Following is the full transcript of filmmaker Sasha Joseph Neulinger’s TEDx Talk titled: Trauma is Irreversible. How It Shapes Us is Our Choice at TEDxBozeman conference. This event occurred on March 27, 2015.
Sasha Joseph Neulinger – Filmmaker
Each one of us was born into this world with a clean slate. There was no concept of pain or joy at the beginning. At the very beginning, we didn’t know right from wrong, judgment from compassion, fear from love. And from the first breath we took, it was both the painful and the joyful experiences that helped shape who we are today: how we view the world, how we view ourselves, and how we view those around us.
Trauma can shift the scales. Take a look around the room; there are 500 open-minded human beings in this room, and the truth is we’ve all had traumatic experiences, have struggled with self-limiting beliefs and have judged ourselves harshly for flaws or imperfections that we believe make us less than. Everyone in this room, at one point or another, has probably struggled to love themselves. Based on the most updated statistics, one out of every three women, and one out of every five men, were sexually abused as children. That means roughly 125 people in this room were sexually abused as children. I’m one of the 125 survivors in this room today.
When I was four years old, I was sexually abused for the first time. At four years old, I didn’t know what child sexual abuse was, I only knew that what my uncle was doing to me was extremely painful. I loved him, and I trusted him, so if he was inflicting this pain on me, it must have been because I was awful, and I deserved it. And in that moment, the world became a dark, evil place, and I felt dirty, disgusting, and unlovable.
In that moment, I lost the ability to accurately see, respect, and love myself. And over the next four years of my life, I was sexually abused on multiple occasions by two uncles and one male cousin. One of my abusers would say to me while he was raping me, “If you tell anyone, I’ll kill you.” While I feared for my life, I barely valued it, and holding this painful secret I became introverted, I gained 30 pounds, and I became suicidal.
After I threw myself out of my mom’s car while she was driving on the highway, I started seeing a psychiatrist. I was eight years old when I first disclosed what had happened to me, and over the next 10 years of my life, I met with my psychiatrist twice a week, and I testified in three separate trials. It wasn’t until the day before my 17th birthday that the last trial ended.
From the time I was four years old, and through my childhood, I thought I was the dirtiest person on the planet, unworthy of love and I wanted to die. I resented the part of me that was in pain. I hated four-year-old Sasha because no matter what I did, I couldn’t reverse what had happened to him. So I threw four-year-old Sasha in a dark closet, and I threw away the key. I wanted to forget about him.
By the time I started college, I felt that for the most part, I had dealt with the pains of my past, and I look towards my future. Instead of being Sasha the victim, I could be Sasha the whoever I wanted to be. So I moved across the country to Bozeman, Montana, and I was going to study film production. While I was excelling in school, making new friends and enjoying all of the activities that these mountains have to offer, four-year-old Sasha was still locked away, somewhere in my past, rejected, harshly judged, and terrified. The quality of my life continued to improve, but my past continued to weigh me down all because I didn’t know how to love the part of me that I really believed made me less than. I was convinced that if anyone knew that I have been sexually abused, they’d know that I was dirty, disgusting, and unlovable.