“I don’t want to be alone again, I’ve been alone, and I won’t go back!” – Shadow Yu, Persona 4: The Animation
Every story about recovery starts with a hole someone has to crawl out of, and Ramona was mine. There’s a lot that led to who I was when this happened, but this is the point that forced me to start digging through any of that. Besides, Vader is a better lens than Anakin for telling you any of this. So we begin here, even if I didn’t.
I met Ramona at a nightclub, through a then-mutual friend, Matt. She and I knew each other by proxy, but weren’t friends by any stretch of the imagination. About a year and a half later, she started getting involved with a different sort of event – a game night that she was running with her boyfriend Luke – that caught my interest and got us talking here and there. Ramona, as it turned out, was into a few different things that I could actually share. (My girlfriend at the time, Stacy, was someone I meshed with on a few levels, but common interests weren’t really among them. The last time I had met someone I could connect with on that one, she and Stacy… didn’t get along, to put it nicely. Stacy and Amber, however, are both stories for another time.) Now I was interested in Ramona — a bit infatuated, even, though as much as I’m realizing I have a type I had no intention of acting on that. (Again, Stacy. And again, Luke.) Above all else, though, what I wanted was a friend.
The problem is that, to put it lightly, I have compulsive tendencies. I wouldn’t use the term “addict,” necessarily, if only for the fact that I’m out of my depth arguing the merits of strictly physiological definition (ignoring my sugar and caffeine habits here) vs. the use of the term for abstracts (gambling, sex, the Internet). To the latter point, I should have probably learned this in high school, when I would spend 8 hours at a time playing Kingdom Hearts. Anyway, fixation for me tends to manifest with relationships. Even with shallow ones, a little commonality can be all that it takes to start feeling like someone’s my best friend. Now, as I’ve stated, that used to be the case by default, so it’s not the biggest leap in the world, but the problem is that it didn’t go away with the more overt isolation that it grew out of. (As for your more typical vices, I’ve been taught to avoid gambling like the plague by children’s card games and far too many hours spent trying to catch ‘em all – including Porygon, which actually required in-game gambling. Or Missingno glitches and a Nugget. Or a Game Genie. But I digress.) After barely having any for a prolonged span of time, friends became difficult to really distinguish from acquaintances. Commonality looked like connection, and courtesy was mistaken for care.
One unanswered message led to another, and eventually I went from the friendzone (a term I’m using here mostly for simplicity’s sake, and a space which I was more than fine with under the circumstances) to being unfriendzoned. Eventually I reached the point of taking part in a time-honored tradition –venting about my problems on the Internet. As fate (or his frequenting TIFU) would have it, Matt stumbled on this and directed her to my ramblings, leading things to blow up in a spectacular fashion. (By “spectacular,” I mean it literally became a spectacle. It made /r/subredditdrama.) In the least shocking plot twist ever, she was just sick of dealing my obsessive ways in a general sense.
Now, if I had one, some concept of balance would have led this story to end here (or about three months prior, for that matter). As you might guess, it didn’t. But since nothing else happened here for a while, this is as good a point as any to pause and reflect. There’s a reason I started with this story, even knowing it could backfire further, and it’s that what I learned from her is a foundation for everything else you’re going to read here. You see, for a long time I thought I could just brute-force myself into being better. I spent years knowing that I came across as too… forward, for lack of a better, more platonic term (enthusiastic, perhaps?), and absolutely dreaded the idea of people cutting me out of their lives for it. I always believed, though, it was simply a matter of action and not thought. That each time, it would be different, even though I never was. This became more and more evident with every attempt I made to keep in contact with Ramona. Each message sent felt more compelled than the last, and without at least some sense of closure to it (even in the form of “Just…stop, ok? Let it go.”) I couldn’t seem to force myself to give up.
Fast forward to about a year later. Luke is still running the same game night, which has since moved, and which I’ve since been avoiding (in favor of a similar one run by the previous venue). Around the holidays the two were running on different nights, and I happened to be in the mood for a Smash Bros. fix that night. (I act like even more of an addict toward Melee than I did toward Ramona.) Overall it was a fun time, until Luke and I got to talking after. He brought up a story involving someone he’d dated, and my curiosity got the better of me. (Never mind that I’d guessed wrong at the story’s subject.) Soon the story of my previous screw-up came up like some sort of word vomit, and within 10 minutes word had spread to both Ramona and Matt, who then spent the 10 minutes that followed yelling at me about boundaries and how I “fucking forget she fucking exists,” then publicly discussing how I’m “the reason why we can’t have nice things.” The next time I saw Matt, another speech came up about how a number of their friends agreed with her, and how I need to find new places to spend my free time. Now, I’ll be blunt – the latter half of this is just a bad plan. Matt straight-up told me that he thought my way of attaching to people was screwy, and then proceeded to basically tell me I had no friends. Dealing with someone you think is unhinged by knowingly setting the person off – even someone you also think is harmless – is reckless at best. (Consider the potential consequences if it were someone he’d really underestimated. By definition, the assumption that the other person is crazy was the starting point here. I’m speaking from experience here – I have an ex whose varying reactions I underestimated – but more on that later.) Even so, there was a lot worth calling out no matter how much I may question the methods; “you’re not wrong, you’re just an asshole” is very much in play here.
As it happens, though, he did manage to set me off on something tangential (and minor by comparison. The general rush-to-judgment nature of all of it (for example, tweeting about me three weeks before we actually spoke) recalls some similar things that happened back home – the sort that no amount of reflection has made me more willing to talk about at length. (tl;dr: I’ve been the subject of a lot of people talking various levels of shit, on a scale that quickly slides from “embarrassing secrets” to “this never even happened.”) Now, unlike those, this was pretty one-sidedly my fault, but the way it happened played out closely enough to hit a nerve or several. In fairness to him, he didn’t know, and he couldn’t have known. Even so, that’s sort of the point I was getting at, about how poorly thought out it is to take what you believe to be the subject of someone’s crazy and actively screw with it. As soon as I reacted to this (which took a couple of days, since I was too catatonic to really have it hit me right away), Ramona decided to go off on me herself. She proceeded to tell me that it will get back to her if I ever bring her up again (never mind that at that point I wasn’t, and was strictly calling out Matt for acting like kind of a dick), because “I have friends that give a fuck about me” – the obvious implication, much like Matt’s, being that I didn’t. By this point I was going back and forth between not wanting to leave my room, ever, and thinking that while I didn’t want to jump in front of a train I also wouldn’t want to move if I’d somehow been placed on a set of tracks. (The hazards of public transit… Apparently to people with a psych background this is known as being “passively suicidal.” Since my curiosity was toward trains specifically, House of Cards season 2, which dropped soon after, felt like even more of a gut-punch.) I suppose that’s kind of how breakdowns work, though it was owed to this bringing a lot of things to the surface that I didn’t care to look at, rather than anything really specific on her part. (For that matter – within a 4-month span, Stacy and I broke up, Amber moved away, and this whole tale reached its conclusion, so by then I was a bit of a mess in general.) All of this being said, I somehow latched onto that one detail, as it brought a question to mind – what if that was my problem? What if, instead of not having meaningful relationships because I was screwed-up, I was screwed up because of how long I went not having meaningful relationships? Hell, the meaningful relationships I did have weren’t exactly functional. (I’ll leave Claire for another time.) This took some time and some thought to refine it past reverting to views on people that I had in high school (essentially, I had an antisocial phase because people were horrible), but it sort of became my starting point for moving forward. People do not exist in a vacuum. Their beliefs, habits, and actions are influenced by the experiences they hold. Anyone who’s familiar with the idea of conditioning could have probably recognized this, but with my own viewpoint on the situation – that I was the source of all of these catastrophes – it never occurred to me that I needed to go deeper. Really, I was just as guilty of oversimplifying as everyone else has been.
Since then, I’ve been obsessed with how to fix it. Now, let’s be clear. I don’t mean how to reconcile with Ramona. I’m pretty sure that bridge has been thoroughly razed, and even assuming it’s reparable there’s a lot I’d need to do about myself to keep from torching it again. What I’m talking about is the interpersonal pyromania that leads me to burn all of them (sometimes twice) to begin with. If people leave because I’m broken, essentially, then the key isn’t to rebuild those relationships, but rather to rebuild me. Progress has dependencies, after all. I spent so much time wanting to repair things with others that the idea of addressing my own issues first never occurred to me. Even if I did revive any of these relationships, keeping any of them intact would be that much more difficult without solving the root cause. For about a month afterward, it took everything I had to pay attention to… well, basically everything else, because I was too busy tearing apart all the ways I could have possibly gone wrong. (It’s almost as if I tended toward obsession. Who knew?) More importantly, I was tearing apart why. And for the first time, I think I’m actually getting somewhere.
There’s a twisted irony to it all. My catalyst for change — for finally coming to the faintest grasp of why all of this happens — is also the only person who’s ever (openly) wished that I’d literally forget. Conversely, the second person who’s ever made me want to loiter on train tracks (Yuki is another story that I’ll visit later) is also someone that I owe a very strange sort of gratitude. Truthfully, I feel conflicted for even calling it that; it almost sounds like a justification, despite knowing otherwise. There’s a sort of conflict to it, purely because I’d still be caught in the same pattern without these events. And even by my standards there’s something a bit broken about that – about seeing all the trouble I’ve given her as some wellspring of epiphanies (again, despite seeing it for all of the other things that it is). Still, here we are. At the very least, if it won’t change anything, I guess that means I have nothing to lose.
“The answer is often hidden in what looks most obvious.” – Rintaro Okabe, Steins;Gate