When Alex was a sophomore in high school, her boyfriend began pressuring her to be more intimate than she wanted. He persisted and, on several occasions, forced her into non-consensual sex.
Alex broke up with him, but she could not shake the feelings the assault had left her with. She felt ashamed of what had happened. She was constantly depressed. Places that reminded her of the events filled her with deep fear and dread. Then, early in her junior year, she was hospitalized for suicidal ideation.
For Alex and her family, the severity of her traumatic stress was hard to accept. There were subtle messages that what she had experienced could not be trauma because it wasn’t really rape. There were concerns that spending too much time on what had happened could derail her focus on college preparation. Perhaps the best thing was just to put it behind her and move on. So, Alex struggled with guilt, a persistent sense that she should not be feeling what she was feeling.
A diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), though, is not based on a list of qualifying events cross-referenced with a severity scale. Causes of PTSD are varied and complex, and what really determines PTSD are the symptoms a person experiences and the degree to which their day-to-day life is affected. Shame, depression, fear, dread, suicidal thoughts – all these things, whether Alex recognized it or not, were signs she was suffering from PTSD.
Alex came to CCFH in late 2017 after her hospitalization and began Cognitive Processing Therapy in the Urbaniak Clinic. She and her therapist delved into the negative beliefs she had developed in response to the sexual assault. She learned how to stop avoiding difficult thoughts and feelings, and she worked hard outside of sessions to build emotional resilience.
A couple of months after she graduated from treatment, Alex came back to CCFH to check in with her therapist. She was happy and felt healthy. She had also contacted the boy who had assaulted her. She wanted him to know she had forgiven him, but she also wanted him to understand the full impact of what he had done so that he would not do it again. This is what recovery and resilience looks like.