How to Move on From a Seemingly Horrific Incident

What doesn't kill us, makes us stronger—and can sometimes become a gift.

Posted Oct 10, 2015

Gregg McBride
Source: Gregg McBride

It wasn't so long ago that I was physically attacked while walking to the gym one morning. This was during a walk I had been making for over three years at the time—and although I knew the neighborhood I was living in was a bit on the "edge," I never expected anything like this attack to happen. Granted, it was very early in the morning (before 5 a.m.)—a time of day that I've since learned that (sadly) no one should be walking by themselves.

Still, I had always been cautious when out at such an early hour. And on the day that this incident happened, I could hear noise coming from two rowdy guys sitting on a curb in the middle of the block I happened to be on. Using common sense, I crossed the street (from the side they were on) and continued on my way. I didn't have far to go—only about two more blocks until I would reach the gym I belonged to.

When I noticed one of the guys running over to me, I could tell from his somewhat manic behavior that there was going to be trouble. These two guys were not vagrants and didn't even look to be criminal types. They did, however, seem to be very high on some kind of substance. The guy crossing over to me kept asking, "Where are we? Where are we?"

When I finally answered him (while trying to quickly move on), he suddenly punched me in the eye, then hit me in the back. While ducking to avoid the third strike, I asked "What are you doing?" (as if I might be able to reason with him). I then ducked again as he pulled at my backpack and I started running down the block (with said backpack intact). Luckily, my assailant didn't chase me but, instead, crossed back over to his companion and sat down.

Once at the far end of the block in question, I could see both of the guys sitting in the same spot they were originally in as I hid in the shadows and dialed 911. I kept pleading with the operator to send the police since the assailants were still in sight. It took over 20 minutes for a police officer to come. By then, both of the guys were gone. I later found out from the police officer that a security guard at a construction site (on the same block) had seen the incident, but hadn't come forward to help.

To say I was shell shocked was an understatement. Besides having my first (and hopefully last) black eye, I was horrified that such a thing could happen in my neighborhood (even though the police officer had told me that this particular block was notorious for criminal activity). I later learned that I was probably "lucky" that the assailants were gone, as I would have had to press charges for an arrest to be made (a citizen's arrest, as it were) and that because of local jail overcrowding, there would have likely been no jail time served—even if the guy was found guilty and convicted.

What was that? I was supposed to feel "lucky" under these circumstances? Um, yeah... Okay.

I was pretty useless for the first 48 hours after the attack. But on day #3, I realized that I actually was lucky. Despite having a black eye, I was alive. I was healthy. Nothing was stolen. And I was now smart enough to drive my car to the gym first thing in the morning. Sure, I missed my walking time, which served as a good mental warmup for my day. But if driving was the way to go, I could do that. I had a car. I had my safety. I had my determination.

Although a horrific experience, I realized that I was the one hurting myself and my spirit after the attack. It had happened. It was over. It was time to move on (with lessons in hand—and in mind). Friends were surprised that I sprang back so quickly. But I refused to let the attacker take away my joy for life (even if they had taken away my early morning walking time).

One of my dad's favorite sayings has always been, "Hindsight is always 20/20." And you can bet that I rolled my eyes every time I heard it from him as I grew up. But looking back on this experience with hindsight tells me my dad was absolutely right to always remind me of that. Not only did this incident prove to me that I could bounce back from a an experience such as this, but that I could take positive action as a result of it.

The attack led to me finally looking for another place to live (something I'd wanted to do for a while—for different reasons than the questionable neighborhood). And through what would be an odd set of circumstances, I actually ended up buying my first home, rather than renting. I'll spare you all the boring details, but you can be sure that none of this would have been set into motion had I not been attacked (mugged, jumped—whatever) that particular morning.

These days I can even joke about having been prompted to move, saying, "You didn't have to hit me in the eye twice." And yeah, I admit that people give me an odd look when I joke like this. They're not sure whether to chuckle or shiver. But trust me, you can chuckle. It's like another old saying goes: What doesn't kill us, makes us stronger—and sometimes helps us to get off our butts to make some changes we can be grateful for down the road (black eye and all).

What does this mean for you? Whatever you've survived, the key words are you survived. Yes, you might have a black eye—or other forms of emotional or physical scarring. I myself happen to also be a survivor of sexual abuse and extreme child abuse. But that was then and this is now. Let's not let a horrific incident (or incidences) take away our joie de vivre. This life is for living. And no person or incident can take that away from us permanently—unless we allow them to.