“I have this map here, Esther, for you to see what part of Russia belongs to you. You are entitled to this land, Esther. Your ancestors fought long and hard for this land. Don’t you let anyone steal this away from you!”
It was crazy talk. We weren’t even Russian.
I started shaking. I was not prepared to see my father after such a long absence. And I was not prepared to see him so utterly different, so unstable. What had happened to him? Why wasn’t he taking care of himself? Why wouldn’t he take care of us? I fulfilled my legal obligation of “visiting” my father, but as soon as I was cleared to leave I felt myself breaking. I rushed toward the door and fell to my knees, crawling and scrambling to get out—anywhere but there. My body could not process so much pain.
Even so, I did not cry.
* * *
I was known at school as the cheerleader, the eternal optimist, the glass-half-full girl. But I was not happy anymore.
Over the next several years, my father was in and out of jail, but every time he was released, he would try to find us. The pain was making me feel delusional. What was truth? What was reality? Was his sickness something I could catch?
Restraining orders were in place, but they meant nothing to him. But so it is with mental illness in a family. It is unpredictable, sometimes unsafe, and most of the time downright frustrating and sad.
Even so, sometimes I fantasized about who my father was. It was all my adolescent brain could do to make sense of my life. I would think back to my earliest years, before everything started falling apart, and remember nice things he had done. He seemed like a family man. He seemed like a hardworking businessman. And it was devastating to see how the familiar can change overnight. Stuffing our laments makes us live in denial. I exaggerated the good times and tried to forget the bad, and in doing so, I found life much more manageable. Living with a false reality sometimes makes life easier to live. But even though I wanted a father, and would even settle for a crazy one, the pain was unspeakable when his presence became harmful.
One of the main reasons I avoided grieving it all was that I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time, including God’s.
One of the main reasons I avoided grieving it all was that I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time, including God’s. I didn’t want to waste my time either. Deep down, I wondered what the point was of feeling my painful feelings. Was there any benefit? For me, faking fine was the best way to deal. I was doing the best I could, which was coping with the circumstances as they came. While this may seem to work in the moment, on a long-term level, coping is a cheap substitute for healing.
We all live with our own formulas and prescriptions for dealing with grief, loss, and disappointment. We all do the best we can, but this does not mean our ways are healthy. The problem is, our coping mechanisms are too often based on the goal of stuffing our emotions and pulling it together and appearing strong, when the pathway to healing is honest lament. It’s a shortcut and a quick fix that rarely deliver the long-term results we’re looking for.
I’ve learned the hard way that powering through is the fast track to hitting rock bottom.
I’ve learned the hard way that powering through is the fast track to hitting rock bottom. That’s the thing about our coping mechanisms— they are always well-intentioned, but ultimately they do not get us where we want to go. The good and beautiful news we’ll unpack in this book is that there is a way to walk in healing and freedom, and we find this way in lament. But first we have to clear the deck of the coping mechanisms we’ve been using to short-circuit our healing process, which ultimately lead nowhere.
This article was adapted from the new book “No More Faking Fine” by Esther Fleece. Used by permission of Zondervan. This blog post is the first installation of a series
To hear Esther’s inspiring story, check out her new White Chair Film: