Hurting from her mother's mental illness and sexual abuse by a family friend from ages eight to twelve, Andrea Do Santos was angry with God and did the opposite to what He stood for.
At this young age, she learnt about the occult, which both terrified and fascinated her.
"I learnt how to call on demonic spirits by their name and it was not long before I felt the presence of entities in my bedroom tormenting and haunting me," she says."Eventually I started having suicidal thoughts and recurring nightmares that made me terrified to sleep."
By the time she turned 14, Andrea was experimenting with alcohol, drugs, sex and self-mutilation to cope with her negative emotions.
"When my mother had a severe nervous breakdown, I was left homeless. Feeling abandoned, I stopped believing in God or anything good altogether," she says.
At age 19 Andrea was addicted to drugs and lived a promiscuous lifestyle, which led to a lot of sexually abusive situations. "Depression, anxiety, loneliness and suicidal thoughts were a part of my everyday life," she recounts sadly.
Her erratic behavior eventually
led to a nervous breakdown and she was diagnosed with a bipolar disorder, spending nearly a month in the psychiatric ward.
"If I am so spiritually advanced, why is my life such a mess?"
"During my time of psychosis I had a strange experience with Jesus," she recalls.
"He showed me all the things in my life I had looked into: drugs, the occult, relationships with men – how I had put my faith in each one of these things and gotten rotten results. Jesus asked me: 'Why put your faith in all these things when you can put your faith in Me?'"
Andrea remembers being amazed at what she began to read in the Bible after leaving the psychiatric ward.
"I had so much respect and admiration for Jesus but I was still very vulnerable," she admits."It was not long before the drugs, promiscuity and mental illness came back into my life full swing."
One night things got out of control and she had just written out a suicide note when the phone rang.
"A Christian friend had felt God lay it heavy on his heart to call me," Andrea remembers.
"I realized that when I felt like no one else was there, God was there."
This friend started taking her to church to help her recover from some addictions, but she confesses that she still did not want to change her lifestyle.
After meeting an interesting man, who was into eastern mythologies, Andrea left the church and began working as a psychic doing tarot and aura readings and working with spirit guides.
"I travelled extensively, researching many ancient cultures, reading self-help books and receiving counseling to come to terms with my childhood experiences," she says.
"I thought I was very 'deep' but my mixed beliefs served my own ego. It felt good to be accountable to no one but myself," she says.
Soon Andrea found herself exactly where she had started."My own addictions came back into the foreground and I found myself asking: if I am so spiritually advanced, why is my life such as mess?"
After falling pregnant with a son, to a man she later found out was married, Andrea says she sank into loneliness and depression once again. She knew she had no-one else to turn to but God.
"One night I found myself saying, 'Thank you, Jesus, for dying for my sins and rising again' and I was shocked at myself because I had always denied it in the past."
She committed to making amends with those she had wronged in the past and says God began to show her the depth of her sins – the ugliness of her own behavior towards others and towards God.
"It was only God's kindness towards me that made it bearable to look at myself fully," she says. "It was difficult to give up my occult and New Age work but I finally understood that what Jesus offers us is greater than any of this."
After starting an introductory course about Christianity, in 2005, Andrea was 28 when she finally accepted Jesus as her Lord and Savior by completely turning away from her old lifestyle and acknowledging Jesus' sacrifice for her.
"Since becoming a born-again Christian, God has healed me of so many things and I have found real hope, joy, peace and love," she says.
So impacted by God's love for her, Andrea went on to complete a university degree with the goal to use creative arts as a form of healing for traumatized children, youth and women's groups.
"I now understand that God has a plan for my life," she says with certainty.
"For now, that plan involves sharing my personal story and encouraging others to see the connections between their own life experiences and the truth of the Bible." •
More about Andrea and her artwork is available at www.andreadosantos.com