14: Focus

“The past does not exist to remind us that the future cannot be changed. It exists to show us what the future can be.” – Sage of the Six Paths, Naruto

Now that you’re all more or less caught up on my personal catastrophes, a few of you might still be wondering what the point is behind all of this. I like to refer to my aim as a Focus, which is one of very few references here that I might have to actually explain…

One of the central themes of Final Fantasy XIII is purpose. Its entire world depends on godlike beings called Fal’Cie, a sort of pantheon of beings that each serve a given purpose, not unlike the figures of Greek mythology. For things that aren’t within their domains, the Fal’Cie are capable of conscripting humans as their servants, called L’Cie. These L’Cie are marked with a brand and given power to do the otherwise impossible (this is actually how magic is used in-game), but that power is set on a given task, called a Focus. Furthermore, its bearer is left with either of two fates: succeed, and enter a crystallized state, or fail, and become a fiendish creature called a Cie’th. My single tattoo (thus far) is actually of the L’Cie brand, which bears a sort of symbolism to me about the constant need to move forward – about how reforming myself into a functional human being was my only alternative to spiraling further downward.

Now, most of you know by now that I’ve torn apart my disasters in excruciating detail, and now I understand them in excruciating detail. I understand how they happen, and I’ve rebuilt a functional human being out of the wreckage. I don’t have to tell people I’m fucked up anymore. It’s been two years since the breakdown that spawned all of this, and the worst of me is more or less gone. And I want to show all of you that you can get better, as I continue to do the same (and as I adorably imply that I have readers). Ultimately, I have two endgames in doing this. One is to find new ways to push myself forward, and in ways beyond just my own psychological well-being. Current projects include a weightlifting routine, learning an additional language, and improving my piano playing. (You can see an up-to-date list of what I’m up to here.) I eventually want to learn how to foster this obsession, and direct it toward something similarly worthwhile – or even just something similarly awesome (as if something like learning how to backflip wouldn’t be both).

But this is outreach, not just self-help. I’m telling you all of these stories so that someone else reading them doesn’t repeat my spiral downward. I want to distill this into something others can use, and to that end I’m willing to broadcast my own screwed-up tales to anyone who might find them worthwhile. People like Emma and like Roxanne — who saw better in me than I did — have been among the best things that have ever happened to me, and I want to be this for you, dear readers.

It’s also important to note what this isn’t. Most importantly, this isn’t about rebuilding bridges. My personal aim with this ultimately isn’t about Ramona, or Emma, or Caitlin or anyone else except me. If it were, those would still be obsessions, and all of the progress I’ve made in the last two years would be a fraud. I’d be chasing after a person, just as I had been the entire time.

This whole project has had a few overarching ideas behind it that have mostly been just beneath the surface of these tales. Some of them are more layered than others, but narrative subtext aside they’re worth spelling out:

Damage is not defect. Remember how this is a cycle – how isolation breeds further isolation. Personal weaknesses can come from the things that happen to you, not just from something inherent. Who we are is heavily influenced by our surroundings, and those influences can be toxic. There’s a certain freeing feeling that comes from being able to look at these as something outside oneself. I, for one, always looked at the idea that there was something wrong with me as tantamount to admitting that all the various things people have said over the years (mostly that there was something wrong with me) were right. But it’s not as binary as that, and causation is a messy thing at times. There’s a difference between admitting to a problem and agreeing that one is less for having it, and knowing that difference lets us look at these sorts of things without making judgments about our own worth.

Responsibility is not blame. This is twofold – the need to fix something doesn’t equate to personal fault, but at the same time the (assumed) lack of personal fault doesn’t excuse us from addressing ourselves. There’s a point at which denial can actively cause harm, and that denial becomes personal fault. Each of us must acknowledge our own part in getting better. We can blame a storm for the destruction it causes, but somewhere along the line it’s up to people to actually repair it. No amount of personal absolution will extend from one’s being to one’s actions (let alone the damage they can do to others), but the converse is also true. None of us just go looking for our own ruin, and even as some of us are twisted, questions like “how” and “why” are important to being able to view that objectively. We fuck up. Sometimes, there are reasons why we fuck up. Find the reasons, and fix them.

To fix something, you need to understand it. Every story I tell is somehow there to highlight an element of how I ended up the way I was – essentially breaking down my own anxieties into their components. In the process I’ve been looking for patterns in my own way of thinking as well as overarching ideas about how people interact in order to understand what sets off my reactions. What am I reliving every time I run through this progression of events? What parts of it make me panic? What (emotionally) makes me attracted to someone? “Know your enemy and know yourself” becomes interesting when your enemy is yourself. It’s something of a “how I hit rock bottom,” (right down to the anachronic order and the maybe-excessive calls forward to events with Ramona) in that everything I’m telling you about somehow influenced who I had been when I started. It justifies nothing, but it explains everything, and being able to see how things happen is key to actually doing something about them.

Always look for more answers. You could say that repair, emotional or otherwise, really occurs in three stages: comprehension, deconstruction, reconstruction. But it’s an iterative process – less of a transformation and more of an evolution. As you work your way through different fragments these processes can and will occur in parallel, as you find yourself uncovering new elements while addressing known ones. This isn’t about finding one piece that’ll solve everything; it’s about constantly finding more pieces – something that comes as much from interactions and honest dialogues as it does from introspection. As much as I like to say that I’ve solved my obsession with obsession, it still took other ears, and other voices, and other perspectives to both counter and augment mine.

So this is my endgame, ladies and gentlemen. A Focus, if you will. This isn’t just about the disconnect between blame and burden. It’s not about trying to excuse my own failings, or about somehow redeeming myself with any of the people in my various tales. It’s about getting better, and enabling others to do the same – about ceasing to be a solo player all together as I somehow develop an understanding of sustainable interactions. It’s about forming a guild of sorts: sharing everything I’ve learned with people who haven’t yet, and sharing our struggles with one another. (I’ll set aside the sort of interesting recursion that comes with this ideal – of banding together in part so that no one is left alone.) Got a story of your own to tell, or even an argument you want to make? Leave a comment, or email me, or even just Facebook me if we’ve met offline (again, it’s not like I have readers yet that I don’t know IRL), and talk about isolation or obsession or whatever else might need an ear. I welcome you all.

Join me, and let me level with you.

“I’ll only have a place for myself after I’ve made one for others. I realize that now.” – Shiroe, Log Horizon

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