Editor’s note: This is the second story in a series about Cardinal Point. The organization is Canadian County’s Family Justice Center model. For more information about Cardinal Point, see the Feb. 11 issue of the Mustang News.
For many domestic and sexual violence survivors, the pain of their experiences never completely vanishes.
This is true of one member on Cardinal Point’s Board of Trustees. However, through time and strength, and one particular prince charming, Heidi Oliver survived.
“There is life after domestic violence,” said Oliver.
Today, the survivor aims to provide hope to victims.
For about two years, the Burns Flat native lived with an abusive partner.
When Oliver was in high school, her abusive relationship began. She was raised by her grandparents, who believed in traditional values, so when Oliver became pregnant with her first daughter, she married her abuser.
“Getting married was what you did, even though I knew that probably wasn’t the best choice,” Oliver said.
She had her oldest daughter between her junior and senior year. After giving birth, the physical and mental violence continued.
“Finally, I had just had enough whenever I thought my baby was going to get hurt,” Oliver said.
In 1998, Oliver left with her daughter to return to living with her grandparents.
“The only thing that I had was my family support,” she said.
After leaving an abusive relationship as a senior in high school with a newborn baby, Oliver said she was unaware of services for people who have experienced domestic violence. However, she said she may have not taken them, as she was young and scared.
She had one thing on her mind: get her daughter to safety.
Almost immediately after her abusive relationship ended, there was one man who appeared by Oliver’s side. One who also knew Oliver before her relationship.
Zach, Oliver’s current husband, arrived at her grandparents’ doorstep during an uncertain time.
“Every story does not end like that, I absolutely know that, but I was very lucky, very blessed that my story ended that way,” Oliver said.
The two have been together for 21 years ever since.
She moved to Yukon with Zach, who is an elementary principal at Piedmont Public Schools, 12 years ago.
They have raised their three daughters together. Although Oliver’s story ended like a fairytale, she does not give survivors false hope.
Every story is not the same, she said. And every story stays with most survivors for a lifetime.
“It was enough trauma that I still have PTSD symptoms,” Oliver said. “I still have a lot of things that I have to deal with from that.”
On her 20-year survivor mark, Oliver decided to step out of her comfort zone. She wanted to help other domestic violence victims become survivors.
After sharing her story on Facebook, Oliver linked up with her friend, Cardinal Point’s CEO Kristie Chandler, who began involvement discussions. Oliver soon learned the need for more resources in Canadian County through committee meetings.
From that point, she was hooked. Oliver volunteered to be the treasurer and serves as the survivor chair on Cardinal Point’s Board of Trustees, where she listens and provides input from a survivor’s perspective.
As a former educator, Oliver knows the importance of having Cardinal Point essentially in students’ backyard.
“Being in the school system, it’s a need,” Oliver said. “You have kids that tell you things and you see things in school systems.”
Domestic violence does not just affect school districts. It can be happening to someone’s neighbor, Oliver said.
“It’s hid very well,” she said.
More than 90% of women murdered by men are killed by someone they know, according to the Violence Policy Center, a national research nonprofit. Oklahoma ranks third in the nation for the homicide rate among females murdered by males.
Oliver also led survivor groups to allow their voices to be heard when Cardinal Point’s services were beginning to be developed. One of the most common hardships voiced was about having to travel to multiple locations to receive services instead of remaining within Canadian County.
Another difficulty was survivors having to reinstate their victim protective orders.
Cardinal Point will provide all the services victims need under one roof and will remain with them after they walk out of their doors.
“It means a lot to me to know that here in our own county they have so many people who care about them,” Oliver said. “… There’s people who have hope for you, and there’s people who will help you. It’s OK to ask for help. It’s OK to be broken …”
No matter how thick the blanket of darkness is around victims, Cardinal Point is available to wrap them in surviving light.