Today I have the privilege of sharing Heidi’s personal experience with sexual trauma and complex posttraumatic stress disorder (CPTSD).
Most of us are familiar with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a mental health condition that develops in response to a traumatic event. What is less familiar is the closely related condition, complex posttraumatic stress disorder (CPTSD).
The difference between the two is that posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) develops in response to one event, and complex posttraumatic stress disorder (CPTSD) develops in response to prolonged trauma. And while adults can develop the condition, it most often occurs in children.
Let’s take a moment to look at the world of complex posttraumatic stress disorder (CPTSD) through Heidi’s eyes as she shares the story of the extensive sexual trauma she survived, her diagnosis and her life today.
Hi, my name is Heidi. I’m a mother of four, wife to an amazing husband, business owner, trauma survivor, sex trafficking survivor, rape survivor, former drug addict, blogger and lover of Jesus.
I enjoy doing arts and crafts and repainting furniture. I also enjoy going for walks or just sitting home binge-watching my favorite shows on Netflix. I am obsessed with essential oils, and I collect plants and driftwood. A fun day for me would be thrift store shopping.
I have a diagnosis of complex posttraumatic stress disorder (CPTSD). I don’t let that diagnosis take over my life, but it’s not easy. Some days are a struggle, and some days are a lot easier. I try my hardest to live life to the fullest.
A family acquaintance sexually abused me when I was about 13. I soon started acting out at home, and I eventually started running away from home. I fell into the wrong crowd and ended up becoming a sex-trafficking victim.
I was a prisoner for about eight months, and I was forced to do the unthinkable. I eventually got away, and I ended up on the streets, addicted to heroin and many other drugs. I did what I knew to survive; I became a prostitute.
Life on the Street
Witnessing violence and being assaulted physically and sexually comes with living on the streets. That was the life I was used to. I spent a lot of time in and out of jail, and I had an abusive boyfriend during that season of my life.
Finally, after about 15 years of living this way, I was sent to a recovery house after a stay in jail. I got clean and moved back in with my parents.
Three years later, I met the man of my dreams. He knew all about my past and loved me anyway. Crazy, right? I thought so. A year later we were married and soon after we had a son together.
For years, I felt normal. I felt I had left my past behind, except when I would have nightmares. We attended church, where we were very involved and made great friends, but years later things started to change. I began having flashbacks of being raped, my nightmares worsened, and terrible anxiety, depression and thoughts of suicide filled my head.
Seeking Professional Help
Eventually, my husband brought me to the hospital where I was admitted to the psychiatric ward for a month. I was diagnosed with complex posttraumatic stress disorder (CPTSD). I wasn’t shocked at my diagnosis because it was so obvious.
I saw a therapist and a psychiatrist. I couldn’t sit in the same room as the male therapist without having a panic attack, so I stopped going. They gave many medications to try to help me and none worked.
Heidi’s Treatment Plan
I’m currently on medication again after trying every one on the market, it seems. I take an antidepressant and anti-anxiety medication. I also take many healthy supplements that are helpful.
I found an amazing Christian therapist, and we do eye movement desensitization therapy (EMDR). I meditate, I pray, I do yoga and breathing exercises. I have lots of support from my church family and my amazing best friend.
Heidi’s Life Today
Some days are harder than others. It can be difficult for me to get out of the bed, leave the house and parent. But I must because I am a mom, wife, and business owner. I must function the best I can.
I want to share the nitty gritty things that have occurred in my life in the hope I can help at least one person. I want people to see there is life after sexual trauma.
My wish is for people to understand that complex posttraumatic stress disorder (CPTSD) and mental illness are real. Trauma is real. It changes the brain. It’s changes everything, including your body.
Some people develop diseases because of the trauma they endured. I have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), high blood pressure and endometriosis. I even had a stroke because of stress from the trauma I survived.
But there is a silver lining, my friends. People with complex posttraumatic stress disorder (CPTSD)—and all mental health issues—can live a normal life. With proper treatment, therapy, medication and my personal favorite—a relationship with Jesus Christ—anything is possible. The one thing I know for sure is that I could not navigate life and complex posttraumatic stress disorder (CPTSD) without my savior, Jesus Christ.
If you have only one takeaway from Heidi’s story, I hope that it is that you don’t have to be a victim of your circumstances. Heidi experienced the lowest of lows, and she still rose up, survived the sexual trauma she endured and made a new life for herself—as a wife, mother, business owner and faithful follower of Jesus Christ.
Heidi’s story reminds us that it is never too late for a second chance. She has made her test her testimony, and she shares her darkest places to help others find their light.
For more information on posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), check out the National Institute of Mental Health’s (NIMH) informative article.
To better understand the differences between posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and complex posttraumatic stress disorder (CPTSD), visit the CPTSD Foundation’s website.