We live in a world which affixes labels to us from the moment we are born, and tells us that these labels define who we are, and what the world expects from us. Losing a label can be terrifying. However, finding your true identity is life-saving.
On the day we are born, we are given many labels: gender, birth order, a first name and a last name. These labels provide the first clues as to who we are expected to be – feminine, masculine, a family name with a legacy, a unique name made up by creative parents. As we grow up, we are given new labels based on our abilities and aptitudes. If we are a good student, we are labeled as “smart.” If we struggle in class and become good at creating distractions to keep everyone from noticing, we may be labeled as a “troublemaker”.
We grow into adulthood and begin making choices about the labels we wear. Some of these labels, we intend to last a lifetime and bring great joy, such as mother or husband. As we age, and our health deteriorates for one reason or another, we may find ourselves labeled with “cancer” or “depression.” Some labels we hold onto – wanting them to stick. Other labels, we learn we can live without and we let them fall off. Some labels are removed from us without our agreement, and without notice or warning. But here is the thing – labels are just labels. They fall off. They change. They do not truly define who we are.
As I work with people who are transitioning through one kind of “label change,” losing the label of “married” or “spouse,” I am keenly aware of how hard it can be to lose a label you thought you’d wear forever. Grief is a natural part of this process, struggling with intense sadness over the loss of this “identity.” It can feel like the grief will swallow you whole, like a giant wave. Grief often has moments of terror associated with it: the fear that you will be sucked under the wave that overcomes your body, pushing you down under the sea where you will never come up for air again. If you’ve ever had a label ripped off of you for any reason, you likely know this feeling.
As I sit with people in the midst of this grief – this time of fear – I have the privilege of watching people work through the grief and begin to rebuild their true identity. Because the truth is, our identity is not found in the labels we wear. Our identity is found when we know who we truly are. Unpacking our authentic identity takes a lifetime. It begins with the deep internal knowing that, “I am enough,” “I am loved and lovable,” “I am whole,” “I am worthy.” Spend time with yourself, and with the people who love you doing the things you love. If you are a person of faith, allow yourself to be the loved creation you are created to be. To know who you truly are, is to see yourself as you were created to be. As you strengthen your internal core and authentic sense of identity, you will find an amazing life preserver that brings you back to the surface when the waves of life push you down.