The theme of surrendering is a common term in recovery. It’s mentioned in twelve-step programs, yoga, and individual psychotherapy. All three of these therapies reference God or a higher consciousness in some way that is supposed to help you heal. But what if you aren’t the religious type or you’re someone rooted in facts and science or just don’t believe in God? This was a problem I faced in my own recovery journey from codependency. However, through experience and my own research, I discovered that the concept of a higher consciousness isn’t just fantastical and hippy jargon after all. To put it simply, it is just self-awareness.
When you’re not exercising self-awareness, you’re unconsciously drifting through life, unaware of your triggers and emotions that are preventing you from living your best life. You’re living subconsciously. However, when you understand why you are reacting in certain ways or why your core beliefs are the way they are, you become more self-aware and are able to operate on a higher consciousness.
God has always been a huge part of my life. Unfortunately, this was not so much by choice as it was due to my family circumstance. My father is a pastor and my parents’ mission in life is to spread the word of God. They immigrated to the states for the sole purpose of fulfilling my dad’s dream of becoming the leader of a big, successful church one day.
That dream never became reality. Regardless, the first 18 years of my life were spent endlessly serving God. We moved four times for God. Every week felt like each day was only there to lead up to Sunday, the only day that mattered. I grew to hate Sundays. Once I finally turned 18 and went away to college, I never went to church (voluntarily) ever again.
I also grew to hate God. I hated him for making me worship him when I never even asked to be created. I hated that it never felt like he was there for me unconditionally and that I had to work for his acceptance and grace. I hated that he was so judgmental and so restrictive. I hated him for making me do things I didn’t want to do and for forbidding me from doing things that I wanted to do. I hated him for letting me get run over by a taxi as I was waiting to cross the street. I hated him for making my life so miserable, oppressive, and out of my control.
So when I first started my recovery journey from codependency and joined Co-Dependents Anonymous (CODA), I was initially turned off by all of the references to God. I discovered that all twelve-step programs like CODA, AA, NA, and Al-Anon involve God in the healing process. I had known about CODA for a while, but at first I completely rejected it because my mind immediately thought it was going to be a Christian thing or involved with church somehow.
But I eventually hit rock bottom with my codependency and got so desperate that I decided I’d try anything. I also knew that as a therapist, I needed to confront these feelings I had towards God if I wanted to be able to provide a neutral, safe space for clients struggling with these issues. I spent so much of my life trying to avoid Christians, fearing their judgment of me, that I ended up doing the very thing to them that I absolutely abhorred. So I thought joining CODA might help me kill two birds with one stone.
Part of the recovery process in twelve-step programs, is getting to know one’s higher power. In step two, addicts must come to believe that a power greater than themselves can restore them to sanity, and in step three, they must make the decision to turn their will and lives over to the care of God as they understand God. I liked that this step encouraged you to define your own higher consciousness as what it meant to you. I realized this is something I’ve never actually had the opportunity to do. The only God I knew was my dad’s God, and I mistakenly thought that this was the one and only God, mostly because that’s what he drilled into my head.
So I took it upon myself to define what my higher consciousness means to me. Due to my upbringing in the church, I am not a fan of grandiose language. Whether it’s through religion or new age spiritual talk, I have a hard time listening to this speech because I find it confusing and sometimes I feel like I’m just being gaslighted.
This is partly why I chose to study social work. I value evidence-based interventions and substantiated research. In therapy, there is a term called therapeutic surrender. This occurs when you make a distinction between what you reject and what you allow. This means rejecting the choice to end your discomfort with a quick fix or avoidance. It also means surrendering to the feelings of anxiety, distress, guilt, and frustration that come about when you forego reassurance and false comfort. You should acknowledge anxious thoughts and feelings but not let them pressure you into maladaptive coping behaviors such as alcohol, substances, or seeking external validation. Once an individual is able to therapeutically surrender, the anxious or depressing thoughts no longer matter. They no longer derail you. They come and go and they fade away.
Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is an evidenced-based intervention that is used to treat those suffering from depression, suicide ideation, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, PTSD, and substance abuse, among others. In DBT, there is a concept called the wise mind. Wise mind lies between the right hemisphere of the brain, the emotional mind, and the left hemisphere, the rational mind. It is the balanced part of us that comprises our knowledge and intuition, where reason and emotion meet. It’s also very aptly located behind the third eye. In this way, the wise mind helps us take a step back and look at the bigger picture in order to help us respond in more helpful and effective ways.
I’m also a certified yoga instructor, and in yoga philosophy, ishvarapranidhana means surrender to God. This occurs when we surrender our ego, selfish desires, and our attachments. It’s interesting that in my recovery journey, the three seemingly very different avenues I went to for healing all required me to surrender. It’s ironic that the very thing I was running away from my entire life is what brought me back to sanity.
I no longer hate God these days. I don’t think I’ll ever go to church again on my own free will, but I also won’t get offended or irritated if someone invites me. I’ve been finding myself hearing my higher power’s voice in my head. The voice helps me shift back to the wise mind if I’m getting too emotional. It helps keep me self-aware and hones my intuition. It has also allowed me to see the bigger picture, which has made me less reactive to the smaller things. As I continue to thrive thanks to my higher power, I can’t believe I’ve been denying myself this guidance that I lacked all my life. Life is much better when you don’t have to go through it alone.