Wednesday, May 21, 2014

"It's all how you choose to show up in the present"

The video starts with a sweet-faced, vibrant and sprightly young lad looking into a fish tank. The moment he knows he’s being filmed, his face breaks into a bright smile. He promises to show you a little about all that he is capable of, in a series of video clips.

Little Sasha, an older Sasha.

Smiling faces. A party. A celebration. A cake. Happiness. Surprises. Singing voices. Applauding people.
But underneath it all, is a painful, painful undercurrent.

Sasha J Neulinger (c)
Sasha J. Neulinger and his father, who filmed Sasha through his growing years, are survivors of Child Sexual Abuse. Through his father’s video clips of candid moments that revealed happiness, Sasha takes the viewer through his reality. The anger, the tears, the drawings during childhood therapy – and Sasha’s parents goal of just keeping little Sasha alive when he struggled with his reality – are incredibly moving.

Setting aside some time despite a very busy schedule, Sasha spoke to the Red Elephant Foundation about his story.

Every human being is born beautiful. When they are so deeply hurt the way I was, and in the way that every victim of child sexual abuse is, they become disconnected from their true self. Their life then becomes a journey to find a way to love themselves again. You feel the negative energy and the sickness from your abuser. It is hard to make sense of it when you are a child. It is hard to understand it, it is hard to comprehend why you are abused. That is when the victim mindset begins. You begin to think that you are bad, or dirty, or gross.

I am who I am today not only because I told my parents about what happened, but also because I had the right kind of help to get me out of it. I had therapy for about ten years. I had a family that dropped everything just to keep me alive. For all those years when I couldn’t love myself, they loved me. They gave me the buffer I needed in order to put all  of those pieces together. The scariest, and most enlightening part of this project, has been to look back on my childhood, seeing and remembering the pain that I was trapped in, and to find the similarities between myself and my abusers, knowing what I know now about the anger and pain that they held as children. My father talked to me about the sexual and the physical abuse he faced from his brothers. His brother Larry was also a victim of Child Sexual Abuse, and the anger and confusion he felt was more or less similar to what I felt. The difference, though, is that I told someone and got help – but he didn’t. He didn’t have the healthy environment to share and heal himself. It is imperative to help the present generation to heal themselves. I do not mean that every victim of Child Sexual Abuse will grow up to be an abuser – I am not saying that at all. It is just that no matter what, a victim of child sexual abuse will grow up with pain. With that pain, it is hard to appreciate the world. How do we help children embrace, process, and eventually heal from that pain?

I was sexually abused by my dad’s brothers and one cousin. My cousin Stewart was my Uncle Larry’s son – both of whom abused me, and the other abuser was my Uncle Howard – who incidentally, was the first cantor to sing for the Pope in the Vatican. Between ages 3 and 7, I was sodomised and penetrated. Beside all the emotional trauma and the anger and confusion it left me with, I was also left with tremendous, tremendous pain. My mother would take me to the hospital when I had horrible stomach aches and rectal bleeding. They didn’t put the pieces together – and I was only giving them vague signs about it all, because one of my abusers threatened to kill me – a threat he issued when he was abusing me.

It pains me to know that there are so many children with no outlet to help. If we look the other way because it is difficult to talk about it, children will continue to live in that pain and hurt themselves and/or others. I couldn’t be there for myself and protect myself – I needed the adults around me to help.

Talking about it is empowering and sets me free. When I talk about my vulnerabilities, it sets me free. Every day when I wake up, I see the beauty of my life and where I am right now. The vulnerability of sharing the most vivid details of my abuse is incredibly empowering. By not hiding my truth, I am not hiding any piece of me. Even when the trials ended - I was seventeen then – I couldn’t embrace who I was. The part I couldn’t embrace was the abused part. I learned to embrace myself through my work, to embrace all of myself and to accept the vulnerability is empowering. More people have found themselves through this project, finding a part of themselves that they had shut out. It has initiated another chapter in the healing of many people, and I am so deeply moved. The film I am making will help adult survivors and even children that are yet to be born.

The openness, honesty and vulnerability are the keys to this conversation. It is about coming to understand the fact that you cannot change your past, but you can definitely choose how you show up in the present. The difference between a victim and a survivor is that a survivor understands that the load has been thrust on him, but it is not for him to carry – so he sheds it. It is important to talk, and to speak out against abuse. This is true for everything – because every time you suppress an expression, the subtext of it is that you tell yourself that your views are not worth expressing and that they don’t matter.

We need to wake out of it.

Sasha’s father filmed parts of Sasha’s younger days in a bid to document his son’s life. Using a montage of those clips, Sasha pieced a film that takes him through the difficult trials of his life as a survivor of sexual abuse. This film also brings forth a stunning truth: speak up, speak out, and speak against.

To know more about Sasha’s film project, head here.

To see the trailer, click here.

You can back Sasha’s project with a simple donation here