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Rewind to Fast-Forward: One Man's Courage to Explore Past Abuse

Words cannot describe what it feels like to watch thousands of strangers stand up and say, "You are beautiful and I not only believe in you, I want to do anything I can to help you. Thank you for being my voice!" Thousands of survivors have shared their stories with me.
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Taking a deep breath before putting fingers to keyboard to write this article, pondering how to encapsulate an experience of one courageous young man and the saga of a family in a way that does it justice. Childhood sexual abuse impacts people on all levels-body, mind and spirit. Even more devastating is when the perpetrators are family members. Further damaging when one of them is a renowned spiritual leader in his community.

Initially, I intended to take 'sound bites' from the interview with Sasha Joseph Neulinger, the talented film-maker who is in the completion stages of a movie that will be pivotal in the healing process for sexual abuse survivors. I have chosen, instead to leave Sasha's responses to my questions intact, since they are powerfully poignant, so although this article is long, it will be worth the read.

I watched the trailer for this movie with tears in my eyes, from two perspectives. The first was as a career therapist who has sat with abuse survivors for 30 years and walked through the fire with them, helping to clean up the ashes; putting salve on the sometimes invisible wounds. The second (the most challenging and painful) was as someone with abuse survivors in my close circles. I marvel at Sasha's resilience and I marvel at theirs as well.

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How would you describe this film?

In my first feature length documentary, (Rewind To Fast-Forward) I will share my experience of overcoming child sexual abuse, a journey from victim to survivor. My goal is to shed light on what it is to be a child abuse victim--from the first moment of abuse, through the process of reclaiming and rebalancing life. I want to expose the causes underlying the destructive multigenerational cycle of child abuse in my own family. And I hope that as I share my story as a case study, we can have a more open conversation about the importance of an uninterrupted healing process for child victims and reduce the numbers of children who are abused.

Who were you before the movie? Who are you now?

Before I embarked on this journey to tell my story, I remembered a word of advice from a friend of mine. He said, "Embrace your fear and it will become your power." For so much of my life, any possible joyful moments were overshadowed by my struggle to embrace myself and to find a way to survive the pain that resulted from my the abuse I experienced as a child. When I came to Montana in 2008, one year after the last of three trials ended (Howard Nevison's trial was the last), I was essentially beginning the next chapter of my life, a life that I could live for myself, without the fear of a new trial in the back of my mind. Montana was a fresh start for me, and I slowly started the process of tearing down the protective walls I had built around my heart.

When I decided to make this film back in December of 2012, It was because I felt more happy, more at peace, and more alive then I had ever felt in my life. I had just graduated from college and I had my dream job working with Grizzly Creek Films (now co-producers of my film) on a National Geographic show titled, "America, The Wild." I was living in a place that I loved, with time and space to do the things that I loved to do, with beautiful and supportive friends to share my happiness with.

While most of my walls are down today, I know that I still have some work to do. What is different about me since I started making this film is that I almost never repress my feelings. No matter what I am feeling, or how challenging this process is at times, I listen to my heart and express myself, without self-judgement. Doing this consistently has allowed me keep pace with my mission to share my life story- to remain open and accept the vulnerability as I move forward.

What have you learned about childhood sexual abuse as a result of creating the movie?

When I was sexually abused, I was instantly severed from myself, and in that moment lost all sense of self love and ownership of my beauty. I felt disgusting, unlovable, and the furthest thing from beautiful. Sometimes I wonder who I would be today if I hadn't had the love and support that I did, both emotionally, and clinically. It took me between 10 and 15 years to fully love myself again, and to remember my beauty.

So what motivates a human being to abuse another human being in the form of sexual abuse?

My Uncle Larry (one of my abusers) and my father both stated that their older brother Howard (also one of my abusers) abused them when they were children. While my dad found a way to survive due to incredible love and support from outside of his immediate family, what I understand is that my uncle Larry didn't. I know the pain that I had and the darkness that trapped me before I started to get help as a child abuse victim. I simply cannot imagine what it would mean to grow up in that pain, without any help, all the way through the middle age of adulthood. I believe that when a human being is so deeply pained, and so incredibly distant from their inner beauty, and are unable to love themselves even remotely, they will either hurt themselves subconsciously, hurt other people, or both.

I don't know if my uncle Howard was abused or not, but I do know that both my uncle Larry and my cousin Stewart were abused as children. If they had gotten help, would they have abused me? I can't answer that with certainly. However, I strongly believe that if we want to stop child abuse, we need to make sure that current child sexual abuse victims are getting the proper love, guidance and support that they need to find peace in their live so that when they grow up, they are not hurting themselves and hurting others. If we help this generation of child abuse victims to heal and loves themselves again, I think we will find that the numbers will be significantly reduced.

What kind of courage did it take for you to face your fears? Were there times when you wanted to put a halt to it?

There were countless moments in my life where I wanted to silence myself, crawl into a corner, and disappear from the world. Between the ages of 7 and 13 I even tried to end my life a few different ways.

There were countless moments in my life where I wanted to silence myself, crawl into a corner, and disappear from the world. Between the ages of 7 and 13 I even tried to end my life a few different ways.

I choose love. I choose patience.... most of the time :)

How did your father's experience impact your own?

The day I told my dad what had happened to me, it was over the phone. I was sitting with my mom and my psychiatrist. I remember the silence on the phone after I had said what had happened. My dad said, "I believe you because my brothers did the same things to me." While my dad did nothing but love me, there was a lot of anger directed towards my dad initially from my family. "How could you let your brothers in to the home after what they had done to you." That is a hard question to answer, right? Well, Fast-Forward nearly seventeen years, and together, with his 200 hours of home video and his willingness to embrace his fears, and accept his vulnerability along side me, we are answering that question together.

When my dad was being abused by his brothers, he believed that he was being abused because he was gross, dirty and disgusting, just as I felt when I was being abused. When my dad's brothers grew up and left the house, the abuse stopped. From his experience with abuse, my dad thought that the nightmare was over. Though he believed that he was a "bad" or "gross" child, now that he was an adult, and his brothers had stopped, it was over. My dad never thought in a million years that his brothers would abuse me the same way they abused him because he saw me as beautiful and perfect, unlike his childhood self. No one explained to him that he was a victim, and that actually, he did nothing to warrant or deserve the abuse he endured as a child. It wasn't until my dad explained this to me while filming the first week of filming "Rewind To Fast-Forward," that I COMPLETELY understood him.

I never planned to tell my parents what Howard, Larry, and Stewart were doing to me. I never would have told anyone if I hadn't discovered that my little sister was also being abused. In my mind, I was gross, ugly, and unlovable, and my abusers must have been doing this to me because I was bad. But my sister? She was the most beautiful person in my life. I loved her so much! It was only then that I realized on some deeper level that what was happening to me, wasn't just unique to me. I realized that what what my abusers were doing to me wasn't just painful, it was also very wrong! If they could do it to my sister, they could do it to anyone!

If we are going to have a conversation about multigenerational child sexual abuse, I believe we we need to approach the conversation without anger. In no way I am I suggesting that my abusers are not fully responsible for what they did to my family, nor am I suggesting that we should never feel anger. My abusers committed unspeakable crimes and deserved to be brought to justice. What I am saying is that fear and anger will cloud our ability to understand the deeper intricacies of the phycology of both abuse victims, and abusers themselves. My dad's openness, along with his videos, has allowed me to tell this story, and it goes to show that it is never to late to free yourself from the pain and paralyzing effects that come from being an abuse victim.

My dad and I are closer now then we ever could have imagined.

If the movie could fulfill your wildest expectations, what would it do?

If this film helps one survivor overcome the pains of their past, or helps protect or heal just one child, the film will have been a success. My feeling is that it will eventually help millions of people.

Talk about the kickstarter campaign.

Words cannot describe what it feels like to watch thousands of strangers stand up and say, "You are beautiful and I not only believe in you, I want to do anything I can to help you. Thank you for being my voice!" Thousands of survivors have shared their stories with me.
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In the first week of their Kickstarter campaign, Sasha and his team had reached their goal of $137,000! They are now working toward their stretch goal of $200,000 which will give them 10 more days of filming and better camera and sound equipment. This is an incredibly important film that clearly has touched others' hearts, sparked conversation and spurred their generosity. Please visit their Kickstarter page. Let Sasha know why this film is important to you and spread the word :)

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Originally appeared at The Good Men Project

Photo Credit: Adrian Sanchez-Gonzalez/ Bozeman Daily Chronicle