"I can't change the past and I can't control what happens around me, I can only choose how I show up in the present moment of my life."
- Sasha Joseph Neulinger
Sasha Joseph Neulinger grew up around cameras. His father, himself a filmmaker, instilled in Sasha an appreciation for exciting cinematic classics--Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Jaws, Alien, Blade Runner, the list goes on. Sasha began acting as a young child in his dad’s commercial projects. By the time he was seven, he had begun acting professionally--his first gig was a Chuck-E-Cheese commercial. He continued acting in commercials and films while attending a performing arts high school.
For Sasha, acting gave him the chance to escape his traumatic reality while providing a means to feel and channel his emotions. But he began to crave a greater control of the messaging behind the narrative, realizing “a deep character can move people, but a strong narrative can change the world.” In 2007, as a junior in high school, he knew he wanted to be a film director.
In 2008, Sasha moved to Bozeman to study film production at Montana State University. For the first time in more than fourteen years, he could experience life without abuse being the focus of his existence. Outside of classes, he fly fished blue-ribbon trout streams, hiked countless peaks, and began to explore what brought him joy in life. He started to see that despite the brutality of his childhood, he still had an entire lifetime waiting to be lived. And every time he ventured into nature Sasha felt at peace. There, he was free.
But moving on wasn’t as easy as he had hoped. On the outside, Sasha was a straight A student, fit, and outgoing. Internally however, Sasha struggled with self doubt, fear of intimacy, and PTSD. While he had benefitted from ten years of extensive psychotherapy as a child, deep wounds continued to sabotage his adult life. Unanswered questions continued to weigh on him. Sasha knew that if he didn’t confront the source of his pain head on, he’d never be able to fully enjoy his life.
Shortly after graduating college in 2013, Sasha asked his dad to send him all of the home videos that had been filmed during his childhood. In watching the 200 hours of home videos:
“I got to observe my childhood with a certain level of objectivity. It was the first time that I could cognitively accept that I was beautiful and lovable. In watching myself grow up, I got to re-experience and reclaim some of the most beautiful moments of my life…moments that I had completely forgotten about because they had been overshadowed by the painful ones. ”
As Sasha watched himself as a child, in proximity to his abusers, he saw his own innocence and helplessness with terrible clarity. Seeing those unsettling video clips gifted Sasha some validation, a reminder that he had nothing to do with what his abusers chose to do to him—but that he had everything to do with the strength and resilience it required to stand up in public and prosecute them for their crimes.
Watching the footage answered many of his questions, while sparking a whole list of new ones. In response to his experience, Sasha decided to direct Rewind, an autobiographical documentary following his journey to confront, unpack and understand the multigenerational child sexual abuse that haunted him and his family. Rewind was completed in October, 2018 and will premiere in 2019 (to be announced).
Sasha is an authentic picture of a human being striving for wholeness. In contrast to the years during which his trauma colored every lived experience, he is now so much more than Sasha the survivor. He is Sasha the backcountry enthusiast, Sasha the hockey player, the carpenter, the chef, the friend, the fiance. What he survived is an integral part of his journey, but it is not the entirety of his identity. Sasha continues to grow, both outward and inward, with the knowledge that his life didn’t end with abuse—but his fresh start began when he released his own guilt and learned to love himself.
“Healing is not a destination—it’s a journey.”
Sasha says he can’t claim to understand the journey of every survivor, or even all the intricacies in the cultural fight against child sexual abuse. “I’m not a therapist, and I don’t have all the answers.” But by sharing his story with openness, honesty, and courage, Sasha is working to empower survivors to look inward and find their strength. He hopes to educate our society on how to tackle the epidemic of child sexual abuse, and together, find a path forward toward healing.