(EDITOR'S NOTE: The domestic violence victim in this report agreed to speak with the Sun-Gazette on the condition that her identity not be revealed. A pseudonym was used.)
Olivia Ottlinger of Williamsport is just one of the hundreds of domestic abuse victims who have found refuge at the the city's YWCA and the shelter's Wise Options program.
Ottlinger came to the shelter several years ago after police found her severely beaten and unconscious in the home she shared with her boyfriend. Her injuries were so severe that even now, years later, her case stands out in the mind of the center's staff.
"They said that I had been beaten into an unrecognizable state," Ottlinger recalled.
Lynn Bies, Wise Options program manager, agreed.
"We work with many abused individuals here and the staff sees a lot of tough things. But it was even difficult for us to look at her when she came in," Bies said.
At the recommendation of counselors, Ottlinger was kept away from her own reflection. While pictures had been taken for police evidence, she was urged not to look at them.
At first, it was hard for Ottlinger to come to terms with what had taken place. Despite her severe injuries, she originally refused to see herself as a victim of domestic violence.
"It wasn't real for her, in the beginning. She didn't want to admit she had experienced domestic violence. She was in such denial up until that point, very broken down," Bies said.
Though her abuser was incarcerated, Ottlinger's journey to recovery had only begun.
Like many victims of domestic abuse, she blamed herself for her abuser's actions. Her boyfriend had beaten her previously, but the staggering severity of her injuries only served to make Ottlinger feel more guilty.
"I kept thinking that I needed to talk to him. I was blaming myself for what happened. I thought that I had to do something to make him that mad," Ottlinger said.
"I kept thinking that, this time, I must have done something really bad, in order to make him so mad. I knew I must have been really hurt, judging from everyone's reactions," Ottlinger said.
It took time for her to adjust to shelter life.
"When I first got here, I felt disbelief. It didn't seem real that these people were going to help me and I was going to be all right, that I was safe here," Ottlinger said.
Through intensive domestic violence group counseling and private counseling, Ottlinger eventually began piecing her life back together. With the help of the staff of the YWCA, she slowly was able to come to terms with her abuse.
"It's odd ... I could sit in group (therapy), listen to the stories of other people, and I recognized that they were abused. But I refused to think of myself like that. I had brushed off his actions for so long," Ottlinger said.
Eventually, she began to find peace in her new life. She particularly found comfort in the shelter's strict visitor policy.
"I was very paranoid, originally. Even though he was locked up, I would see him on every street corner," Ottlinger said.
"Even the cops don't have the ability to lock everyone out. Here, everyone has to have a reason and a purpose for visiting. I felt safe here for the first time in a very, very long time," she added.
Finding healthier way
Like many who have suffered from abuse, Ottlinger was uncertain how to function away from her abuser. She said that the staff had to teach her how to view "basically everything" in a healthier light. Over time, she was able to turn her focus away from the past and begin building a future.
"There was nothing that was taboo here, nothing that was too stupid to ask. The attention to detail and commitment that the staff showed me was amazing. I wasn't judged for anything that had happened to me," Ottlinger said.
These days, Ottlinger lives away from the shelter but stays in touch with the employees at the YWCA who helped her through so much. She said that the lessons she learned there will stay with her forever.
"I'm an entirely different person now. I just want to have a normal relationship where both of us are comfortable and treated as human beings," she said.