92. The Man Without a Face

92. The Man Without a Face

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness

The Man Without a Face

Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.

~Buddha

Walking home one night, I turned up the alleyway to enter my apartment building through the back door. I knew I shouldn’t be walking alone after dark, but it was a quick two blocks from my favorite bar to my door, and I had done it a million times before. On this night, however, there was a faceless man standing halfway down the alley. This was not unusual as my downtown neighborhood had its share of the homeless. As I neared the door, my key in hand, he moved toward me. I realized, registering fear for the first time, that he would beat me to the door. Then my world went black.

The next thing I consciously remember is being under bright lights in the hospital, naked under a scratchy blanket, being told I had been sexually assaulted. My mind was thick with cobwebs as I tried to understand what they said. Through the fog of painkillers and a concussion, the horror of calling my family, and the humiliation of a sexual assault kit, my only glimmer of hope was that the man responsible had been arrested and was being held on a million-dollar bond. I had something to hang on to: that justice would prevail. That kept me going in the long weeks and months that followed. I was assigned a court advocate who took my place in the courts. She told me that nothing would happen quickly and she was right.

But the court system failed me when the man was found to be mentally ill, and all I was left with was anger. I wasn’t going to get the closure I so desperately needed on this horrible chapter in my life. I moved away from the city where this tragedy struck me, but I couldn’t leave it behind. The nightmares kept coming. I felt entitled to a resolution. I felt entitled to all the rage and anger I kept bottled up inside. The only solace I felt was when I drank. While my friends and family acknowledged my “right” to my anger, they couldn’t stand to see me destroy myself this way. I spent more and more time alone.

When things couldn’t possibly get any worse, I was arrested for a DUI and forced to wear an ankle monitor that prohibited me from drinking. I was also required to get counseling. This blessing in disguise allowed me to learn about resentments, anger, and the pain that it causes inside. I couldn’t get better until I let go of my anger and started forgiving those who had hurt me. Only then could I hope to stop drinking for good and start healing. I had to begin by making a list of people to forgive: old friends, family, colleagues. But I knew who would be the toughest man to forgive; a man whose face I didn’t even know.

Forgiveness, for me, began by realizing that I wasn’t blameless for the events in my life. I had lost friendships, and had to start by recognizing that I had played a part in the loss of those friendships. Granted I may have been hurt by people, but I may have been to blame for causing hurt as well. This shift in perspective was eye opening for me. It allowed me to move forward and start rebuilding relationships that had been broken. I was able to repair some friendships, but some were too badly damaged. All I can do for those friends is pray that they can forgive me and move on. My family relationships may have suffered the most. Over time, we were able to work through our hurts and anger and into new, stronger relationships. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s been worth it. My relationships today are fewer in number, but more honest, and are better and stronger than the ones I had before.

The lingering question was how to forgive a man I didn’t know and didn’t want to know. Was he even a man if he was capable of such an act? I couldn’t go to him as I had with the other people I had forgiven. It was entirely possible this man didn’t even want my forgiveness. But I knew I couldn’t move forward without forgiving him. And then I realized I was mad at myself too. I was blaming myself for walking alone that night and for using the back door of the building instead of the front door. I thought maybe God was inflicting a punishment on me. I could forgive other people in my life, but I was still carrying resentments toward the man, God, and myself.

Sometimes healing just takes time, and so it was with me. I realized if I wanted to be free of this man, I had to forgive him. In time I came to pity him. He is clearly not a well person. I hope that he will never harm anyone again, but he is no longer my burden to bear. I don’t think of him, and he doesn’t plague my sleep. After all, he doesn’t even have a face. Most importantly, I had to forgive myself. It wasn’t my fault what happened to me that night. Nothing I did caused that to happen. Nothing I could have done would have prevented it. Allowing myself to believe that allowed me to trust in myself again. Finally, I had to stop blaming God. I learned to find a different God in my recovery; a kinder, gentler God than the one of my youth. A God who would never abandon me in an alley. A God who doesn’t dole out punishment. And this God is the one who taught me how to forgive. And when I found this God I could love and trust and believe in, all my anger slipped away.

I choose every day to focus on the good in my life and in the world, and there isn’t room to focus on the past and the bad things that have happened. Sometimes bad things happen to people, but I choose to focus on the good things. This decision keeps me happy, healthy, and sober. My life is full of peace now, in a new city, with supportive friends and family—thanks to the gift of forgiveness. And I know I wouldn’t have this life today if that faceless man had not walked into my alley that night.

~Stacey Wagner

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