A while back I attended a large social event – and it was a really lovely day.
The sun was shining, everyone there seemed happy and content – the music was laid back, children were roaming all over the place with smiling, painted faces and there was a nice vibe in the air.
At the time however I really struggled.
Conversation didn’t come easy and even though I chatted with people I didn’t feel like I was doing a very good job of it – which made each subsequent interaction more difficult than the one before because I started to overthink and worry about it.
People that know me may be surprised to learn that this used to happen to me quite a lot. When it did I tended to just clam up and retreat into the cover of silence – and my natural tendency is still to try and avoid repeating the same situation again.
When I spoke to friends about this behaviour I couldn’t help but bookend it with nostalgic and romanticised thoughts about alcohol.
Over many years pretty much all of my major social events have been both lubricated and propelled by it and on a few occasions lately I’ve been left feeling that things (in this respect) used to be easier when I drank.
In response they’ve naturally replied ‘have you never considered just drinking on special occasions? Just one or two here or there? Surely you’re in control now?’
The truth is that I probably am in control and would be if I did – but I really don’t ever want to do it again. The health implications regarding diabetes alone make my blood run cold.
However the more I thought about it (I try not to dismiss anyone’s suggestions – whatever they may be) the more I realised what the truth was.
I just wasn’t very good at socialising and I hadn’t had enough practice.
In just the same way as I used drink to cover or diminish intense emotion I also used it as a crutch for my feelings of social awkwardness – and having to go back to it seems like admitting I have a personality flaw that I’m incapable of addressing.
Irked by this realisation I resolved that rather then paper over the cracks of a weakness with alcohol the answer was just to get better at socialising!
If I can lose 20st then I can definitely crack being a bit nervous in front of people I don’t know.
Having some very good friends is a plus and a minus because their unwavering support means it’s comfortable and easy to be with people that I love and know well.
My life is currently blessed with many meaningful friendships and because of these I haven’t had many situations where I’ve been forced to think on my feet and walk into an environment knowing next to no-one and just fend for myself.
With this in mind I’ve been trying to work on my weaknesses.
Just like walking it’s definitely something that gets easier the more you do it – and as that happens the more you enjoy it.
Yesterday I knew I was taking a day off from SW and didn’t weigh in – instead heading over to Sping Grove House (link) in the West Midlands Safari Park.
This is a truly stunning Georgian Mansion – and yesterday became the wedding venue of one of my brother’s best friends – who (after a lengthy engagement) had finally gotten around to tying the knot with her partner.
Although we’ve always known of one another peripherally – and spoken on social media we’ve not entered eachother’s physical orbit much in the past.
If I’m honest this was completely because of my long standing weight related embarrassment. I just couldn’t handle the fear that people would judge me harshly and I’d developed some serious hermit tendencies to cope with it.
Whenever the opportunity came up to socialise with someone I didn’t already know I invariably found a way out of it, and as a jokey reaction to never seeing me in person for many years she had slowly begun to refer to me as ‘fictitious Dave‘.
It’s testament to her kindness and persistence therefore that despite my previous reticence to engage she invited me along to share their special day.
And it was special.
The whole ceremony was lovely – and being a civil one was wholly about the love and bond that they shared, which truthfully left something of a lump in my throat.
These guys are so well suited it’s nuts.
The venue couldn’t have been more perfect – and from the surrounding to the decor, food and music everything just flowed.
The music was also darn near perfect. The happy couple entered to ‘Somethin Stupid’ by Robbie Williams and Nichole Kidman and once married left to ‘Mr Blue Sky’ by ELO.
I doubt anyone could have picked better songs. The sun was shining for the WHOLE day – and when we exited into the garden (so that the room could be prepared for the wedding lunch) there was a lovely surprise.
On one of the tables laid out on the patio a Safari Park keeper has brought along some animals for the children to stroke – and since I’m a sucker for anything small and furry I made my way to the front where my sister in law was already petting what seemed like a baby hedgehog.
Although I forget the proper name that the keeper used this (I think) is an African Pygmy hedgehog – and it’s no baby. It’s actually fully grown and was really content with being stroked and peered at.
The next animal (a chinchilla) wasn’t so chilled however – and didn’t stay still for long at all.
However it did allow me a couple of gentle passes with my hand on its fur – and I was absolutely blown away by how incredibly soft it was.
According to the keeper (in comparison to a human) a chinchilla has ten hairs in the same space that a we would have one.
Consequently it’s so fine and delicate that it’s like touching air.
This broke down a lot of barriers with people and once we’d all sat down and agreed how cute they were I got to know a few of the guests – who I was quickly realising came from pretty much everywhere.
Before we knew it we’d been shooting the breeze for nearly an hour – and by this time everyone was really relaxed.
I don’t have many group photos of me, my brother and sister in law but this one (taken at the same time) I think is a keeper.
It’s not the only good photo though – because quite unexpectedly I found myself on a really chatty dinner table full of people that seemed to have the same sense of humour that I did.
I’m not sure whether this was planned – but two of the people actually lived in Warwick too – and the super friendly lady next to me appeared to be a really capable conversationalist who had me laughing through most of my dinner and occasionally sniggering during the speeches too.
She diverted my attention so much in fact that (despite my tendency to photograph most of my meals) I completely forgot to get a snap of the main course.
The starter looked and tasted awesome however – and was a ham hock terrine with piccalilli and a crusty piece of bread.
I’m not sure whether this is good or bad from a dietary perspective but I’d made a pact with myself to avoid the other temptation and ignored the sweets that were sitting (looking innocently evil) on all of the tables.
I also passed on dessert (which looked rather nice) AND the cake later on – but DID indulge in the buffet curry that rolled out just before the dance floor opened up in the early evening.
By the time we left though I have to admit I was flagging. Despite the excellent company I needed to prop myself up with caffeine – but sadly (even though I managed to secure several cups of brown nectar) this completely failed to perk me up.
It had been a long day though and I wasn’t alone in feeling this way.
By 10pm the girls on the table were all making pained noises about the agony of wearing unfamiliar heels and the boys were just yawning.
My work event (where I lost an entire night’s sleep) was still looming large. It’s simply not possible to miss out on that much shut eye with no consequences.
However there was still just enough in the tank to drive the people I’d met back to their nearby hotel and make my way home to Warwick with a smile on my face – which was still there when I turned off the light and climbed into bed.
I have to say it was one of the best weddings I’ve ever been to – and not just because of the organisation and the setting.
I left feeling like I’d made some new friends, strengthened relationships that I’d neglected to develop for many years, and just got to know a thoroughly lovely bunch of guests.
Dave is no longer fictitious.
There’s a face associated with the name now and he’s becoming surprisingly social.