Wednesday, December 2, 2009

CityWalk Neighbors: Sharon Tillis


It’s been a long, hard journey for CityWalk resident Sharon Tillis.

Born and raised in Dallas, Sharon experienced a painful childhood marred by sexual abuse and parental neglect. Growing up, she felt invisible as her abusers were given free rein to strip her of her innocence and identity.

“Nobody noticed what was going on and they should have,” Sharon said. “As a child, it was like I was screaming in a room full of people and no one could hear me.”

As the abuse continued, Sharon became overwhelmed with depression and the need to be loved. Oftentimes, her search for acceptance made her vulnerable to more abuse.

“I never knew who I was. I feared rejection and became a people pleaser,” she said.

When Sharon got older and started dating, she found herself drawn to abusive men, including the husband she fled a few years ago.

Making the decision

In the beginning, Sharon and her husband lived like the average newlywed couple. They enjoyed life together and had no major problems. Sharon was also self-sufficient, something she was very proud of.

But the marriage started to crumble when her husband began verbally and physically assaulting her. When family illnesses and financial difficulties began taking their toll, the abuse escalated. Afraid of being alone and broke, Sharon remained in the marriage and many times suffered in silence.

One evening, while her husband was at work, Sharon and her daughter went to see the Tyler Perry film Why Did I Get Married? In the movie, one of the main characters, Sheila, suffered constant abuse and public humiliation by her husband. The characters’ dysfunctional relationship hit home.

“It was me up there on that screen,” Sharon said. “My daughter looked at me and said ‘What are you gonna do?’”

Starting over

As soon as they left the movie theater, Sharon sent her daughter to live with family members and she fled to The Family Place, a local domestic violence service provider. There, she completed six months of various programs, training and counseling. She was also referred to CityWalk, a new affordable housing property that was being developed in downtown Dallas.

Sharon was placed on the waiting list for CityWalk in 2008 and moved in with relatives after graduating from The Family Place program in April 2009. A few months later, her application to become a CityWalk resident was approved.

“CityWalk made it possible to where I can afford my own place,” she said. “I know I have permanent housing and affordable housing, and to know it was going to be downtown in the arts district – that was a plus!”

With her children all grown up – her daughter attends Texas Southern University in Houston and her two sons are living productive lives – Sharon is now focusing on her own future. She is considering going back to school and, because she hasn't given up on love, hopes to be happily married within the next few years.

“This is a new beginning for Sharon,” she said. “I’ve come a long way. I know who I am now.”

Photo: Sharon Tillis stands inside a CityWalk apartment.

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