Wednesday, January 15, 2014


As an attorney I’m often called on in a crisis.

 Someone has done something terrible, someone hates their spouse, someone got hurt, someone has died. I’m called. I jump in. Things (usually!) settle down.

Being an attorney, I have some advantages in this area (and cold-hearted b!#ch isn’t the main one, by the way, but the ability to stay calm in the midst of metaphorical or even actual blood and gore does help.)

But you don’t need to be an attorney to do a lot of what I do.

 In fact, if you follow these simple guidelines you may be able to get things under control yourself:

 1. Look for the resources. 

Most of the time the person or people in crisis are in that particular crisis for the first time in their lives and they have absolutely no idea what resources are available to them if only they looked around. 

Did you know that every county in California has free help to fill out family law court papers? Did you know that the county will go through the entire process of getting a child support order in place on your behalf? Did you know that there are all kinds of hospice services that can assist you after someone you love has died? Did you know that there are weekly meetings for people who love people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol? Weekly meetings aren’t just for the addict! Have you looked into the availability of low cost or free child care services in your county? Mental health services?

I put all of this down because people get stuck in the quagmire of their own lives— thinking that they are the only ones dealing with the shit they have to deal with— but there are 7 billion people on this planet and chances are your situation isn’t as unique as you’re thinking. Actually, chances are that it’s fairly common and there are resources in place for people like you. Sex issues? Yes. Anger issues? Yes. Drug issues? Yes. Death? Yes. So, pick up the telephone and start making calls. Call the local family resource center. Call the county health department. Call some non-profit who’s purpose is loosely related to your situation and ask them for referrals.

 2. Be persistent. 

This is the toughest one. The first phone call you make will lead nowhere. The first Google search words you try won’t result in anything useful. Rather than give up you must try and try again. Get your creative brain going.

Is the person in crisis a member of some ethnic group? Maybe an organization focusing on that group will help. Your Filipino friend just fell off the wagon and lost his job? Maybe the person who answers the phone at the local Filipino community center will have some ideas for you.

Your mother is in a panic because she can no longer remember the names of her uncles and aunts.  Try Ancestry.com or familyserach.org.

There is someone out there with the knowledge and contacts that you need. Don’t stop until you find them.

 3. Don’t get weighed down by the emotions. 

 The person in crisis needs someone to support their emotions as well as their logistics. If you find that you have the desire to be the night in shining armor and are helping with both you need to check yourself.

 This isn’t about your ego and if you’re getting high off of how much you are helping you may be falling into a co-dependency trap. Years ago when I had a job that was essentially helping the sober spouses thrash their addict spouses in family court (or sometimes I had the addict spouse) I learned to watch for co-dependency. Now, don’t all jump on me at once, I know there is a lot to the term “co-dependency,” but what I’m talking about is an exhausted, righteous martyr who still wants to control everything. Don’t be that person. Have some boundaries. Have some areas where you aren’t going to help. Take time out for yourself. 

 I suggest that if you are doing logistics you pick a different friend or relative to be the main emotional support. I’ve noticed that in a crisis there are often loads of people milling around with the idea that they are helping with emotional support, and coming up with their own strongly felt Idea Of What TO Do, but not many people actually doing any research beyond their own personal (and biased) experiences. The person in crisis needs someone calm to help with logistics and, since you are the one who got on the internet and found this post, I’m guessing that it’s you. 

 Let someone else do the handholding and get the credit. If there isn’t anyone else find someone. Your county health department or hospice can suggest counselors or groups that your friend can use.

If you are going to be the main emotional support I suggest you recognize that it is exhausting to do that job and you need to delegate some of the logistical work to someone else.

Don’t know how to ask for help? Repeat after me: “Hey?! How are you? Listen, I know this is out of the blue, but do you think you could make a few telephone calls to find out how to get low cost or free domestic violence prevention services? I have a friend who could really use some help right away, but I’m going to be spending the next several hours holding her hand at the hospital. I can’t tell you her name, I’m sure you understand, she is in the middle of a crisis.”

Do you really want to help your friend? Then watch your own emotions too.  If you are panicking. If you are angry. If you are devastated. It is fine to have emotions, but recognize that your emotions shape your perspective. Knowing your own bias gives you the ability to correct for it just like you would use a steering wheel to correct a car that is out of alignment. Otherwise, you could drift off the road and crash. And what kind of help would you be then?

 4. Keep good records. 

 Find a notebook or a folder and write everything down in one place. I’m not trying to insult your intelligence here, but I am going to break it down because so many people have no idea how to create a file: 

Have one sheet of paper labeled “telephone numbers” and put all of the numbers there. Coroner- 555-5555. Great Mediator recommended by Suzi-555-5555. 
Have another sheet labeled “useful resources” and write down the results of your investigation (webpages, organizations, etc.) 
If there is a police report put it in the file.
If there is a medical report put it in the file. 
If you need to deal with bank accounts have a page called “bank accounts” and put everything in one place. 

You get the idea. A crisis needs organization and a simple thing like a binder can mean the difference between everything feeling as though it is spinning out of control to everything being under control.

Other pages in your binder that might be useful is a list of “potential witnesses” and their contact information or a section called “first hand accounts” where you can ask people to write down what they saw or heard along with their contact information before they disappear into the crowd.

Memories fade, people disappear, confusion confuses… so do your friend a real favor and put everything in writing. 

 Good luck out there.

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