Finding My Way Home

Finding My Way Home

By Kim DeFiori

One lesson through all my life is to be patient and let things fall into place.

I was accepted into the Dog Tag Fellowship for Cohort 6 starting in the Fall of 2017. I was leaving the Army, and excited for an opportunity to start training for my civilian career.

A week later, I received a call from a service dog organization saying they could train and pair me with a dog in the fall. My heart was torn. I took the night to think it over. I wanted a service dog so bad and knew he would make a world of difference in my life, but I also didn’t want to pass up the opportunity of a lifetime to be a Fellow at Dog Tag Inc.

I knew what I had to do. My heart ached as I picked up the phone, and I called Kyle, the Program Director for Dog Tag Inc., and told her the situation.

I never could have anticipated the response. She told me that she could keep me accepted into the program and delay my entry for one class. I started to tear up as she took a 1,000 pound weight off my shoulders. The validation and support I experienced in that moment pushed me another mile down my healing path.

For veterans, the transition from military to civilian life can be tough.  All I knew up to this point in my life was the Army. Now, I was being medically retired and told to find something else. It would be easy to not find employment and collect disability checks the rest of my life; however, I knew that wasn’t for me. I wanted to be more, and find a purpose and passion again.

I felt a sense of rejection from the Army. It wasn’t anything anyone said or did during my time transitioning out––I had spent my entire adult life on this one career, and now it was over. I wasn’t medically qualified to perform my duties as a Military Police Officer, or as any other Officer in the Army.

It wasn’t my fault this happened. It was a series of circumstances that were outside of my control. The mortar that made my ears ring, the burned bodies I have nightmares about, and the time my “no” wasn’t listened to and my safety at home was lost. I didn’t ask for these cards, they were shoved in my hands.

I tried so long to play the game with these cards, but in the end I had to fold. I was all-in; I had nothing left but this overwhelming feeling that I wasn’t enough. The Army needed more, and I didn’t have anything left to give.

I spent the last two years of my Army career getting help and finding ways to live with my PTSD and TBIs. I knew this was a new life, and a chance to be something more. As I progressed in my healing I felt drive, fire, and passion re-enter my bloodstream.

When I applied to Dog Tag, I felt an excitement I hadn’t had in years. I knew this was my chance to start a business that would help others thrive after horrific trauma.

I was 31, retired from my first job, and ready to find something new.

I started at Dog Tag on January 9, 2018. Thor and I bravely stepped into the classroom and began our life together. As I look back now, I can’t imagine it any other way. Thor gives me a confidence I wouldn’t otherwise have. He has taught me to have an enormous amount of compassion for the person I was always the hardest on: myself.

He makes me smile, no matter how hard the day or how bad the triggers. Thor sleeps next to me and when the dreams of attacks from the Taliban or other traumas happen, he wakes me up and lets me hug him until I fall back asleep. Most of all, he is my partner for my journey back home. My healing journey isn’t finished, but I’m at a point where I can begin to give back. Thor allows me to bravely face the world and start to help others.

As great and amazing as Thor is, I was nervous about walking around with a constant reminder of PTSD.  I wasn’t sure how the world would accept me now that I was open about my disabilities.

Dog Tag came at the perfect time. Kyle opened the doors to Dog Tag, and I was immediately accepted into the family. I never once faced judgement. They accepted me where I was and pushed me to continue to tell my story.

Dog Tag isn’t just a bakery or transition program for veterans. It’s a place where we find strength from our past struggles and learn to thrive as civilians. It’s a place I proudly call home.

Kim is an Army veteran who graduated from the Dog Tag Fellowship program in June 2018. Check out more of her lessons learned on her blog Lessons From Thor. To learn more about Kim and other Winter 2018 Dog Tag Fellows, click here!