I grew up in a home where my father believed “you wash your skin with soap and your soul with prayer.”
The “Mool Mantar,” a mantra from a Sikh holy text, played at 6:00 p.m. every night on Jus Punjabi. It was like a melody that soothed away all our tension from the day. I also grew up with a mother who believed that heaven and hell were right here on earth and there was no paradise.
Living with two parents whose ideas about God were completely different didn’t, surprisingly, make me confused about my relationship with God. It only helped me decide where I stood in the line between my faith in God and the realities of my every decision. When was the moment I stopped thinking God had all the answers and that maybe my therapist was the person I prayed to? It was in college.
My family had tried therapy once — it began and ended on the same day. Family therapy isn’t the best way to begin the healing process for us. So, we quit. My father wasn’t supportive of the idea of sharing his family issues with a stranger and my mother didn’t feel supported in the meeting. After our attempt at “trying,” my parents arrived at the conclusion that therapy just doesn’t work.
I thought otherwise.
Fortunately, before I went off to college, I formed relationships with several adults (other than my parents) who I could open up to and seek advice from. However, it wasn’t until I went to college that I realized I’d benefit from speaking to a professional. I was lucky to attend a university which offered counseling services, but it took a while to get over the taboo of Indians don’t go to therapy.
From the time I was in middle school through my freshman year of college, I prayed every night. I prayed to several gods and memorized many prayers. In fact, I couldn’t fall asleep if I didn’t pray — praying was my lullaby. I had found it hypocritical to call on God’s name during my cries for help and not during my moments of gratitude and forgiveness.
The real test is when you lose faith in God — then where do you go? Where do you go when God takes your friend? Where do you go when God takes your mother, sister, or child?
To my father, when the need for answers or help arose, God should always be the one you call on. For me, God became a thought deferred and was replaced with someone who was able to help me make sense of things I didn’t understand, someone who helped me grow from where I felt stuck: my therapist.
He became my journal. He held my prayers and then said them out loud to me in languages I couldn’t decipher on my own. He’d say, “So, when you say ________, why does that matter to you?”
My therapist taught me several things in the four years I spent with him. The biggest lesson was to accept the situations I’d been placed in and to understand that they happened, they’re real, true, and ever present. Then, he taught me to love each part of my sorrow as they were, not as I hoped them to be. Lastly, no matter what, he helped me see the choices I had — even when I didn’t think I had choices.
Although I’ve ended therapy, I can’t help but wonder where I’d be if I just turned to God in my greatest time of need instead of attending therapy. Would I have made the same decisions I did? I’m not sure, but I do know that the door of curiosity for God and therapy are still left ajar in my life, and that’s okay.
This article was originally published on Brown Girl Magazine.
Felicia Singh is a New York City native. She served in the Peace Corps from 2013 to 2015 in China as a TEFL volunteer. During her service, she created and co-taught her school’s first women’s studies course. She also was the editor-in-chief of Peace Corps China’s Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Newsletter. She holds a Master of Arts in Adolescent English Education for grades 7 to 12 and currently teaches in Brooklyn. Her passions include, but are not limited to, discussions on race and diversity, gender equality and feminism, and understanding the balance between a healthy mind and body.