Sunday, February 10, 2013

Volunteering is good for your sex life.

Ah! For the first time in two or three weeks, I feel relaxed. I feel calm. I feel not-on-the-verge-of-a-homicidal-rage-on-account-of-sleep-deprivation. OK, I never feel remotely homicidal, and couldn't write with any degree of emotional authenticity about a fictional character who's homicidal if I tried (I never have), but you know what I mean. I've been sleepy. I've been stressed. Last night (Saturday night) I went to bed early, and I slept in late. This morning was awesome, as the title of this blog post attests. 

And now I'm decidedly in yay-it's-the-weekend mode. I'm wearing a hot-pink Jem and the Holograms T-shirt. The hours of this wide-open, no-commitments day stretch out before me, blank and patiently waiting for me to fill them up with whatever. 

And it's Sunday, so the hours won't judge me, no matter what I fill them up with. I mean, I mostly plan to fill them up with virtuous things. It's not quite 11 a.m. and I already bought our household more dishwasher-detergent powder (generic brand, lemon scent), as well as more exfoliating face wash for myself and two bunches of plastic hangers so I can finally clean up the clothes-bomb that appears to have exploded in my office room. I've already located the stray W-2 that I'll need to look at when typing in tax-related information about my all my old temping gigs through TurboTax in a month or two. Soon I'll e-mail my main freelance client to make sure I have a 1099 that reflects the money they paid me last year, a significant chunk of change because last spring I was doing eight hours' worth of work a day for them.

I also have to deposit a bunch of checks, including my first paychecks from my current job; drop off a classy but outdated-looking beige suede coat of my boyfriend's grandmother's that isn't my style, at the MADD donation shed down the street; do some brainstorming about my organization's Intranet content and organization, so I can present creative suggestions to them on Monday; write up two or three short personal-finance articles for the organization's new interactive website geared toward folks in their twenties and thirties; go through my best short stories and select one or two to "workshop" at the writing-group meeting on Thursday; and go to Kinko's to print out copies of my new car-insurance cards, scan in a voided check and e-mail it to my new temp agency so they can hook me up with direct deposit, and print out copies of whatever short story I choose to "workshop." 

Ha ha, you saw the title and thought this post was going to be all sexy, and here I've tricked you into reading about taxes and a laundry list of my chores. (Oh yeah, laundry! I have to do that, too.) 

I can at least give you an update about the volunteering gig I'll be doing, now that I actually have a plan on that front. And then maybe I'll give you something sexy at the end of this post. Maybe just maybe. 

Yesterday I went to my second (of three this month) 9-to-5 Saturday volunteer-training sessions held by a bunch of agencies in my county that provide services to domestic- and sexual-violence victims and offenders. You can read most of the basic details about all this in that post I linked to in the paragraph above. Last week we got more of an overview, and watched some wrenching videos, true stories about women whose husbands shot and killed them, about fathers who raped their daughters for years, about teenage girls who were molested and raped by male relatives and then went on to molest and abuse neighborhood kids. 

If last week, with its harrowing statistics and its infuriating and haunt-you-for-the-rest-of-your-life stories, served mostly to remind all 70 of us of why we were spending all of Saturday's daylight hours sitting in a church taking notes as a bunch of folks went through PowerPoint presentations, watching videos played on someone's laptop and projected in front of a giant stained-glass cross -- this week was when we got most of the nuts-and-bolts info to actually help these people. 

Our hand-outs included a purple (the official color for domestic violence, like pink is for breast cancer) laminated sheet with all the crucial phone numbers on it, for all the hotlines and shelters and legal and housing services that a victim or offender might need. 

We learned, step by step, the process that a victim would go through in order to escape -- the emergency protective order (EPO) that lasts 72 hours and gives her time to grab some things from the house before fleeing to a relative's house or a shelter, the preliminary protective order (PPO) that lasts for 15 days until a trial is held to determine whether she can get a two-year protective order (PO). How victims should carry a copy of the PO on them at all times because apparently police databases aren't perfect and don't always, 100% of the time, contain this information accurately.

Social workers from the county's two main shelters for victims and their families -- Artemis House, a high-security emergency shelter in "an undisclosed location" that lets male and female victims stay for 45 days and gets them set up for whatever their next move might be; and Bethany House, where female victims and their families can stay for four months and learn job and life skills to help them re-establish their lives after leaving a violent situation -- talked about the services they provide and what kinds of victim scenarios would deem someone appropriate for each shelter. 

We learned about "transitional housing," and about the legal options for victims of domestic violence. We heard from women who work for two different "supervised visitation" programs, through which children from families in which domestic violence has resulted in divorce can spend 90 minutes a day, once a week, with the parent they don't live with, the parent who might have hit or raped or threatened or tried to control the other parent. 

It was a lot of information to process in one eight-hours-with-a-lunch-break session. I felt a bit scattered, constantly shuffling my hand-outs from both weeks' sessions to find the one we were talking about at a particular moment, jotting down tons of notes like crazy all over the hand-outs as well as in my little purple notebook that I'd bought without even realizing that purple is the "DV" (domestic violence) color.

The organizers end each session with a sort of pep talk about "self-care" to avoid incurring "vicarious trauma," to keep from taking too much to heart the stories we'll be hearing about during training as well as when we finally start volunteering with real people, not just hearing about video people. At the beginning of yesterday's session, a social worker (she talked to us last time about how she helps children who have been abused) passed around a box containing mini containers of Play-Doh. She said for us to take out the Play-Doh and play with it, roll it around, make little shapes or animals with it or whatever, whenever we were feeling stressed or needed some relief from all the depressing subject matter we were willingly submersing ourselves in all day. 

At the end of yesterday's session, the woman who runs Bethany House told us to close our eyes, and she led us through some very basic but appreciated deep-breathing exercises. She told us to think of something we'd like to do tonight, something that would feel good to us, and a bunch of us perverts (including me) giggled like schoolchildren. (Again, see the title of this blog post.) 

But the most important thing about yesterday's session was that we learned about the specific volunteer needs that the county has -- the actual roles and slots that we might fill. There was the hotline, of course -- calls to the hotline are routed to your cell phone, and during your shift, instead of going to some call center and sitting there with headphones on like you're Britney Spears, you pick a time slot (say, noon to 4 p.m. on a Sunday) and you guarantee that during that period you'll have access to a private place that you can duck into (such as a room in your house) so the conversation will be private. 

There are the volunteers who accompany victims to the courthouse, either to fill out the long, stapled-together document in which they write up the situation and request a protective order, or just to be with them on the day of a trial or some other legal action going on. There are the volunteers who are there to support victims undergoing medical evaluations after they've been abused or raped, to provide helpful information, to assist them with any paperwork or other bureaucratic crap they might not be in the right frame of mind to deal with, and just to be a caring soul who's there for them and is trained to know what they might need just then.

There are volunteers who assist at the shelters, or during the supervised visitations, who are there in the playrooms to "monitor" the visits between a parent and his or her child and make sure everyone's safe and that the visiting parent doesn't grill the kid for info about the other parent or tell the kid to pass along some creepy message to mommy. 

And then there's what I'll be doing -- I'll be helping the bad guys try to not be bad guys.

It seemed strange to me that, until near the end of the second session held yesterday, there had been almost no mention of any rehabilitation programs or counseling or anything for the people who commit the violence. I began to apprehend, from offhand comments made by the social workers, police detectives, the lawyer for the commonwealth's attorney's office, and everyone who spoke during the training -- including veteran social workers in the pews with the rest of the audience -- a grim truth: that there was no hope for "fixing" the monsters. That they're just wired wrong, and the best we can hope for is a long prison sentence in the worst instances. Or for the victims to successfully hide from and avoid their onetime attackers and manipulators but always feel, as a victim in the stalking video we watched put it, "hunted."

During one "stretch break," a man seated next to me on the pew said he was getting the same vibe -- that, as he put it, "I guess there's just no hope." I knew of the ADAPT program, but dimly recalled the volunteer coordinator saying during orientation that "...we're not doing that right now." (It turns out that's not exactly the case, as I interpreted it -- I think they're just in the middle of one of their twice-a-year, 18-weeks-long group-therapy sessions at this point on the year-long calendar.) There was the briefest mention of the program during the first training session, as part of a round-up of county services. 

But it was odd -- as if no one really wanted to talk about that side of things. The first day, I was one of the few people to bring up that an abuser in one video we watched clearly had an out-of-control drinking problem. Of course, being hooked or dependent on alcohol or a drug doesn't magically make you mean -- but I would bet that some underlying issues cause both the alcohol or drug problem and the abuse. I mean, so many of us use alcohol and drugs to avoid or escape things -- the reality of our lives, the reality of our flawed selves. I would be surprised if the two issues, when both are present in a person's life, were totally unrelated. 

Right after that five-minute stretch break, my pewmate and I glanced down at our agendas -- and what do you know, next up was someone talking about the ADAPT program. A girl whom I would guess to be in her twenties, named Holland Omar, took the microphone and instantly charmed us by saying, "This is so weird; I feel like I should sing or something." She had a breezy demeanor that somehow made her type of work seem... not less grave, but more hopeful. She wore a swingy, rust-orange dress that showed just the merest, still-work-appropriate amount of cleavage, with black tights and a little black cardigan, and it occurred to me that it was the type of outfit I would wear to work. 

Maybe that's a frivolous thing to take note of, but I guess I had a feeling of instant camaraderie with her -- "This is someone like me. If this young-seeming girl in her cute office-casual ensemble can do this, I can do it, too." I mean, you know, she wasn't some grizzled, hardened ex-cop you'd see in a movie with a Coolio theme song or something. She was someone I would run into at Starbucks. (OK, so maybe she struck me as a little like the Michelle Pfeiffer character in a movie with a Coolio theme song.) (Also, oh my god, the Wikipedia entry for that movie includes this: "The students immediately coin the nickname 'White Bread' for LouAnne [the Michelle Pfeiffer character], due to her Caucasian appearance and apparent lack of authority, to which LouAnne responds by returning the next day in a leather jacket and teaching them karate.") 

And again I had that "Aha" feeling, and started taking notes with a renewed frenzy, and putting stars next to things -- key people to contact about getting involved, the steps for becoming a fully trained volunteer who helps facilitate the group-therapy sessions. Now I know: After the third and final 9-to-5 Saturday of this Tier 1 training I'm currently doing, I get a li'l "certificate of completion" that means I can move on to an additional 12-hour/one-weekend-long training, and then I observe one of the twice-a-year, 18-week group-therapy sessions (held on weekday evenings, once or twice a week). After I observe a full 18 weeks of the program, I get trained to be a "co-facilitator" of one of the next groups. Which to me sounds a little, "Holy shit -- I can do that without having a psychology degree?" but hey, I'm not going to complain about that.

So there you go. There's my plan. I'm going to contact both Holland and the volunteer coordinator to make sure I'm all set up for this track as soon as possible. And if there's a lag between now and the next 18-week session, I'll ask if I can either sit in for however much there is left of this current session (and have it not "count," just do it for bonus observation), or else I'll volunteer in some other way during the meantime -- answer hotline calls, get my name on the rotating list of volunteers who accompany victims to medical examinations, monitor supervised visits with kids. 

There's so much more I have to say on this blog, but Life beckons -- between the time I started writing this blog post and now, I got a call from my sister, who's in town (she moved to South Carolina after she got married a year ago) and wants to meet at Barnes & Noble for lunch, fashion-magazine perusal, and life catch-up and gossip. 

But I promised you something sexy. So I will tell you that volunteering -- or the prospect of volunteering -- is making me feel as if I have a tiny bit more self-worth. I move through the world feeling like a person who is genuinely willing and trying to "give something back," to make myself of some use in this big ol' baffling and flawed world of ours. 

Let us just say that a hypothetical chick in a hypothetical bed with her hypothetical boyfriend might feel more deserving, might allow herself to surrender to lust, to enjoy good things that are happening to her, if she is volunteering and therefore feeling more self-worth in general. ... Guys, I really want to type more, but pretty much anyone reading this is going to be a platonic friend or former co-worker or relative of mine, so I typed something good but erased it just now. 

So I will just say this: titty sprinkles.

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