Monday afternoon my left eye started hurting.
Not bad. Just a dull ache with a need to blink it more. Then a feeling it wasn’t focusing quite like it should.
I ignored it, until that evening when I happened to catch a glimpse of it in a bathroom mirror. I recoiled at my bright red and angry eye.
Urgent care diagnosed it as pink eye.
I started the drops that evening yet kept waking up throughout the night because of eye pain.
The next morning was better, but by mid-afternoon, my eye had pretty much gone on strike.
I called my sister.
“I have pink eye,” I whined.
She was sympathetic.
Sitting on the couch, talking about nothing really, I realized I was scared. Thoughts of having pink eye as a teen were pushing themselves to the front of my brain. And they were not pretty.
I didn’t realize it then, but the past and present were starting to collide. A perfect storm was beginning to brew. A storm that would influence my thoughts, fears, ideas, emotions, and actions more than I would care to admit.
Reframing the truth in an old story, with a little help.
“Remember when I had pink eye as a teen? Maybe at 12 or 13?” I ask.
“Oh yes,” she answers. “I felt sorry for you. Mom said you were contagious, so I stayed away from you.”
“I can’t believe she never took me to the doctor,” I sigh. “Each day I woke up unable to open my eyes because they were so crusted. I would stumble down the hall and try to get water on them and pry them open. I remember losing all my eye lashes and being embarrassed for months.”
“Oh Theresa,” she murmurs, like a good listener.
“Do you remember I had it for two or so months because I kept infecting myself?”
After a month of pink eye, I thought I was cured. But then a cycle of off and on again developed. I would get better for about 3 days a week, then get it again for about 4 days. This cycle kept repeating itself. I kept wondering what was wrong until my piano teacher, on a day when I was well enough to go, said I needed to change my pillow case because I was re-infecting myself. I changed my pillow case and never got it again.
“I am so sorry,” she says. “Mom should have helped you. It was irresponsible of her.”
I start to open my mouth to defend mom, to say she was probably too busy, but instead, replay my sister’s words through my grey matter. ‘Mom was irresponsible.’
I had never connected this idea to this story. “I guess she was,” I say.
“She was not only irresponsible, she was being selfish,” my sister adds.
I want to shrug it off, but I slowly realize she is right.
“I remember feeling sorry for you, lying for weeks in your bedroom, unable to come outside and play that summer.”
Suddenly I am back in the bedroom. “I couldn’t read, or watch TV, or even spend time with the family because the light hurt my eyes. I spent hour after hour in my bed with my curtains drawn tight.”
“It was wrong,” she adds. “Mom should have helped you. Should have changed your bed and pillowcase. Taken you to the doctor. ”
“We all know mom isn’t a good care giver.”
I feel frustration in my sister’s voice. “Theresa, she wasn’t being a good mom. Tell me, what would you have done if your daughter had pink eye and couldn’t open her eyes in the morning? You would have been in there with warm washcloths, oil, or something to help her unstick her eyes. You would have been helping her.”
And with a sinking feeling, I realize she is right. That mom was to selfish and preoccupied, or what ever excuse you want to make, to see me and my situation and help me. I was the one who had to change my pillowcase and clear my eyes and help myself.
My sister is right.
If my daughter had pink eye, I would have been taking her to the doctor. Washing her eyes for her. Getting her books on tape. Spending half the day in the bedroom with her. Doing everything I could to help her.
The past and present collide.
Over the next several days, I thought about my sister’s words. Especially as my eye got worse and I began experiencing stabbing eye pain and extreme light sensitivity.
It turned out I didn’t have pink eye. An ophthalmologist took a look inside my dilated eye and said I had a dangerous infection inside my eyeball. He gave me new drops to take every hour.
I got home from the ophthalmologist and my left eye, which had been dilated twice in two and a half days, refused to even open. I lay in bed that afternoon. Sleeping. Trying to avoid the emotional and physical pain that was threatening to pull me under.
Finally, I got up, wandering around in a dark house where every curtain and shade was drawn to stop the stabbing pain, which light caused. My eye still would not stay open more than a few seconds.
I did the loop through the house several times. Trying not to think. Feel.
And as I circled through the kitchen yet again, my left hand over my left eye, I began crying.
All I could think about was when I had pink eye and how miserable I had been. How I had been confined to my bedroom because the light hurt my eyes. Memories I hadn’t remembered experiencing, rushed back like a powerful wind
I was angry at my mom for treating me that way. For being indifferent to me and my suffering and expecting me to take care of myself. For being so preoccupied with her own life she didn’t see my pain or care that I was lying in a dark bedroom day after day. I was angry that I had to deal with and treat my own pink eye, when I didn’t know what to do.
And as I sobbed, I realized I didn’t deserve the treatment I had received.
I had never questioned the pink eye incident, until my sister had asked me how I would have treated my daughter if she had pink eye. Now I was seeing the incident through my adult eyes. Not my child eyes of accepting everything-as-it-comes-viewpoint and thinking that was just the way it was.
I sobbed at the pain mom’s indifference had caused. And how I had just blindly accepted it, thinking silently it was all I deserved.
And I sobbed because now I was stuck in a dark house until who knew when, with a pain riddled eye that wouldn’t even function like it should.
What to do when the past and present collide.
Ther purpose of this story is not to scare you about eye problems, make you sad, or to garner your pity for my pink eye and eye infection, incident.
The purpose is to remind you that sometimes the past comes crashing into the present and it knocks us off our feet and sends us down the drain of emotions we were not expecting. Often, we are not prepared for them or even want to deal with them. And yet, there they are, making their presence known. They are like growling and hungry dogs who do not want to back off from their prey.
My eye infection incident would have been smoother and less traumatic if the past pink eye memories had not come crashing through the door and knocked me over and caused me to doubt the truth of an old story.
And my guess is this happens to you. Because it is part of life. A comment causes more pain when it reminds us of past hurtful comments. A rebuff by a friend stings worse when we remember past rebuffs by other friends. Even if they are from 25 years ago. And an injustice feels magnified and to heavy to carry when it brings up painful memories of past injustices that occurred to us.
When this happens, we need to question why this happening and what is influencing our feelings and emotions. Because often the strong emotions or feelings that we are experiencing are being driven by some story from our past. Some past event, memories, injustice, or other catalyst.
Running from the strong feelings and emotions won’t help us deal with them and heal from them. What will work, is stepping back and tying the two together so we can begin to see how the past is influencing our present.
If possible, talk to someone who can help untangle the truth from the lies. Someone who will help you reframe the story. See the story in a different perspective. And remind you of the truth. (Just like my sister gently did.)
Isn’t that what God does for us? He reminds us we have a purpose. That he loves us. That our story is far from finished. That he is rewriting our story. And no matter what, he is on our side.
When we apply his words to our life, they separate the lies from truth and helps us focus on what matters.
Seven ways to deal with the past and present colliding.
1. Pay attention to the past and present colliding. Take time to think about the two and see connections. Masking the hurt or running away from the hurt will only delay the healing.
2. Try and figure out how the past is influencing the present. Ask questions. Why? What belief or self-truth am I dealing with? How does the past make me feel and how is it still making me feel today? What can I do about it? How can I deal with it? How can I put the past to rest?
3. See the past story through the eyes of another person. This is why talking to someone is so important. They will question and see things you don’t. They will remind you of what is normal and what is not.
Trying to see the story through a character of your story is also helpful. This can help us realize that the person we thought was the villain wasn’t as much a villain as a victim or a hurting person themselves. It also makes it easier to forgive them.
4. Reframe the story so it is now closer to the truth. Retell the story and now add you new awareness or truth. Doing so often allows us to shower both ourselves and other participants in the story with compassion and grace. (It can also help us choose a different path when confronted with a similar scenario.)
5. Pray about it and ask God to heal the hurt.
6. Allow yourself to grieve and heal.
7. Use the incident to better understand yourself and others.
When we talk to the right people, ask ourselves questions, and reframe the story, we can begin to diminish the power the past has on our present. We also better understand the influence the past has on us.
P.S. My eye started feeling better in a few days, and is on its way to a full recovery.
Thanks for stopping by. Keep remembering what’s important.
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Join the discussion: What helps you when the past and present collide in your life?