Sunday, 28 December 2008

The first social occasion

My greatest fear, by far, is how not having a drink - I'll stop using the horrid Americanism "alcohol" right from the off - to hand at any kind of social occasion will fill me with that great unease around people which I've known all of my life. It might seem I am confusing my discussion of drink already by bringing up a personal character problem, but it is those very problems that are at the core of what drink has come to mean in my life. It is how a drink interacts with my character that causes all of this, every last bit.

But, to return to that unease at the core of my soul. It's a part of my very earliest memories, which are all alone. From those very first days I couldn't interact with kids how they did with each other. I seemed to take everything so seriously and was very hurt by conflict and anger, and so found it much easier playing on my own.

Twenty years later that hasn't really changed but for the past ten, I've had a drink to hand to help me fit in with the kids just enough to get by.

In a group of people I feel some kind of deep, absolutely necessary need for balance and harmony. It takes over everything else in my head and changes my actions. For example, I despise sitting in the middle of a group having to switch attention from one side to the other - I have to be at the end so I can take in everything, take in the group.

In a group of people I am affected very much by the group spirit. If just one person seems unhappy, I don't get any pleasure from the occasion. My abiding memory will be of what was wrong and what I could have done to fix it - to get that harmony back. I can pick out days I remember from holidays a decade ago when one person was unhappy, and it upset the balance of the group.

In a group of people I do not see a person, I see the people. Perhaps that sums it up most succinctly.

And in a group of people, having a drink switches those things off. It's such a relief to be able to... be different, and not have that silly sense of unity floating around my head. I can feel what it's like to be selfish and make sure you sit next to the person who you want to rather than the person who needs it. And you know what? You always end up having a better time for it, and that feels good.

The first time

All that preamble said, I just got the first time out of the way. Just a dinner at her parent's, but not just a dinner to me, so it's twice the fear - having dinner with people I barely know, and sober at that. I've never really done "round for dinner" - it's just not a family thing. Even eating out has been a rarity, not for anything like money but just because none of us enjoy sitting across from someone while they and yourself are eating - it makes us all uncomfortable and more importantly non spontaneous. I get so angry missing one liners because I've a mouthful of food - is that silly? I don't know. When I'm finding it hard to figure out someone's sense of humour in the first place, it's infuriating missing the odd funny thing you do come up with because there's half a courgette hanging out of your mouth.

I don't really do polite conversation well, either, and these things seem to be based around that - I begin to get quite frustrated, wondering if I'll have anything worth saying at any point. It is taking some getting used to and my style of humour is very hard to slip into that, but I know it's a mutual process that time will deal with.

In this kind of eating-around-a-table situation I feel like I'm in a really alien situation and don't know how to adapt at all - it makes me uneasy and kills my sense of humour. Having a drink removes that level of inhibition that, well, stops me caring so much. I'd risk saying something I found funny and just ignore an awkward laugh back, or find myself able to feign interest in something trivial. I guess I'm just a fish out of water in that sort of situation, so it was pretty hard trying to fit in tonight. I don't know if I managed, in the same way my grandma who doesn't drink is awkwardly out of place in a pub environment. In this kind of group situation, without a drink to numb the senses, I become overly-concerned with the happiness of the group and am unable to relax at all. It was not a difficult night, but as the first signs of drink began to appear in the other's eyes and voices became overly-animated, I felt a huge sense of fear I would begin to drift even further away from safe ground and needed to clutch for home.

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