Community feature: Heal Her Foundation helps women cope with past trauma
From the outside, Julie Morrison appeared to have it all. She had a husband, career, son and a beautiful home. But internally, something was amiss.
“For years, I felt a void,” she said during an early-October interview. “I couldn't sleep at night. I'd think about things that happened to me, and it would just make me anxious.”
Morrison was contending with childhood experiences, including the abandonment and rejection she felt as her mother struggled with substance abuse. As a teenager, Morrison was given a platform to express her emotions in Alateen meetings for young relatives and friends of alcoholics. But it wasn't successful.
“I was scared, I was embarrassed and I was not going to talk to you about this craziness going on with my mom that I didn't understand,” Morrison recalled. “They had us in a room and we all looked at the wall because we were not talking about how we felt.”
When Morrison was in her 20s, her mother became sober, and the two accompanied one another to Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings. And something Morrison heard struck a chord, even though she wasn't struggling with addiction herself.
“[They] said, ‘Get with people like you and start your healing,'” she said. “So I created a group on Facebook, and I just called it ‘Daughters of Addicted Mothers.'”
Morrison found that talking to other women with similar backgrounds helped her cope as her mother, who is not always present as a grandmother or able to provide motherly advice, continued to struggle. Morrison's Facebook group eventually became the Heal Her Foundation, which was officially founded in 2015 as a women's wellness nonprofit organization.
Each month, Heal Her offers open support groups in libraries or businesses willing to donate space. Morrison chooses different topics, and welcomes women to lead discussions, share experiences or simply listen. Sometimes there is a therapist on hand to offer one-on-one assistance.
“These are real-life women with real-life traumas,” Morrison said. “We deal with confidence [issues], identity issues, sexual trauma, domestic violence, addiction, prostitution.”
Next month, a speaker will share how she overcame her fear following a sexual violation.
“When I posted that event, my inbox flooded,” Morrison said. “[Women said], ‘I'm nervous. This happened to me. I never pressed charges.'”
“It's a lot going on in America,” Morrison continued. “You will see this woman that's well put together but she is hurting inside.”
“It just helps me a lot,” Gloria Roberts said of her participation in Heal Her. “I started drinking when I was 13. … [I] never dealt with my mother passing. So now I'm 60 years old and I'm walking around crying because I miss [her].”
Sober for nearly 20 years, Roberts admitted she wasn't the best parent to her own daughters, but brings them along to the support group meetings. “That helps them understand me,” she said.
“I started off going to support her, [but] it has actually been a tremendous help to me,” said Morrison's cousin, Jana Phillips. “Even though the sessions are once a month, it's a necessity for me and my growth. … Just when I think, ‘This isn't going to apply to me,' … I learn something.”
Since 2016, Morrison has also hosted an annual luncheon, bringing in keynote speakers. It has grown from approximately 60 people to 150. Now that she has her 501(c)(3) status, she hopes to manage Heal Her full-time by 2020.
“The world has told us that we are to have a mother and a father, two kids and a dog, and a white picket fence,” Morrison said. “When we don't have that, then we feel inadequate. … With Heal Her, we talk about the feelings and emotions that you go through. We talk about how to alter the way you think about yourself, and being OK with yourself.”
Morrison noticed she is personally improving by operating the foundation. When she thinks about her mother's absence, it doesn't bring her down anymore.
“The more I help someone else, it helps me,” she said. “Healing her heals me, too.”