I fixate. I obsess. My mind sticks in a groove, and when it tries to wander, I move the needle back into the groove. I become stuck in a feedback loop that results in rigidity of thought, emotional instability, and a narrowing of life. I have fixated on one thing or another for as long as I can remember, and it’s only recently I’ve understood it’s willful. And only more recently have I begun to understand the foreshortening of horizons this way has caused.
In middle and high school the obsession was boys. Crush-prone and boy-crazy, I was perpetually infatuated with someone or another. Always. Sometimes the crush would last the entire school year. Other times they were “popcorn crushes”–blowing up out of nowhere, and disappearing just as quickly. Short fixations were the exception, however. Typically I would feel attracted, and go all the way down the rabbit hole, thinking of nothing else, feeling nothing but the delicious butterfly highs. The dark side, which fed the compulsion, was the crushing ennui that crept in any time I wasn’t directly engaged with the object of my desire, about to be engaged, or plotting the next engagement. And yes, I wanted to be engaged too, in the stage-before-marriage sense, from the time I was four years old.
To avoid the ennui, I clamped down hard on the object. Here’s how it worked: I’d get ready for school while thinking about him, and count the minutes until we had class together, and if a possibility existed for a sighting before then, I scanned the environment searching for him and hustled into his path, and spent the time around him getting high off our interaction (bonus points if there was any sort of physical contact), then enjoyed the tingling afterglow until the ennui began its slow seep. At best I’d start to feel empty, at worst, needy and desperate. To avoid the discomfort that invariably increased until I wanted to jump out of my skin, I simply replayed the images of our interactions over and ove in my mind, adding imagined sex scenes to soothe and tide myself over until the cycle began again.
Is it any wonder I grew up to become an addict? Replace “boy” with “alcohol” and it’s the addiction model, 100%. When you live in a state of fixation, your life narrows down to a dimension you could fit on the head of a pin.
Fixation has held me back to a degree I’m just beginning to grasp. I mean, I know I missed out on stuff because I was obsessed with guys. I didn’t do sports or activities or have close friends or interests because there wasn’t time or space for anything but the given object. By the time I “came to” it was too late to get more out of college, or join a high school club. I had to accept I’d blown large volumes of time in my room, alone with my thoughts and vibrator.
The fixations persist, however. They attach in the form of planning an out-of-state move, career dissatisfaction, money anxiety, depression avoidance, addiction recovery, maintaining an active social life. I can’t see beyond the day ahead, or the next set of plans. I don’t strategize beyond the present moment. And then, once again, you could fit my life on the head of a pin.
Something broke loose last summer when I had an unexpected opportunity to visit France. It was my first time taking an international trip (I’m not counting Canada, since BC was an oft-made three hour drive from my hometown, or Mexico), and I was 34 years old. It’s a very privileged given in my socioeconomic class and friend groups that one would travel internationally any chance they had, but I didn’t. I was too fixated on whatever to look far enough outside this narrow field to other countries. I could barely look across the street. Initially I was too afraid to travel, not wanting to risk leaving my immediate environment, lest the guy I liked might call. Then, I was too obsessed with maintaining my sanity and stability to want to leave my immediate environment. Next, I was too anxious about money and saving for an out-of-state move to leave my immediate environment. And so it went.
But then I got a phone call asking me if I wanted to go to France…tomorrow. I had no time to think and thus dismiss the opportunity because it didn’t fit into my rigid lifestyle. I said yes. Thank heavens I had an unused passport that had been tucked away into a drawer, unstamped, for the previous eight years. I leapt into the spontaneity and found myself descending into France 24 hours later.
Upon arriving in Paris, I could hardly believe that I, of all people was abroad. My hands shook as I handed over my passport. With a metallic “thunk!” I had my very first passport stamp. I stopped short (like a g-d tourist) to gaze down in awe at the blotch of ink. Within a half-hour I was sitting outside at a Paris cafe, drinking an espresso and eating a croissant. Sleep-deprived and astonished, I hoisted the tiny cup to celebrate my fortune, with the knowledge I was undergoing a critical existential change. I was seeing and experiencing new things every moment of the trip, old fixations be damned. The world was literally and figuratively opening up to me, because I was letting it.
So let the ennui wend its way in, because the discomfort it brings may just spur change. By frantically avoiding its pressures for years at a time, I closed myself to possibilities, choosing a life of certain scarcity over one of strange abundance. I don’t want to live this way any more. I want to see, and dream and experience. And so I practice a sort of detachment when I find myself holding on too tight, reminding myself that it is in the vast unknown that trips to Paris fall from the sky.