say, assaulted, diagnosed with a serious illness, has lost someone close, has lost their marriage, has lost everything or almost everything, has LOST, and it is horrible, and it is terrible, and it is helpless, there isn’t some huge heroic action that can be taken or a logo-soaked item to be purchased.

i can’t even imagine, but let’s be honest here? i won’t even imagine. we potential witnesses come to a loved one’s agony with no path, no sense of scale, possibly alternating between terror, apathy, and guilt. we freak out. we make it all about us. we get defensive, we get solution-obsessed, we get judgmental, we get distracted, we get impatient, we feel horribly inadequate. maybe we worry that this suffering individual is going to make us take responsibility for their pain. maybe we worry that their situation is contagious. a lot of the time, we don’t want to think about it. we don’t want to think about it happening to them and we don’t want to think about it happening to ourselves. a lot of the time, we vanish.

and/or? we broadcast.

what happened to me. how i dealt with what happened to me. how i helped someone who might have been dealing with something like this in the sometimes decades-ago past. what i would do if what was happening to our loved one was happening to me. what our loved ones long-term benchmarks and strategies in the recovery process ought to be. discerning. criticizing. qualifying and quantifying. placating. what not to do. where not to go. how not to feel. who to be and how to be it. who not to be and i can’t even imagine, except here i am, imagining that what i am saying to my friend two days out of the morgue is in any way appropriate to be saying to her. we talk

and talk

and talk

and talk.

this is almost always indicative of a wound. whether we know it or not, most of us have some degree of anxiety around the idea of being heard and acknowledged. most of us have been hurt in this exact way by somebody close to us. if that anxiety hasn't been identified and confronted in some way - in the act of connecting with someone who can serve as a witness, as an emotional advocate - it tends to erupt all over our loved ones when they come to us in pain, because hey, why should she get someone to listen to and acknowledge her when i never did? this not only injures those we hold dear in their most vulnerable moments, but perpetuates the mechanisms of silence and isolation. it destroys relationships. if not in that moment, a few months, a couple years up the line.

so what can we do? outside the radius of a loved one’s crisis, we can prepare ourselves to be there for them.

i’m not attempting to present myself as an authority on the matter. i’ve screwed up every point on this list with somebody; done it before, will do it again, am probably doing it right now. however, i’ve also done a lot of work on these issues, possibly for the selfish reason of hoping that, some day, more people will be able to give real witnessing back to me and the people i care about. so here is what i’ve learned. i am and continue to be a stickler for details, in my writing if not in bookkeeping, so i’m putting this overwhelming chunk of content (you may want to read it in shifts)

  • only witness when you are able. if you are also in crisis, the temptation to impatiently rush your friend through their story so you can explode in a tearful display with what you’re going through is going to be great.

  • show up. your friend who is telling you this horrible thing? they are telling it to you for a reason. this friend has chosen you for this disclosure. that is an honor. be there. be present. fucking care.

  • have techniques in place for managing difficult thoughts and emotions. chances are, the first few times you serve another person in this way, you’ll float up some difficult emotions like, “no one ever did this for me,” or “why wasn’t so-and-so more like how i’m being right now when i told them…” a common practice in meditation, when distracting thoughts interfere with your session, is to acknowledge the thought, appreciate that this thought is definitely something you could think about, then consciously decide not to think about it. you nod it through the gate of unthought thoughts. easy-peasy, right? not remotely. but you do get better at it with practice.

  • anticipate and attend to their needs. be a good waiter. get the water and tissues in front of them without asking. have a blanket handy as well as something to punch, knead, or clutch. the only words out of your mouth should be at natural breaks: think service industry questions. “can i get you more water,” “are you warm enough,” or “are you going to be okay while i use the restroom,” because neither of you should be doing this on a full bladder. keep the questions to the bare minimum, and stick to simple “yes/no” questions when possible; “do you need anything” is occasionally appropriate, but very open ended; it can derail. beyond that,

  • follow their lead. don’t attempt to inflict regular conversational guidelines or even what you feel to be “the rules” of typical interactions with this individual in witnessing situations. eye contact may not happen. do not attempt to force or even read anything into eye contact. personally, a lot of the time when i’m really upset, i cover my eyes. i may stop talking for a while. i may need physical contact or i may not want anything to do with physical contact. i may abruptly switch for no reason. i may be tense, shaking, monotone, theatrical, incoherent, overly casual, digging my fingernails into my arm; i might make inappropriate jokes, or attempt to distract you from what i’m scared of saying out loud with videos on youtube of cats. be there. be present. fucking care. stop thinking about yourself for a few minutes. don’t worry, i promise you will still be there to think about when i’m done talking. about that,

  • it’s not about you. your friend is talking about getting raped. maybe you have also been raped. that’s a different situation, but for the moment, we’re going to treat it like the rest of your experience: you know, like how maybe you were almost raped. maybe you are very afraid of getting raped. maybe you are the only person you know who hasn’t been raped. maybe another friend got raped “worse.” maybe you have a sure-fire strategy on how to avoid getting raped. maybe you feel that something a known personality said about rape was really fucking ignorant. isn’t that interesting? no. it is not. do not say these things! if they occur to you while your friend is talking, and we are human so they doubtlessly will, do not bring them up, even if you’re in the midst of an uncomfortable silence. just nod these thoughts through the gate and listen to your friend’s silence. while you are witnessing, your entire experience with the issue your friend is talking about ceases to exist. this is not about you. this is about your friend, who needs you to listen.

  • it’s not about you. your friend might be angry, weeping, scary, incoherent, weird, vulnerable, clingy, or outright uncomfortable to be around. you may have never experienced your friend like this. guess what? that could be a sign that you are witnessing correctly. guess what else? it doesn’t have anything to do with you, except in that you are providing a safe space for your friend to be who they are while they are in this specific crisis. don’t take it personally. don’t get caught up in some mini-psychodrama around ‘is this the way it’s going to be between us now,’ because that’s just your ego rebelling from the witnessing process. don’t expect this behavior in other situations. what happens in witnessing stays in witnessing.

  • it’s not about you. seriously. seriously. your friend is sitting in front of you crying. i appreciate that something in their story might trigger your own PTSD. i appreciate you might end up in a full blown flashback. i appreciate that hearing someone else’s story might provide you with the life-changing epiphany that you desperately need to tell your own. every single one of these things has happened to me in witnessing. i have watched my melodramatic drama diva rush the stage, fall to her knees, and suck all the air out of the room for that first breath of her show stopping monologue. but, almost every time, i’ve grabbed that shepard’s crook and whisked her right off the stage because holy shit woman, it is not about you.

  • don’t judge. i knew that guy was bad news. it wasn’t a good time for you to have a baby anyway. you got a flu shot and didn’t use organic tin foil, that’s why you got cancer. the judgment mechanism? it is called the just world bias and, unquestioned, it will annihilate any relationship that threatens to disprove it. for the record? every single one of your relationships will eventually disprove the just world bias because it isn’t true. it’s a superiority complex that feeds itself on victim blaming. as such, when you indulge it? you are a vampire, and not the sexy fun blondie bear kind. chances are, judgments exist. relationships are never simple and nothing floats up your worst baggage with someone like a crisis. check that shit at the door while you are witnessing. it can be done. then, on your own time, make two lists: baggage specifically related to the friend vs. baggage with the issues they are dealing with. you are very likely going to be surprised. then, you may need to find someone else to witness you. this is a painful bias to expose.

  • don’t advise. giving advice can be another facet of the just world bias; the part where you’re trying to convince yourself this horrible thing wouldn’t happen to you, for you are wise and know how to protect yourself. which: bullshit. still, most of the time, someone who is giving advice is trying to be helpful. it’s not as immediately destructive as expressing judgment, but it can be extremely insidious. like “me too,” advice can serve a valuable place in the process of helping someone in a crisis, just not in the witnessing process and not unless it is sincerely requested, humbly offered, and appropriately catered to that person’s variables.

  • don’t placate. i've spent the last ten years working extremely hard to eradicate "it will be okay" and similar language from my vocabulary after realizing (the hard way) that it's one of the most useless things you can say to someone in a crisis. a lot of the time i was saying it more for myself than my friend. let's face it: there are a lot of situations where it's not going to be "okay." maybe incrementally better. maybe at least functional, again, with time. but not okay. with regard to delving into the whole chin-up crisis-as-opportunity positive-thinking deal? don't. don't! not at this point. maybe not at all. even in the instances where there is some truth to it, it's not going to be interpreted as anything other than pedantic and clueless for someone who is currently only hearing the bitter wind scream through the abyss of eternity. really work to accept that your friend is in pain right now and there is no way you are going to be able to fix this with your talking.

  • probably keep god out of it. provide support to your friend by listening to them and responding to them directly; avoid bringing religion into it. if you need your deity’s help while you are witnessing, that’s understandable, but let that energy work through you silently. you don’t know where your friend is spiritually. “god bless” and “prayers” and “in the name of jesus” might be difficult for all kinds of reasons, especially after a major or long-term trauma. just from my own experience, it’s hell to have to manage your anxiety about getting outed as a naked butt lady worshipping heathen to your extended family in tandem with a cancer diagnosis, especially when it thrusts you for a good week into the dank pit of godlessness and ashes. also, like, if you’re going to pray to anyone for me? i’d probably lean toward isis. she’s the one who appeared to me at the radiology clinic. no, i didn’t see her face in my sonogram.

  • ”me too” has its place, but maybe not yet. if this happened to you - not if you’ve had contact with experiences of this nature, but if you have experienced the same type of loss or wounding, talking about it can not only provide an amazing point of connection, it can also demonstrate to your friend that people they love have survived this. that’s so important i can’t even tell you how important it is. at times, things like this help you feel the power of spirit moving through our lives. the danger with a premature “me too” is that it will provide your defense mechanisms with an opportunity to take over the conversation and make it all about you. remember, it is entirely possible that you are witnessing someone who is telling you their crisis in stages, like i did with my friend. switch the focus to what you went through and it could very well be that your friend will decide to keep it at the “me too” stage, because that seems a lot less lonely. usually, the “me too” should wait until your friend has entirely talked through everything they need to talk through in this session. the times i’ve done “me too” it’s usually been a day or two afterward, once i’ve had some time to assess if i’m going to be able to talk about the issue without taxing my friend’s resources. if i can’t, i might try to find someone else to talk to for the time being and bring it to my first friend when it is appropriate. (p.s. you should still provide support to your friend during this period. just wait on that specific issue, is what i’m saying.)

  • if you don’t believe it, don’t keep witnessing. look, if you’re the kind of person who openly believes that the percentage of women who falsely accuse rape is on the left side of a decimal point, don’t ever witness a rape victim. you will only hurt the person you wanted to help. though, chances are, if you’ve expressed an opinion like that, a rape victim wouldn’t come to you anyway. there is a difference between denial and not believing someone. denial is an extremely typical reaction to hearing something horrible, and it is temporary. it flashes through your head and makes you uncomfortable for a few moments. what you’re doing is hoping it isn’t true. not believing someone, on the other hand, results in bullshit like your still hanging out with your friend’s assailant socially (which happens a lot, if you weren’t aware.) don’t believe someone by degree, either. last year, when dylan farrow came forward with allegations against her stepfather, a lot of academics rushed forward with relentlessly pedantic disclaimers, explaining to the public to what degree she could be believed, when the actual answer was: either you believe her completely or you don’t believe her at all. if you don’t believe her, own that and stop pretending you’re on her team. trust me. being raped as a seven year old is not something you mix up with something else. it’s trauma. trauma rules apply. being raped as a seven year old is something you still recall in vivid sensory detail. just the wrong smell can put you down for hours. unless you’ve blacked it out, which also happens. trust me on this: you know what happened. even if you did black aspects of it out.

  • you don’t know everything. even if you’re witnessing someone like me, who can’t help but attempt digging into every fucking detail and contributing factor, there are things about this situation about which you have no idea. respect that. don’t make judgments on incomplete information. don’t try to shape the narrative. don’t insist on having all your own questions satisfied. it’s not about you.

  • even if you’ve been through something similar, you don’t know everything. having shit happen to you doesn’t make you wise. working on the shit that’s happened to you doesn’t make you wise. it’s being there for other people that makes you wise. it’s listening to someone in crisis and being able to hear someone other than yourself that makes you wise. some of the most helpful and some of the most damaging things i’ve had said to me about the sexual violence in my history have been said to me by other survivors of sexual violence. mostly, the damaging things related to the different ways we handled our pain, which had less to do with our wisdom as survivors and more to do with dramatic differences in our worldview, family dynamics, and economic resources. i mean, what are you going to do? the way my society deals with sexual harm is by not dealing with it. people ignore you, explain it away, explain why it’s your fault, explain how you are not dealing with it to their satisfaction (fuck you), and/or quarantine you as “that freak who got molested." as it turns out, going through a crisis, even an incredibly difficult one, doesn’t automatically disprove the just world bias for you. sometimes the grieving process can make someone cling all the more desperately to the idea that the world is fair. i’ve actually seen people blame themselves for getting cancer expressly so they could congratulate themselves for “getting rid of it” by changing their behavior enough to make the universe happy with them again. when you’re trapped by the concept of a fair world, the idea of the world being fair is way more important to you than the reality that cancer doesn’t have anything to do with your quality as a person. yeah. your relationship with yourself is also a relationship, you know. and it can definitely be destroyed.

  • respect everyone’s learning curve. if you are learning to witness, it’s very likely that your friend is learning to be witnessed, and that’s a learning curve, too. do what you can to take on the burden of that process. what i mean by that is: don’t force somebody in a crisis to iterate and assert emotional boundaries. we’ve all got bad relationship habits. i frequently don’t understand that something is making me angry until i’ve already told people i’m not angry about it. i don’t confront in a timely manner and oh, dog, got me some codependent shit in the codependent shit closet, most of it involving my taking responsibility for situations and dynamics that aren’t my responsibility. so if i’m someone who doesn’t understand how to be witnessed, i’m going to stop. i’m going to ask how you are doing. i’m going to deflect and conceal and pull up the youtube cats. i’ll probably even ask for advice if i think it will get me out of having to talk about this horrible thing i don’t want to talk about except i need to. so your job is to figure out if i’m honestly done talking or if i’m taking responsibility for how you respond to my pain and take the appropriate next step, without judging me or stressing me out about either option. and i guess, then, that this is as good a time to tell you as any that

  • you are going to make mistakes. big ones. small ones. ones you never made before. ones you feel like you make every single goddamn time. ones that don’t even get noticed. ones that get blown way out of proportion. while i’ve been writing this, i’ve frequently winced and stopped myself with the thought, “i can’t say don’t do that, because i did it to ____.” so, first thing? everybody makes mistakes. i’ve gotten angry with someone for making a mistake with me and almost immediately made that same mistake with someone else. our navigation systems sometimes seem to operate on blind spots and hypocrisy. the second thing is that you can’t let the mistakes stop you from trying. having hurt someone once doesn’t excuse you from trying to help in the future. everybody you love, everybody you have in your life and want to have in your life, all of them need you to be able to do this. the world, as a whole, needs more people who are able to do this. and it’s scary, and it’s painful, and the consequences of mistakes can be grave. the consequences of a world where people aren’t able to do this? relentless, self-replicating karma machines. if you make a mistake, acknowledge it soon as you are able and apologize. then get back on track.

  • don’t gush. see, i’m an introvert, and i was an introvert a long time before buzzfeed appropriated the term for narcissistic extroverts starved for me-time. as such, while i’ve never bothered to activate the voicemail on my cellphone, i’m suspicious of people who frequently use infinitives and superlatives in reference to our relationship, and that’s just under normal circumstances. so if i’ve just come out of telling someone the naked details of my absolute worst moment and they get all in my face with how much it means to them that i could be bare my beautiful soul like that to them and now we are clearly the best of forever friends who will protect one another forever in the gossamer pink bubble of our glorious, glorious love? i am going to hiss at them, turn tail and bolt for the nearest crawlspace. or at least that’s what i’m going to feel like doing. in reality, i’m going to feel uncomfortable and possibly like this wasn’t the best person ever to talk to about this issue, but i will smile and nod and try to figure out how i can get out of adjourning graves plots with my new pink gossamer bubble buddy who now has some extremely incriminating blackmail material on me. because? a lot of the time, gushing is making it all about you. in witnessing, it reads like you’re bragging about how much i trust you. to me, which is just… wrong. boundary invasive, emotionally taxing, and wrong. on a personal level, many of the people who’ve hurt me worst were gushers. what should you say, at the end? some simple, unambiguous expression of: how much you care about the person (“i love you” is a standard for a reason), gratitude for seeking you out (“thank you for seeking me out” works), and assurance that you are present and will continue to offer support in whatever way you are able. extra credit: take your words to work by suggesting something tangible you can do to help in the near future. such as, “can i get you food,” or “would it help if i took the calls about this for a few hours,” or “there’s this really amazing forest preserve nearby, would you like to go for a walk with me now?” hugs can be very reassuring, but ask first, and don’t take it personally if your friend is not in that space right away.

  • respect boundaries. once you get over the fear and see what this process is really like, it’s very possible you’re going to become slightly addicted to the idea - if not of listening, of being listened to. the temptation to turn this situation around on your friend and be all, “now you listen to me” could be very, very strong. resist it. the last thing you want to do to your friend is make them suspect the only reason you listened to them was to obligate them into serving as audience for you - and remember that first point? they are not in that place. the other last thing you want to do is make either of you feel like the fun part of your friendship is dead, now; for the rest of your association it will all be angst and confessions, which is not usually the case and a big part of the reason why so many people are terrified of witnessing. plan to do something at the end of this process to affirm your relationship and inventory the ways that this has actually made you closer, not driven you apart. think about what your friend likes to do for fun. then do it or make plans to do it when it’s reasonable. maybe don’t ask “what fun thing do you want to do,” though. only mildly so, but it can be something of a burden to dump “tell me what you want now” on somebody who is grieving. i know in the weeks after my sister placed her son, what i really needed was someone to a) hear me out on everything we’d just been through, and b) come get me, put me in their car, and drive me somewhere interesting or at least somewhere that was not my parent’s house where i could do something other than endlessly deal with the many, many, many tentacles of that endlessly miserable clusterfuck.

  • what happens in witnessing stays in witnessing. the emotions, the headspace, the way of relating, and certainly the information. if it feels like you just did a whole lot of work with very little payoff, get over yourself and consider renegotiating your standards for “payoff.” maybe it will happen the next time you make eye contact with this friend you’ve helped in this incredible way; maybe it will happen a few years down the road, when you’re in crisis and that friend is right there for you, giving this process back to you in your moment of need. you’ll understand. you’ve just coauthored trust.
    mood: really very impressive sinus angst
    music: bohren & der club of gore - midnight radio 1
    (Anonymous) on October 7th, 2015 11:59 pm (UTC)
    My god my god
    You have a way of holding a mirror up to a reader that even though the view is not expected it is necessary.
    I found your writing the last time you wrote on this scale with what I think should be the primer on health care as it is and as it could be. I will try not to gush
    For an artist you sure have a handle on linear thinking.
    This should be on the folding table of every crisis center, in the file folder of every case worker in CPS, bookmarked in every bible and koran of every grief counselor.
    I hope you don't mind I printed this out to read in depth, there are many times I saw myself as I was reading this and not in ways I'm proud of

    It is a major work
    selva oscura: [anderson] she's troubleanonymousblack on October 9th, 2015 03:09 pm (UTC)
    thank you so much.

    i feel like enneagram type 4w5 are frequently scientists and innovators of emotion (we're prone to get bogged down, which might be why so many of our findings present in the form of virginia woolf prose--if they are even ever seen by another human being.) believe it or not, i frequently serve as the practically-minded voice of reason in a group. some of that goes back to my long-ago acceptance of the very deep river of pessimism that runs through me; since i stopped punishing myself for not immediately looking to the sunny side of life, i've really learned to use the dark ornery in a positive way. ;-) i'm just not confrontational or assertive, so i've never really leveraged any social power with it.

    and yeah, oh man, there's a real pride vacuum wandering between the lines of this piece for me as well, otherwise i don't think i would have been so hesitant to post it.

    increasingly struggling with how a lot of my best content seems to go to livejournal to die. if you've got any thoughts on venues with wider readership, especially for pieces like this, i'd be much obliged.

    Edited at 2015-10-09 06:11 pm (UTC)
    (Anonymous) on October 9th, 2015 10:08 pm (UTC)
    how are you at pacing a stage with a microphone?
    I think your subject matter would lend itself to a Ted talk.

    tho I would hate to give up the LJ offerings
    selva oscuraanonymousblack on October 10th, 2015 01:53 am (UTC)
    unlikely the lj offerings would go any time soon. i've been here since pretty much the dawn of the internet and like my cave.

    probably i'd be a bad ted talker. i just can't get that golden-syrup note of hope and wonder in my voice, it comes off as sarcasm.

    Edited at 2015-10-10 04:54 am (UTC)
    stultifera navislaughingwoman on October 8th, 2015 12:34 am (UTC)
    I hope this doesn't disappear. I'd release buckets of these from airplanes, littering the masses (which is to say me too) with this seriously hard-won wisdom.
    selva oscuraanonymousblack on October 9th, 2015 02:27 pm (UTC)
    thank you, woman. looks like it was worth two months, at least. ♥
    translucentflowerfalls on October 9th, 2015 07:33 pm (UTC)
    thank you so much for this.

    might I humbly add a note about serious threats of self-harm, harming coming to or from others, or suicide? that if at the end of witnessing you are still concerned about a person's safety or the safety of others around them, do not pass go, do not question, go straight to a trustworthy source (trusted by both of you)? Or follow-up, at least, track and monitor that person? I'm not really sure, I just am a bit worried (in terms of wider circulation) of the extent that "don't give advice" can go.
    selva oscuraanonymousblack on October 9th, 2015 08:52 pm (UTC)
    I view advice as intrinsically distinct from life-saving intervention, but you're right, not everyone might. One of the things that's frequently come up in my own witnessing - it could be said that it's a primary motivation for anyone's desire to help others in this way - is that you're able to help the witnessed individual feel safe enough to finally speak aloud, if not even identify, an urge to self-harm.

    The problem with going into working this kind of situation is that it's an entire other giant piece of content and, more importantly, not an issue I have authority to address at this time. Witnessing is one major and difficult life skill, but I feel like it can be safely conveyed by an amateur; crisis intervention, especially on the scale of suicide ideation, is another entirely and my concern would be that one small misstep could destroy several people's lives. If something like that comes up and it's serious (though I don't have training in quantifying 'serious,' either) I would think what you do is take it upon yourself to physically get that individual to a health care provider immediately... unless that's going to be harmful to them in some other way. In a domestic abuse situation, just going about getting someone basic emergency care in the wrong way could get them killed. Pressing someone to get help for suicide urges the wrong way could make someone feel skittish about your attention and cause them to act rashly in a panic.

    But I will think about adding a line or two, somewhere? Because it's something that seems like it should be obvious, but maybe it's not - at least not in the moment.
    translucentflowerfalls on October 9th, 2015 09:09 pm (UTC)
    all good points to consider. maybe adding it in with "anticipate and attend to their needs"? or at least, i will add it in my own mental list. "how would you feel about staying at my place overnight/how about letting me keep your butterfly knife tonight/do you need a safe place to go/do you need medical attention/can I drive you to the doctor or other safe place?"
    translucentflowerfalls on October 10th, 2015 12:44 am (UTC)
    also, DEAR SELF,

    way to go heading straight into comfortable "give advice" territory because of your feelings when it's "not about you." WAY TO READ.

    in other words, i'm sorry I went there instead of stayed with my real, true feeling which was: thank you for this, it is amazing

    selva oscuraanonymousblack on October 10th, 2015 01:38 am (UTC)
    one of the things i've been thinking about tonight is how awesome/socially beneficial it would be if there were emotional "first aid" type classes you could go to at the y, but maybe that wouldn't work, because every situation is so completely its own situation and you never really have a map.

    and the thing is, so much of this ends up being, by its very nature, instinctive/intuitive. just like anything, there are people who are going to be better at it - there are people who might be able to shift into hard core crisis intervention and serving people like this professionally. the point for this post (which might be what i need to draft in, ultimately) is that you don't need to offer professional-scale intervention to be able to HELP. focusing in on the comparatively rare situations where someone is truly a danger to themselves might be a defense mechanism, but i still need to examine that.

    that's the thing: i'm learning too, figuring everything out as i go. one of the most important things to be able to navigate in these situations is that sometimes you don't have an answer. sometimes that's because there isn't an answer, but much more often than that it's just that you don't have an answer, you don't know what to do, you don't have those resources available to you. you're spooning ice chips into the mouth of your friend in the recovery room, not performing the actual procedure. i can think of situations where i needed to actively push someone toward fundamental self-care behaviors in conversations like these, but they are rare. usually those deals present a lot differently than someone who simply needs to have somebody close to them listen and care about what's going on with them.
    translucentflowerfalls on October 10th, 2015 02:08 am (UTC)
    you're right. *deep breath* this post brought up a lot of deep issues for me that I wasn't quite aware of, and I realize that I need to deal with them, elsewhere, and I will. part of it is finding new spaces to deal with things, spaces that are not your livejournal, and certainly not a livejournal entry specifically about not using other people's spaces to deal with your own shit.

    *hugs* thank you for your thoughtful replies in spite of me being... so very loudly myself. I have a lot to think about and process. and work on being quieter, and listening, when it's appropriate.

    "you don't need to offer professional-scale intervention to be able to HELP. focusing in on the comparatively rare situations where someone is truly a danger to themselves might be a defense mechanism, but i still need to examine that."

    yeah, that. all of that. I've got to deprogram myself from feeling like I have to solve everything, at all at once, or else I'm a failure. long legacy of not just being an "A" student but an "A+" goes above and beyond student. For the record: everyone also thought I was just being a punk teenager when I flunked history.

    okay, stopping. goodnight, my dear friend.
    Nevarranevarra on October 12th, 2015 12:24 am (UTC)
    Oh my, PLEASE don't lock this thread. Or at least leave it available to me because I need to read it again. And again and process. And comment.
    selva oscuraanonymousblack on October 12th, 2015 08:25 pm (UTC)
    i think we're probably good. might lock the old post back up, though.