DeKALB – Heather Tomlinson doesn't think about her past too much.
The 32-year-old doesn't think about the family and relationship abuse that led to her call Safe Passage of DeKalb County about a year ago, threatening suicide. She doesn't think about the legal battles or the counselling that taught her suicidal thoughts are a wish for an escape, not a death wish.
Instead, she works, volunteers and attends church and PTO meetings. She lives in Safe Passage's transitional housing and recently regained custody of her daughter. She shared her story Monday at First Congregational United Church of Christ for Safe Passage's 19th Annual Domestic Violence Vigil, which marked Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
"I do everything I can to make sure my children are happy and healthy and fed and have ambition toward life," Tomlinson said. "My daughter understands there are things that are wrong that her father and I both do, but then again, she still respects both of us because we all make mistakes."
About 70 people listened as Tomlinson and other domestic violence survivors shared their stories, one woman acknowledging that she had been an abuser as well as abused and other survivors asking Safe Passage personnel to read their stories for them. Afterward, the group prayed and walked around the neighborhood carrying candles.
Jennifer Morrow, 29, recounted the abuse she faced from her alcoholic father who slipped into a coma when she was 11, from her adoptive family and from a later relationship wasn't normal until she started counselling with Safe Passage.
"The police came to our house often enough that they knew my name and often brought candy to comfort and distract me," Morrow said, of living with her father.
She said she left the abuse 5 years ago after counseling with Safe Passage helped her realize there were other options.
"I have my own apartment, my own income, and I no longer live in fear," Morrow said.
Meanwhile, Tomlinson encouraged others still grappling with abuse to persevere. She said she leans on people she's met through Safe Passage to help her make better decisions about friendships and relationships.
"We all come together here, and we all heal here," Tomlinson said. "There's a bright future for us as long as we're willing to put in the work."