Domestic violence survivors and others will hold a vigil on Lafayette Square on Oct. 22 to mark domestic violence awareness month.
“It’s a time to celebrate those who have survived and remember those we’ve lost and unite the community,” said Michele Bedingfield, executive director of Harmony House, the local domestic violence shelter.
The vigil begins at 6:30 p.m.
Like many who arrived at Harmony House, “Sheila,” who asked that her real name not be used, arrived after being on the street with just her clothes. She’s been at the shelter since July and says it saved her life.
“Within two weeks I had a full-time job,” she said.
Sheila, 44, says she’s a recovering alcoholic and drug addict and had been in a series of abusive relationships and marriages since she was a teenager.
“When I was drinking, I always thought the abuse was my fault,” she said. “Two years ago, I stopped drinking and the abuse continued.”
Eventually she wound up at a hospital, where the staff convinced her the abuse was not her fault.
“I made up my mind to leave and stay gone,” she said.
Sheila isn’t from Troup County, but asked to be sent to a shelter away from her community, which is how she wound up at Harmony House. The location is kept a secret for security reasons.
At one point, Sheila believed she was too old to start over. Last week, she signed her name on a lease for a house.
“I haven’t had anything in my own name in years,” she said.
Time at the shelter has given Sheila a chance to participate in recovery programs for alcoholics and addicts and repair relationships with her family.
“There’s not one person here I haven’t grown to love,” she said of the shelter. “They just go out of their way to help you. People change here. You can tell they love you by what they do.”
Sheila says she hopes to be able to give back one day because of the help she’s received and she’s already tried to help younger women who come into the shelter.
“I tell them, they have to help themselves too,” she said. “Twenty years ago, I was just like them.”
She has seen some younger women leave the shelter because “they’re just not ready,” she said.
“I would rather see them give up their bed for someone who is,” she said.