There is a woman who is a member of one of the support groups to which I belong. The therapist in that group has encouraged me to do more peer counseling. I am gradually doing so, taking my time, spending most of my time simply listening and pulling the resources I have assembled into some decent sort of arrangement. I need more documentation and materials from those places, as well as more efficient filing system. I am currently using three-ring binders, a Rolodex and some computer files. It works well, but I need to develop a more portable system.
I am also developing a employment opportunities system that I can e-mail to the several services and facilities that want that information more readily and easily available to people who have scant experience or no experience using computers. The days of job searching in the local newspaper classifieds is over. Same thing for cold-calling on companies, stores and offices, introducing yourself and asking if they were hiring. Some people are still making cold-calls, but companies are not all that fond of the practice, which is why they take applications only via their own web sites and hiring services.
I do not want to become sidetracked on employment stuff, because I could write about that forever. The details are not all that important, but something happened with one of the women from that particular group today.
She has been texting messages to me for several days, following several telephone calls last week. The reason she is comfortable doing this is because the original therapist in charge of group, the one who created it for her clients who needed an additional place to discuss their issues and as a place for some of them to develop social contacts, asked at her second-to-last session with us if anyone wanted to share telephone numbers with anyone else. Her intent was sublime. She thought that if any of the women was having difficulty with something or simply needed to talk to another person who had similar experiences and could relate, then the best place to create such a support system was within the group.
Trust grows in that environment. Women who were unable to speak or trust anyone have really grown and bloomed as a result of this particular group. I know that happens in the right kind of support group environment, for any personal issue, whether it be mental illness or substance abuse or domestic abuse or veterans issues, the list goes on. If there is a need, there are careful and informed people who will do whatever it takes to make a safe place available.
The first problem with this group is that several women wanted me to be their partner in this project, and I shared my telephone number with four women.
The second problem is that if you are in a quasi-professional/helping position in a group, you begin to transcend the more simple (not that anything is that simple) position of being a group member. I really do not mind this happening. Doing this work and being comfortable with other people depending on me to help them and be a nice guy about it is why, well, it is why I do this work.
I believe that everything in my life has been leading, guiding me to do this work. Simple as that. I would be ungrateful for all the good that I have in my life if I did not honor this process. I believe in what I am doing.
It is why I am beginning my certification training next week. It is why I work in so many places where people need employment help and social support. And, even though it is my hope that if I complete the training and qualify for the certification, that I will be able to find a part-time job, one that actually brings a paycheck along with the work, all of this work is so important to me that I will be continuing to volunteer a couple of days each week.
So, anyway, two of those women have been relying on me for a bunch of small things and, honestly, it is fine. Today that changed, when the woman I mentioned called me after the calls last week and the texting this week. She wanted me to come and pick her up from the place she is living because she is fighting with another person there. Ambiguous, but this is now how I have to do this.
I was already meeting another friend for lunch, so I invited her along. The story is so long and involved, but for more than three hours after I picked her up, she made statements about what she needs and that this other person wants me to provide them for her. I listened, was sympathetic and did not make any offers in response to how she was presenting what she needed.
After the first few comments from her, I had a revelation. Not exactly thunderstruck, but a whole bunch of lights went blazing over my head. Classic cartoon light bulbs. And, I was able to be professional and see how she was using our relationship in an attempt to manipulate me the way she has been sharing that she does with other people. Heady stuff.
Interesting aspects are that she kept it up for the entire two-hour lunch (slow eaters and fast talkers, the only defense we have for taking so long), and then when I left the table at the restaurant to use the restroom, she made the same attempts directly to my friend. I know this because my friend called me later and told me what had happened.
And, I know that both of us managed this uncomfortable afternoon well because my errands included returning library books and stopping at the help center to drop off more eyeglasses. When there I asked to chat with my therapist and shared what had happened. It felt a little weird, but it was nice to be reassured that my instincts were spot on today.
I feel so sad about her circumstances. Allowing her to live with me for a while, driving her to another state or giving her money or buying things for her is not going to help either of us, but most especially not her. That I had the opportunity to reinforce this process right before next week's training is pretty amazing. These interactions have been happening between me and my clients from the beginning, four years ago.
I have some slip-ups, as in giving money and things like that, but I have gradually learned to rein in those impulses, declining when it is in everyone's best interest to not do or give something. I made one terrible mistake earlier this year when I returned a telephone call to a client using my cell phone instead of the reference desk phone. It is fortunate that that did not become a problem issue, although I and the librarian were concerned for a while. A misstep that I will not repeat.
And, that is what today was about. I disappointed a person who wanted all kinds of personal resources from me. I paid attention to what was happening and made all the right decisions about how to handle the situation. This kind of circumstance is going to happen more regularly from now on. My best guess is that a core skill is learning how to help people without hurting them big-picture-wise. This is not original with me, but helping someone when you can is almost always a great thing, but rescuing someone is not good or healthy for either party, the rescuer or the rescued. The line between those two, helping and rescuing is so small that it can be difficult to know where one ends and the other begins.
I want to help. Simple as that. I do not want to become enmeshed in other people's lives. This work is not about me, it is solely about the other person. I am already good about listening, helping and referring, about caring about other people; now I need the skills to make sure that I build the knowledge and wisdom to do it for the best result.
This has been a most interesting day, and it would not have been nearly as successful were it not for the help and guidance of a truly great therapist.