Dangerous Compassions

my experience training as a suicide hotline prevention worker

Ming calls

Hello, I was thinking about my experience training as a suicide hotline prevention worker.  Did I ever blog about that before?  Here, let me search my own life.  I mean my own blog.

La la la…!  Hmm, no–I cannot find it.  Maybe I never wrote about it!  I found some mention of suicide, but nothing about my experience training as a suicide hotline prevention worker.


I was still a young person, in my late 20s.  I trained to become a suicide prevention hotline worker in Sacramento when I first moved there.

Can you imagine me?  Fresh, wanting to help, curious, and with very low social skills.  I was excited to move to the big city, wondering–what meaningful things can I do here?  It was a huge change from the small town I had been living in.

Bishop, California was a hard place for me, the worst two years of my life.  I taught at the community college and cared for kids on the reservation.  I had no friends in person who I saw regularly, I was really afraid of mountain lions, and my boss at the community college turned against me.  Moving to Sacramento was a wonderful choice.


When I think of the suicide prevention line volunteer place, I think of my ex giving me a ride downtown for trainings.  I brought a sandwich one time, in a square plastic tupperware box with a white lid, to eat on my break.  But I forgot it there and never returned.

Often I have thought of that sandwich, molding in the office mini-fridge until someone chucked it in the trash.

“Yuck!  Why don’t people keep track of their food?” the disgusted person asks the air, as the plastic box collides with paper and Subway wrappers in the office trash can.  Thunk!

The sandwich represents my desire to be responsible and show up.  So many times I’m filled with good intentions and plan skillfully.  Still, something gets in the way of me doing what I most want to do.  Something from outside has a huge impact on my insides, and I can’t keep up my efforts.  They scatter in the wind.

sexual problem

A big problem I learned about during my experience training as a suicide hotline prevention worker was lonely men trying to use the suicide prevention hotline as a phone sex line.  I’m a very fem voiced person.  Some of the training was how to detect when people are calling for free phone sex and disengage from them.

That was not what I expected, when I signed up for the training.  This deflection of phone sex callers wasn’t seen as work of the place–it was considered a distraction from our actual work, given to us unfairly by fucked up, unwelcome people.  There wasn’t an ambient deep respect for the nonconsent phone sex attempters.  Just a disgusted dismissal.

So many ways our culture is emotionally unskilled.  Nonconsent phone sex wasn’t a hazard I was willing to dodge.

mental health values

I didn’t feel good in the office space, with the people there.  I didn’t feel seen and supported.  They were NAMI-style straight laced.  Their mental health values had not much overlap with mine.

They believed in the system.  They held as true the idea that we all can get well and back to full time work, being normal people.  Depression and psychosis are bumps in the road, according to their world view–we can get better on a linear path and prevail until we arrive back to Normal Town.

You know I want something better than that.  The system has mostly failed me.  I’ve never lived in Normal Town, and I don’t want to live there at all.  When I need something from Malwart, I visit Normal Town.  It’s hard to be there.  Ming stands in line for me, when I can’t take one more minute of the violence of shopping.

I didn’t feel comfortable with the suicide prevention hotline workers’ us-and-them attitude.  We were supposed to be good and well, while the distressed people calling the hotline were ill and needed help, over there, messed up.  They were the point of our work there, but somehow even the legit callers were considered lesser than.  The hierarchy hurts.

Like many volunteer situations, I felt used.  I was free labor to take pressure off the few paid workers who were exploited and seemed miserable.  I bailed on the training.


If we all could get our needs met in happy ways, including sexual needs and money needs, no one would need to call the suicide prevention line for phone sex.  Imagine a world of deep respect, where violence isn’t the norm, honesty is default, and relationships are mostly harmonious.  People are kind.  Consent is everywhere, and trying to get free phone sex from unsuspecting hotline workers doesn’t need to be a thing.

I’m working to create that world.  But it’s taking a while.

Sex is a human right.  But many people don’t have access to sexual expression or even the privacy to masturbate in peace.  People without power are subject to the whims of people who have power.  Elders are stuck in double or triple occupancy rooms in care homes.  Folks in the hospital, prisoners, disabled people in group homes, and others who don’t have freedom and a place to call their own.

They can’t have guests over, might not have access to erotic art, and are expected not to have a sexuality for the most part.  But sexuality is part of the human experience.  Sex is a human right.

both and

What if someone needs both phone sex and suicide prevention conversation?  What if they need sex to save their life?

Sexual healing can be so hard to find, especially when most people have very few love skills, and true love is a prize hidden away.  In everyday life, most people are not walking around with open hearts, seeing everyone as valuable shining beings of potential and Mystery.  Most people are not engaging everyone we meet with care.  We’re guarded and taught we need to be guarded for our survival.

We’re taught that the desirable people considered worthy of love are abled, look rich and smiling all the time, with specific body types.  Dating is a hazing process that not everyone can endure, to find the prize of romantic and sexual love.

We’re taught that desirable people are not fat, disabled, homeless, impoverished, imprisoned, old, awkward, or dying.  But that’s life for so many of us, right?  Personally, my mama taught me how to love, and being in relationship with Ming is a main part of my survival.

But not everyone is so blessed and lucky to have had a good mama like mine, who cares, holds us, talks to us respectfully, and who stays alive long enough to nurture us well into adulthood.

Many lonely people never learned how to be with others in a caring way.  Or maybe they could fake it when they were young and looked more like a magazine picture.  But addiction, violence, disability, or life traumas took that away.


Please come to your own conclusions about what I learned during my experience training as a suicide hotline prevention worker.  Luckily I’m still learning from the experience.  I have a good memory and ponder things for a long time.

Thank you for showing up to ponder them with me.  I love you, reader.  I believe you are good and lovable exactly as you are.

My experience training as a suicide hotline prevention worker taught me more than I showed up for.  The system is broken, and only love can heal us.

By Laura-Marie

Good at listening to the noise until it makes sense.

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