Sasha Viniegas: “Today I know who I am”

by Glen Doss, Major – 

“God, please show me the way.”

The young woman, in despair, fell against the side of her bed and went down upon her knees. “God, I’m so tired of this life,” she murmured.

“I was so used to the life I was living—the chaos, the drama; but by August 1997, I was just sick of it,” recalls Sasha Viniegas, 33. “For so many years I would do anything for dope. But now something in my gut told me this is not the life I deserved. I told God. ‘I give up. I’m tired of fighting.’ I picked up the phone, called Child Protective Services, and asked for help.”

Thus began Sasha’s journey from chaos to recovery.

The trauma leading to this crossroads had its roots in Kalihi, Oahu, when her mother handed the four-year-old over to her great uncle and aunt for adoption. “I was told my mother couldn’t provide, but, since she lived nearby, I eventually got to know her. I saw how affectionately she treated my brothers and sister, and, when she grew financially stable, I wondered why she wouldn’t take me back.”

Hers was a strict Filipino family, she says. “I recall being awakened at five a.m. to do the rosary. My [adoptive] mother told me that if I didn’t do the rosary and go to church every Sunday, God was going to punish me. Later on, when things got really bad, I asked, ‘Why is God punishing me? I’m going to church; I’m doing the rosary. If God’s out to get me, then let him come and get me!’”

She excelled in school at first but, at age 13, things changed dramatically. Returning from volleyball practice one day, Sasha was sexually assaulted—“I told my mom, and she beat me up for the way I was dressed!” That same year she took to drinking alcohol with her cousins. “For the first time I felt really accepted.” Not long afterward she was introduced to crystal meth. “By age 14,” she says, “I was out of control—cutting school, running away from home. My grades plummeted.”

At 16, she took to selling drugs to support her habits. Pulled into court, she was ordered to a 28-day treatment program. Then, dropping out of school, Sasha began the first of a string of abusive relationships. The day she turned 18, her adoptive mom sent her packing. She promptly moved in with her drug dealer. “On Christmas, 1994” she says, “I was stabbed. Those days my children would be crying out of their minds, and the neighbors said I was an unfit mother. The children ended up going to another family.”

When her baby was taken from her in the hospital in June 1997, she says, even that was not enough to stop her drinking and using. Just two months later, however, she had had enough. Her prayer of desperation led her to The Salvation Army Women’s Way residence program in Honolulu. But, upon intake, she was reminded she had four outstanding warrants and these would have to be taken care of first. “I wanted to run,” she says, “but something made me turn myself in.” Six months in prison immediately followed. “In prison I heard people share about their experiences with God; some sounded really sincere. For the first time, I began reading the Bible, highlighting, taking to heart the things I read.”

In January 1998, Sasha was awarded ten years’ probation and released back to Women’s Way where she was permitted to keep her child. Yet, “although I remained clean and sober, I was still practicing old behaviors,” she observes. Misconduct led to termination from one program after another; but, along the way, she adds, “I picked up a solid foundation for recovery: my eyes opened wider and wider to who God is.” In time she was back at Women’s Way—this time their outpatient program (“The only one I graduated from,” she says). “I finally stopped playing God in my own life,” she observes. “I was taking Christianity one piece at a time. As a child, I thought that in order to ‘have God,’ I had to go to church and do the rosary. My understanding has grown: today I know God lives in me. I was in so much fear for so many years that I lost who I was. Today I know who I am—I know that God loves me.”

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