SBG in Discussion: Amanda Dookie of Heal Her Heart
SBG had the honor of speaking with Amanda Dookie, Founder of Heal Her Heart, a non-profit organization committed to empowering women who have experienced trauma to share their stories and continue the work towards their journey of healing.
This whole journey started with your brave decision to share your abortion story. So many women are afraid to talk about stigmatized personal experiences around trauma and loss. What made you want to share your story?
In order to cultivate and support creative expression, social change, and healing, the space needs to be provided to do so. I chose to publicly share my abortion story shortly after Mother’s Day in 2016 because internally I was struggling to manage the emotions that arise when this day is approaching and even after this day ends. I knew deep down, I couldn’t be the only person feeling this way. Writing not only helps me process my thoughts, it has been the greatest way I know to release. Sharing my story publicly was my way of reaching out to women to let them know they’re not alone.
I received an overwhelming response from the women in my life, some close to me, some acquaintances, some I didn’t know. Many of them felt empowered to share stories of their own and I knew there was something here, there are way too many of us suffering in silence. The powerful feeling of relief and support inspired me to build a platform to help other women; out of my story came an organization to support other women as they make their hearts whole again. Through expressive writing therapy, compassionate counseling, and compelling media, I’m working to change the narrative for women living through trauma.
I have always been a writer. I don’t always have the easiest time expressing myself verbally before I begin to feel anxious, especially when discussing trauma and my experiences around it. I’ve experienced and survived sexual abuse and an abortion, among other incidents, and the main thing that has assisted in my healing has been writing as a means of processing. Processing this way has helped me release and move forward; so, I know first hand how crucial it is to have a safe space where you can write, discuss and navigate your pain fuelled by sisterhood.
Heal Her Heart encourages women to share their stories anonymously on the website and encourages creative expression as a form of healing. For you and for the women that you reach, what role does creative expression play in the healing process?
Heal Her Heart, to safeguard the space and ensure it will not be violated, reviews all comments and posts prior to them being made public. Once a safe space has been created, it has been our experience through past programming, that community and individual healing can take place. Anonymity allows for women to share their stories and speak their authentic truth, not the truth of other individuals, influencers or the truth based on what society deems acceptable and valid. Creative expression allows for an individual to generate their own personal symbols, language, and ideas to assist in healing their emotional trauma. Creative writing and expression can in turn perpetuate a deeper understanding of what the experience then means to the person. I believe developing your thoughts and then writing to create your own individual understanding is a crucial step in releasing and moving on.
The website emphasizes that Heal Her Heart works from an intersectional feminist lens. What are some ways in which this lens is reflected in Heal Her Heart projects and activities?
Trauma does not discriminate and neither does Heal Her Heart. Simply put, intersectionality relates to how an individual can face multiple threats of discrimination when their identities overlap a number of minority classes. We welcome women of all races, ages, sexes, religions, and nationalities to participate in our programming, workshops, and services. We value and respect our differences and cater to those who need accommodations; whether it be through offering workshops or programming for at no cost, childcare for those while in attendance of our services, or by just having the understanding of discrimination and hardships women can face when these different identities overlap.
How has starting Heal Her Heart impacted your personal journey?
I feel free. Heal Her Heart has also been a platform for me to be transparent and my authentic whole self. I am constantly surrounded by women who have similar experiences and by women who have different experiences, but are willing to educate me, share with me, and enlighten me on an entire new level I didn’t realize was possible.
Although my line of work can be strenuous on my mind, body and spirit… it also nurtures my mind-body connection. I am honoured to work with the women I do: whether it be Heal Her Heart staff, women participating in programming/counselling/workshops, or women who are willing to share their stories on the Heal Her Heart platform. Their strength, courage, wisdom and perseverance also drives and motivates me to keep going both personally and professionally.
I find the more I share, the more I let go of the shame, guilt, and pain I’ve held onto for years when trying to navigate around the trauma associated to sexual abuse, abortion, and unhealthy relationships. This is what Heal Her Heart is about: sharing, releasing, and developing new methods to assist ourselves and other women to continue the work towards healing; both together as one and individually as we change our personal narratives. The process of healing is not always done on an individual basis, it takes a community and that is exactly what Heal Her Heart has become.
What’s next for you? What’s next for Heal Her Heart?
December marks a year since Heal Her Heart’s website launched and on November 25th we’re having a one-year anniversary celebration - a night of dancing, raffles and prizes and time dedicated to highlighting the work that has been done thus far. All of our programs and workshops are geared towards female survivors of abuse and those facing mental health challenges. We just wrapped up the summer session of our 8-week yoga program, Heal Her Heart Yoga Sundays, where we focused on mindfulness, yoga postures, compassion meditations, sound healing and reflective exercises geared towards balancing a specific chakra at no cost to participants. Heal Her Heart is also coordinating a food and clothing drive, donating all proceeds to two emergency shelters for women and children in Toronto this holiday season.
We are collaborating with Brass Vixens, a pole dancing company in Toronto, to offer a workshop series that invites us to reclaim our bodies, sexuality, and ownership of oneself after experiencing sexual abuse, while expanding on our personal sexual expression, interpretation, and imagination. Heal Her Heart is also looking forward to starting the 8-week winter session of Heal Her Heart Yoga Sundays in January and to continuing our support groups which allow for discussions, which trigger and activate conversations that will consequently develop new methods to assist in the healing journey. We also have a number of up and coming fitness workshops and general programming to align the mind; body; and, spirit healing sentiment. Generally, places which offer similar classes are neither safe nor affordable. Heal Her Heart aims to bridge this gap. Continue to check our website’s Events Page for upcoming events!
Are you open for submissions? What kind of stories are you looking for?
We are always open for submissions! Heal Her Heart believes in the importance of having a forum to process, release, and write about trauma as a means of coping. We incorporate the use of expressive writing therapy in our story-sharing platform where you can write about your experiences with sexual, physical, spiritual, and verbal abuse, child loss, and other forms of trauma. We protect the identity of all participants and maintain a strict policy of respect.