Stop focusing on “what you do” and instead “whose you are.” That’s something that no one can take from you.
by JOHN DALE
What if someone were to ask you who you are but you aren’t allowed to answer with your name, job, education or past experiences, what would you say? I know, it’s a tough one right? Identity is one of the important topics we cover in our REBOOT trauma healing courses because circumstances can easily leave us with not knowing who we are when the rug is pulled out from under us. For us that have worn a uniform, there’s an added layer that goes beyond just being a “job.”
I served in the Army National Guard for eight years, completing a few deployments both at home and overseas. During that time I also served for a couple years with my county’s EMS and fire departments. I certainly wasn’t in it for the money as neither paid well. My main motivation was to help others and I am thankful for the many opportunities I had to do that. I was passionate about doing that type of work for many years to come but unfortunately it was cut short. I was deemed unfit for duty because of injuries sustained during the military deployment. Then I got out of Fire and EMS because I could no longer trust my body and didn’t want to get anyone hurt because I couldn’t do my job. That’s when my life started to fall apart. I had put so much of my identity into being a soldier and a first responder that I had no idea who I was when I could no longer wear the uniform.
Many of us hear lies that come from ourselves and from others. Recognizing these lies is an important ingredient to healing from trauma. I’m going to unpack two that were helpful for me to wrestle with.
The first lie: I Am What I Do. We encounter this one the most as it’s baked into our society and starts at a young age with the tough question of “what do you want to be when you grow up?” That’s a lot of pressure to put on a kid. Then when we get older and meet new people, often the first question they ask is “what do you do?” For those of us that have worn the uniform we take on the persona of being a soldier or a first responder at a foundational level. Something worth considering is that if we aren’t enough without it, then we’ll never be enough with it. I had put so much value into the uniform being my identity, when I had to put it in a footlocker in the basement, it crushed me.
The second lie: My Best Days Are In The Past. My last deployment with the Army National Guard was to Iraq and we got home in November 2005. I was in college and working on campus before I left so I couldn’t get back into school or my part-time job until the semester started in January. I needed a way to pay my bills so I got a full-time temporary position at the local Walmart checkout counter. Besides the culture shock of stepping off the battlefield into the materialistic “Christmas season,” I was constantly fighting the urge to yell at customers for their stupid questions/concerns, or at a store manager for their poor leadership. A few days into the new job I bought into the lie that my best days were behind me. I went from leading soldiers in Iraq to bagging groceries. What I didn’t have an understanding of then but do now, is that there was purpose in my pain. Today I’m still able to help others even though I still have physical limitations; it just looks different than it did back then. You likely have similar opportunities but may not be able to see them yet and I’d encourage you to seek them out.
Out of all the topics that I tackled the first time I went through a REBOOT course, identity was the most helpful. I had bought into the lies I mentioned above and had lost sight of my true identity. We read in the Bible in Matthew chapter 4 how Jesus was tempted by Satan. I think it was all about calling into question Jesus’ identity and trying to get him to feel insecure. We get trapped in a similar way when we believe that we are what we do and our best days are behind us.
Allen, a REBOOT course graduate from North Carolina, challenged us during an end of course ceremony a few years ago to stop focusing on “what we do” and instead on “whose we are.” That was a powerful truth we all needed to hear. Our real identity is being a son or daughter of God and that’s something that no one can take from us.