Trigger Warning: Content discusses suicide, trauma, racism, physical assault, and sexual violence, including rape.
Heather, Southern California
For three and a half years, Heather was a daily Warm Line caller. Grief, homelessness, sexual assault, and past childhood trauma made Heather want to end her life. Warm Line counselors helped Heather get through some of her lowest moments by sharing their own experiences and offering a nonjudgmental ear. Heather can no longer call the Warm Line since our service lost the funding to accept callers outside the Bay Area. With your support in signing our Warm Line petition, you can help people like Heather get the peer counseling they need.
I am alive today because of The Peer-Run Warm Line. I called every day for three and a half years because of excruciating grief. Life would never be the same after that chilly February morning when my husband of twenty-four years died suddenly in my arms. It felt as if I had died as well, but someone forgot to tell God.
My husband was my best friend, my confidante, my chess partner, shopping buddy, and my cheerleader. He was my whole world. In the beginning, when all I could do was cry in between singing his praises, the counselors at the Warm Line would sit quietly, patiently, they would say, “You will get through this Heather, you are so strong."
My husband was an astrophysicist and his income had been our sole means of support. Because of a horrific economy and prolonged illness, we had exhausted all viable means of support. I had $200.00 to my name. The insanity started. The Landlady evicted me, so she could sell the property.
While I searched for work, I held weekend yard sales. It was awful to part with so many memories, but I needed to get on my feet. The stress sent me to the hospital for five days with a fever and migraine that just wouldn't cease. Once released, I packed what remained of my life, placed it in storage and began -- to my horror, sleeping in my car. Dusk was awful, where would I go? Where would I be safe? I'd drive high in the Foothills and hope to get through the night, sleeping with my Bible on my chest. I remember Anthony, one of the counselors, telling me he'd been through the same and how, yes, his knees hurt in the morning too because of sleeping in a cramped car. It helped to know others pulled out of this scary situation. And the way Anthony made me laugh in the midst of monumental fear and pain was nothing short of miraculous.
I finally found work as a nurse with a woman who had been abusing Valium for forty years and was increasingly becoming violent and psychotic. She would curse me out and taunt me with racial slurs because I am biracial. She would pull my hair, kick me, call the police and tell them I was selling drugs, and one occasion, she ran over my foot with her car while speeding out the garage because she was terrified of tiny sugar ants. Often, I would call the Warm Line for encouragement just to mentally prepare for the day with my patient.
I had a very difficult time with discerning the character of people. At age twelve, my father impregnated me. My mother beat the fetus out of me. I was sent 3,000 miles away to a private Catholic Boarding School. There, I became an elite gymnast. I was taught you must always handle yourself with grace and dignity. Tears were not tolerated. Anger was not allowed. I had never been to a Prom. Never dated, never drank or smoked. I had never lived in the real world as a normal kid. I was emancipated by the State at sixteen years old.
One day, Lilly at the Warm Line said, "Heather, you can say and feel whatever you want. Don't worry about offending me. You have a right to be angry. If you feel angry, it's okay. In fact, it's normal." As soon as I heard that, I began to understand the physiological response of shutting down was physical pain. I thanked God for Lilly's wisdom.
My court date for my husband’s pension was still a year away. I was not eligible for any State Benefits, but through the Warm Line I located a Psychologist and a Psychiatrist. Until then I had to work. Then things got worse. The engine in my car burned out. The dealer agreed to replace the engine and add the cost to my loan. They said it would take three weeks. It took ten weeks.
For two and a half months, I crawled in a small space under the local library and covered myself in green trash bags, spending the nights half awake. When my car was finally returned, it drove for exactly two weeks before it caught on fire. They had fouled up the engine's wiring. Smoke poured out from under the dashboard, the hood flew up, the door locks jammed, and flames shot in the night sky. I managed to squeeze through the window and fall on the pavement. I called 911. Then I called the Warm Line. James said, "Oh my gosh, I was just thinking about you Heather, are you alright?" And all I could do was cry because someone actually thought of me, remembered me and cared. James told me how to file a claim and get a rental.
I walked on eggshells at work because I couldn't afford to get fired. The abuse was intense: spitting on me, screaming, and throwing my medicine out the window when I was driving her to doctor appointments. But the rental cost $600.00 a month. It was either pay the rental or sleep under the library! My court hearing was coming up and I was skeptical. A month before the hearing, I was sideswiped by a drunk teenager who took a red light. I woke up in the hospital frantic!! I asked the nurses for my phone and called the Warm Line. Timothy answered and said, "Don't worry Heather, we'll get through this too, I'm just so grateful you're okay. Tell me what happened and let's figure out what we’re going to do the rest of the day."
Then, four days before my court hearing as I was leaving the junior college gym, I was violently raped. I fought back as hard as I could, but he was six feet tall and strong. I tried to scream but he clamped his hand over my mouth. I was bleeding and bruised but all I could think about was getting to work the next day, so I could get my check to pay for the rental car. I know it sounds crazy, but I was in shock. I felt detached from my body. I could barely get the words out but Anthony, at the Warm Line stayed with me, "You didn't do anything wrong" he said. "You fought back, and we are going to get through this and heal!" Anthony made me promise to call back. But it was all too much, and if I did not get my husband’s pension, I was certain I would plan suicide.
Three days later, the judge granted my request. I would not have made it through those challenges without the well-trained counselors at the Warm Line. They constantly reminded me that I could survive. They knew me by name and became my family. I am in their debt forever. I learned how to survive grief because they listened for hours about the great love I had for my husband and his brilliant mind and gentle heart.
I survived because they knew how to deal with trauma and crisis. All these experiences were life-shattering but because of The Peer-Run Warm Line, I not only survived, I grew and thrived.
For the sake of privacy, Heather is not the Warm Line caller's real name.