Turning towards

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Blogs by their nature are exercises in navel gazing. And I’ve never kidded myself that my blog had a wide appeal, mostly I ramble on about things that interest only me/hair.  But this post is so incredibly narcissistic that I give you my regular reader aka mum complete permission to skip this post.

But I have to write about turning towards. Because this revelation has been so fundamentally important in my life that to not mark it here feel wrong. Maybe this might help other people struggling with the same thing. Plus when I inevitably forget this lesson, before the universe slams my head against the wall again I can re-read this post again and tell myself turn towards doofus, turn towards.

As I hinted in my beginning of the year post for the past six months I’ve been struggling. In short:

There are two things I really want. I’ve been doing anything I can think of to accomplish these goals. And running face first into the universe’s indifference as I realise how completely out of my control everything is.

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In response, I’ve felt very sad, hopeless and useless. I don’t like feeling sad, hopeless and useless  – these feelings bummed me out. So I would do whatever I could to make myself feel better. I have *takes deep breath* journalled, gone to therapy, cleaned, seen friends, isolated, eaten chocolate, meditated, drunk many fruity cocktails in different shades, gone on the holiday of a lifetime, distracted myself with books and TV.  I even whisper it exercised. That is how desperate I was 😉

And all of these things worked. I’d feel better for an a hour, an afternoon, a week. But inevitably because I want things, and those things aren’t happening, I would feel very sad, hopeless and useless again. I flipped so fast between hope and despair I gave myself emotional whiplash.

Even worse the negative thoughts began: ‘you’re a trained counsellor. If you’re so good at fixing your clients, why can’t you fix yourself. What’s wrong with you?’ So in addition to feeling crappy, I then beat myself up for feeling crappy. It was if I imagined after gaining my diploma that I’d be teflon coated never suffering again. Fellow counsellors, I’ll give you a moment to stop laughing at me.

This cycle (feel sad, try to make self feel better, while beating self up for feeling bad) might have continued ad infinitum. If not for one weekend when something happened.

During the break in a experiential counselling group (think a therapeutic group for counsellors) I took a walk. It had been an emotional day and I’d connected with an old wound from childhood. I felt off, like a small animal was scritching a hole in my breastplate. I needed… something. I went into the bookshop and stared at my books, my drug of choice and familiar companions. No, that wasn’t it. I went into Waitrose and stared at sugary things, hoping they could satiate my pain. Nope, not it. I walked scrolling through my phone desperate to find somebody who could help take this feeling away.

In that moment I would have done anything, taken anything for the momentary cessation of that scritchy feeling.

Instead I did something different. I sat down on a bench and (in my head) I began to talk to myself. ‘OK’ I said to myself. ‘What up with you?’ I turned towards those feelings blossoming within me like a dark flower. And I felt it all the sadness sloshing inside of me bigger than any ocean, the anger juddering like tectonic plates moving and there at the base of it all a raggedly old wound that never healed.

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It took almost everything I had to not turn away from those feelings. Instead as each feeling emerged I acknowledged it. I tried to name the feeling: was it grief or despair that I was drowning in? I put my hand to where the feelings where located and breathed through it.

Was turning towards those feelings pleasant?

No.

It felt like shining a light into my soul and seeing creatures wiggle in the darkness. It was intensely painful but mixed up in that pain was a relief at those feelings being heard. An ‘Ah yes, there you are!’

In that moment I drew on a couple of ideas that had inspired me but I’d struggled to integrate. Buddhist notions of acceptance, vulnerability from the work of Brené Brown, and techniques from mindfulness and focusing. I accepted those feelings. I embraced my vulnerability instead of turning away in shame. I open myself up to my current experience whatever they were.

I knew from my counselling training that feelings need to be heard. But I had been ignoring mine and worse telling myself that what I felt wasn’t valid.

Let’s get all metaphorical for a minute. It felt emotionally I was in Hull but I really wanted to be in Brighton. It was almost as if for the last six months I spent all my time either distracting myself or being self critical that I wasn’t in Brighton. Neither of which actions got me anywhere. If I ever want to get to Brighton I need to accept I’m in Hull.

I need to accept the reality of my current emotional experience before it can change to make way for something new. 

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For years I’ve had this quote pinned to my fridge. ‘The only way out is through’ by Robert Frost. The thing is going through our feelings hurts, it’s uncomfortable, the terrain is unwieldy. Wanting to avoid pain is human nature. It’s in my nature. But when I avoided my pain it only reinforced my secret fear that my pain is bigger than I am and I am not resilient enough to handle it. By trying to shut of my pain I’d limited my ability to feel pleasure. By turning towards I remembered that there are no shortcuts, the only way out of a feeling is through.

So for the last month I’ve been practising turning towards my feelings. I can feel the ripples spreading. I don’t know where I’ll end up but this feels huge and revolutionary.

For the first time in months I’m feeling like myself. I feel… better (she says tentatively eyeing the skies for more thunderbolts).  Nothing externally has changed but I’ve changed. I still want things that aren’t happening. I still feel sad, useless and bummed out. But instead of ignoring those feelings or telling myself I’m not allowed to have them more often than not I turn towards them. ‘Who are you?’ I ask. ‘What do you need me to hear?’ And whatever I hear and no matter how uncomfortable it is to bear I try to turn towards.

Observations on grief

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I wrote these scattered thoughts over the last six months. It’s not a real post. There aren’t any grand conclusions. But this was how I felt as I struggled through the mourning process for my best friend. I publish these in the hope that somebody out there might go – ‘Me too’ and I’ll feel less alone.

The title of this post makes me feel like a scientist as opposed to the constantly crying person who regards any task (brushing my hair, washing, leaving the house) with an bone-deep exhaustion.

I’m not OK. Why was I expecting to be OK? Because I always have been. I have always coped and pushed the pain somewhere to be dealt with later. But those were rivers of pain and this in the sea. I cannot contain it.  I have to sit in the pain and being not OK for as long as it takes and it is horrible.

Grief is unpredictable. Look at me I think acting like nothing has happened. When I feel like a walking bruise. Like a bombed house during the Blitz, the walls are still intact but inside there is desolation.

There are good days and bad days. On good days I forget and it is blissful until I feel the nagging like a sore tooth. She’s gone and nothing and nobody will bring her back. On bad days I feel like the waves have dragged me under and I linger on the sea bed. Everything is muffled and dimmed, and nothing and nobody can reach me.

People try and help by offering platitudes. ‘She’s with the angels now.’ Well, why don’t we ask the fucking angels to give her back? Oh we can’t… is that because they are imaginary. ‘Celebrate her life don’t mourn her death.’ Are the two mutually exclusive? Can I not do both. ‘Lianne wouldn’t want you to feel this way.’OK, let’s take these in term. 1) Lianne is dead so we can never know what she would want. 2) Even so knowing her as I do, for the accepting loving individual she was she would want me to feel what I feel. 3) Finally and most importantly, it’s not about her anymore. It’s about me mourning the loss of my best friend the only way I can.

Somedays you will recognise that people say these things because they love you and that they do not want to see you in pain. Somedays the unwarranted advice will make you want to punch them in their fucking face. Don’t do that.

Empathy helps. In my experience it is the only thing that does. I remember sitting in my first counselling session talking about Lianne’s death and I said ‘I feel like I’m going mad. What’s wrong with me?’ And my therapist, god bless her said, ‘Your best friend has just died. Of course you feel awful. There is nothing wrong with you.’ I would have wept with relief if I hadn’t been weeping anyway.

Get a therapist.

There is no right way to grieve. Everybody grieves in their own way. And the way I do this is not the way other people have done this. That’s OK.

Grief is not linear, it’s not stages. Now months on I feel like I am moving out of the process but anything could pull me back under. I still miss her. I don’t think I’ll ever not.

Perception is all. The day of Lianne’s funeral was one of the most beautiful days of the summer. The sun shone so hard and the sky was so blue it almost hurt my eyes. But inside all I could feel was the crack as my heart broke into pieces. I expected the world to have changed, that there to be some outside sign that Lianne was missing. That’s the both simultaneously wonderful/cruel thing about grief the world keeps turning just the same. Only you have changed.

You get a free pass. Use it. Grieving allowed me to duck out of social arrangements, reinforce personal boundaries, wear random clothes, and lie in my bed eating cake for breakfast.

I have officially become the person that cries in my therapists reception room. Personal achievement unlocked!

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It hurts. I didn’t know how much grief would hurt. But I know it wouldn’t hurt so much if I hadn’t loved her.

I can no longer watch Steel Magnolias or Beaches, especially fucking Beaches. Turning on the radio has been like playing Russian roulette damn you Queen and Lady Gaga. There is no logic to what shatters my composure.

This is one of the most beautiful letters I have read about grief. In particular I loved this quote:

Fate can’t have any more arrows in its quiver for you that will wound like these. Who was it said that it was astounding how deepest griefs can change in time to a sort of joy? The golden bowl is broken indeed but it was golden; nothing can ever take those boys away from you now.

This letter is also a lie, a kind lie from a place of love but a lie. Nobody can ever take Lianne away from me. She lived, she loved and she was golden however briefly she shone. And the fact that she is no longer here cannot take that away. But I do not believe fate’s arrow is empty for me. When somebody dies the veil is ruptured between worlds and you stare into the void, knowing that this is the first. If I am lucky and live a long and healthy life I will lose more people I love or be buried by them. This is the first blow. There will be others.

sorrow passes and we remain. Whether we want to or not.

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Limbo

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So far, 2013 has been very tough. I only realised just how tough it had been when the pressure alleviated and I felt like I could breathe again.

In early January I found out that somebody I love most in this world was seriously ill and it could be cancer. All I could think was not again, I can’t watch somebody else I love die. The universe cannot possibly be this cruel. While knowing that the universe is exactly this capricious and cruel.

I hardly told anybody. I was worried that if I spoke the words it would make it real. Even telling my best friends was so difficult. When I plucked up the courage to tell my counsellor, after 30 minutes of babbling about nothing, she cried with me. She knew better than anybody how devastating this would be.

I am not somebody who embraces uncertainty and unknowing. I am a bit of a control freak (with weekly, monthly, yearly and five yearly plans). But living in limbo seemed easier than hearing the worst. I dreaded the test results day. I lied to myself that I was coping well until I had a crying fit about our fridge breaking and realised it was nothing to do with the fridge at all.

We got the results and it wasn’t cancer but something else. Yes, he would need treatment but he was going to be OK. That night I slept better than I had in months. When I went for a walk the next day although nothing externally had changed, everything had. I was no longer living in limbo and the relief was amazing. The storm has passed but it has left its mark. So I am going to hug the people I love very tightly, as if it might be the last time. I am going to breathe in and out until the anxiety lessens. I am going to live, fully and deeply and so should you.

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Comfortably numb?

I am really enjoying the process of studying to be a counsellor. I love reading the different theories about why people are the way they are. The other people on my course inspire me with their generosity and willingness to share their experiences. And its indescribable how fulfilled I feel when I work as counsellor.

But, it’s hard too. Although I believe training to become a counsellor is one of the best things I have ever done, I am finding it incredibly tough. It’s not just the practical considerations of taking a massive pay-cut and fitting study and placement hours around work. What I find difficult to bear is the constant emotional upheaval. It’s not like studying engineering. As part of the course, we have to be self reflective, picking every thought and feeling apart. Some aspects of myself I was already so familiar with they seemed like old friends like my inability to say no and pathological need to make everything better. Others blindsided me, you mean everybody doesn’t spend their life in a constant battle to not feel so shit about themselves? Self analysis is uncomfortable at best, painful at worst and some days I just want to exist on the surface not down in the murky depths where darker memories lurk like sea creatures waiting to gobble me up.

Before I started this process I was comfortably numb, under rigid control. Now like opening a Pandoras box feelings are emerging I’ve buried for years. I don’t like feeling this vulnerable and shaken. As if the foundations on which I have built my life are cracking and now I’m wondering what, if anything, I can save from the rubble. A fortnight ago as I was preparing to go to personal counselling I was so over it. (As trainee counsellors we have to be personal counselling throughout the duration of the course. Thank God!) In the past I had always started counselling at my nadir and talking made me feel better. But this time I started counselling when I was in a great place emotionally and digging up the past had started to make me feel worse. I just did not want to talk anymore. Then a friend sent me a link to this Ted Talk by Brene Brown on vulnerability.

And I knew I had a choice to make. I could continue to try to shut out my pain and inhibit my ability to feel joy. I could continuing existing, never really living.

Or I could trust the process and keep going. Accepting that paradoxically my vulnerability was my greatest strength.

So I have. One foot after the other, and again and again. I keep going because I don’t want to feel comfortably numb anymore. I want to be present, inhabiting every inch of my body. But, when shutting certain feelings out has become habitual how do you start listening to yourself again?

Well, on the advice on my counsellor I have been ‘checking in’ with myself. Yes it sounds very hippy dippy but stick with me. (Plus, with a name like Rowan, what else would you expect?) We use check ins at the beginning of our practical workshops at University. The rules are simple we go round the circle and you may share in a short sentence or even a word where you are today. The idea is that you can quickly gauge the emotional weather of the group. And also it’s really helpful to be mindful of what you feel in each moment.

Albert Camus, graphic via Pinterest

So for the past week I’ve been checking-in with myself. Am I angry, sleepy, frustrated, cold, hot, happy, hungry, sad, tired, excited or overwhelmed? Mostly I’ve learnt I’m hungry and sleepy 🙂 Ah January, thou art the cruelest month. Joking aside, I’ve noticed that there are certain emotions that feel more familiar and comfortable (sadness) than others (anger).

The challenge for me has been simply noting what I feel and not doing anything with that feeling. Burying myself in activity is much easier than sitting with my feelings. If I feel something I need to, no have to change it.  One of the paradoxes of change we learn about in counselling is only through acceptance does true change occur. But at the moment acceptance is a step too far. One day I hope I will be able to accept the things I don’t like about myself but for now naming and identifying those experiences is enough. Baby steps 🙂

Decluttering: project wardrobe

I can tell I’m getting stressed by how messy and disorganised our flat is. For me, outer order greatly contributes to my inner calm. Part of my personal happiness project, is trying keep clutter and the background noise of everyday objects to a minimum.

This week I finally tackled something that had nagged at me for ages: my wardrobe.

When we moved into our flat, which I adore, one of few compromises was the bedroom layout. With the inbuilt wardrobe and floor to ceiling windows running down two walls, once we put in our bed there was almost no space for other furniture.

So both of our chest of drawers went into our bedroom wardrobe leaving us with almost no hanging space.

My, very messy, wardrobe

All of my party frocks, suits, winter coats and handbags were relegated a wardrobe in the office down the hall. My going-out tops I kept in a drawer beneath the bed. My jewellery boxes I kept magpie-like in the bottom drawer of my bedside cabinet. And between the bedroom door and the en-suite was what was ‘affectionately’ labelled my crap chair. I mainly used the chair and mat as a dumping ground: for my bag, laundry, to-read pile (always teetering), mail, and stuff to file. Which in times of stress, would start growing past the edges of the mat. The only useful thing behind the crap chair was a calendar and to do lists I had pinned with magnets to the radiator.

This set-up nagged at me for years. All of my clothes and accessories  in different rooms and there was no central focus. I grew very envious of other people’s space. I wanted a dressing table to get ready at.

My dream dressing table

I wanted a walk-through wardrobe, where I could hang my clothes,  just like Carrie’s.

Finally I gave into that frustration and I did something about it. First, I got rid of the crap chair. It was just encouraging my chaos. I needed to start putting things away in their rightful places. I moved my chest of drawers out of the wardrobe and in front of the radiator where my crap chair had been. I was really worried that it would be too wide and block the access to the en-suite. But actually it fits really well.

Chest drawers in it's new position

I took all of my jewellery boxes out of the drawer and put them in the light. I’m already wearing a lot more jewellery because it’s on view. I added a treacle tin for my hair brush and deadorant, which makes my heart sing everytime I look at it. (I love re-purposed tins and jars.)

Shiny things

It still needs refining, I’m not sure about whether the bowl is a mini crap chair or a useful place to keep sunglasses, invites etc. And I still need to find a good place to hang the calendar (the kitchen maybe?). But on the whole it’s a big improvement.

Moving the chest of drawers gave me the space to hang all my clothes together in my wardrobe. I moved the handbag boxes containing all my beautiful babies into the bedroom. And voilà my revamped wardrobe, look at all the hanging space (ignore how messy the top is, baby steps people, baby steps).

I hesitate about publishing this post as it seems really trivial. But for me that minor annoyance about no hanging space was daily drain on my mental energy. By paying attention and keeping my environment organised, I notice a big difference in my mental well-being.

Next on the decluttering list: whether to dump or display (and if so how?) the memory boxes I have kept since University. Any ideas, dear readers?

The proposal

The short story of how the Boy proposed is that, yes it was as awesome as the rollercoaster proposal above. And a proposal that awesome, well it deserves a blog post.

Here’s the long story. We’d both talked about getting married many times and we’d been together coming up for seven years, so to say the proposal was a suprise would be a lie. However, despite the fact I had an inkling he might propose, he managed to throughly blind side and amaze me.

The day before

The Boy proposed during what I like to call the dead zone. The period between Christmas and New Year where you aren’t back at work but you’re starting to get antsy from all the drinking and stuffing your face. Most of our time had been spent catching up with friends and family over the holidays. So we really wanted to spend some time relaxing together, just the two of us. We  planned to go for a walk on the Wednesday and see my family the next day. But my mum called, they were busy on the Thursday, could we meet on the Wednesday instead? I asked him. ‘That’s fine,’ he said through gritted teeth. At the time I wondered why he was getting so upset.

So that Wednesday, his car broke and he had to get it fixed, as we were walking up to mum and dad’s house he had a work emergency so I went ahead.  I had no idea that on top of getting his car fixed and dealing with work he was actually doing top secret preparation for the proposal with the help of his Dad.

Later that evening, he had to pick his car up from the garage and he really wanted to wake my dad who was napping to ask for lift. As anybody knows waking Daddy January during his a) nap b) when he has bronchistis c) to ask for a lift; is the kind of mistake you only make once. Capishe?

So I convinced a rather worried looking Boy to get a lift with my sister into town. Apparently when he told her he was going to propose, she slammed on the breaks and started screaming. Despite the fact that he had told Lauren to keep it a secret she spent the rest of the evening winking at him in a subtle way. Thankfully I didn’t noticed. Later that night my Dad texted the Boy saying he was very excited and he had put champagne on ice if we wanted to pop round afterwards. Luckily, although I had been playing on his phone earlier I was out of the room so he deleted the text message.

They are either the worst spies or they are playing an intricate double bluff game 🙂 You decide.

The proposal

I woke Thursday morning, feeling like crap. I was coming down with the flu and all I wanted to do was snuggle in bed. But I’d promised I’d go geocaching with the Boy. Geocaching is like a modern day scavenger hunt, where with the help of GPS coordinates you follow clues left by strangers to find hidden caches. Mostly these caches just contain logs (a list of dates and names) but some have toys or coordinates to other hidden caches. He wanted to go geocaching at Waverley Abbey, the ruins of a Cisterian abbey (and my favourite place).

Waverley Abbey in the summer

I’ve been going to Waverley Abbey since I was a child. The first time he came to stay in Farnham, I took him there and we’ve been many times since. We’d talked about getting married there, but the logistics and the great British summer would have made it very difficult. Knowing how much I loved it, he had chosen it as where he wanted to propose.

But that morning, I didn’t fancy going to the Abbey, which was weird as I always wanted to go there. I tried to persuade him to change the location not realising that he had spent hours the night before hiding caches in the dark, tripping over mud and sheep. But he was insistent, so a little suspiciously I agreed.

However, when we got to the carpark and I saw the (faked) webpages, I felt really disappointed. We were actually going geocaching.

Map of the hidden geocaches at Waverley Abbey
The printed 'webpage'. He actually created this fake version using photoshop

Looks pretty real, huh? What I didn’t notice at the time was that the username was the Roos which sounds like the ruse. Very cunning boyfriend.

It took ages to find the first geocache hidden near a pillbox. Afterwards, I thought it was great acting on my beloved part, but as it had been so dark he couldn’t remember where he had hidden it. Inside he had even using different handwriting and pens faked a log with other people’s name. Although he did turn white when I remarked the handwriting was similar to his.

The second geocache we ‘found’ by the bridge.

The bridge where we found the second geocache

The third geocache was inside a ruined wall next to an old yew tree.

The Yew tree, the wall is just out of shot to the right of the frame
The last clue. He had to rip the clue off the bottom of the page because it was an acronym of marry me

He climbed the wall reached inside a hole and pulled out the film canister. Opening it, he shook something out into his hand (a ring) and then handed the cannister to me. As I unfurled the roll of paper, he got down on one knee. On the paper was written the words ‘Will you marry me?’

The message, placeholder ring and empty caches

I realised halfway through what it was. I started shaking and crying and dropped everying I was holding on the floor. He held up the ring and made a very heartfelt speech of which I remembered not a word because I was crying so hard. I hugged, we kissed, he slid the placeholder ring on my finger, I said YES!

As we walked back to the car, he told me the story of how he managed to keep it a secret. I was amazed. We saw my family, we hugged, we drank champagne, we cried. We saw his family, we hugged, we drank champagne, we cried.

All I could think for the rest of the day was how lucky I was to have met somebody so thoughtful. It was the perfect proposal for me.

ETA, 24/05/11: This proposal in a photobooth is so cute (see below). I love her smile in the third picture. And as for the guy, well timed my friend. Very well timed.

A boy proposing to a girl in a photobooth
Photobooth proposal

ETA, 26/05/11: via Rock n Roll Bride this video proposal was so sweet. When video his girlfriends return from Paris this guy decided he was going to proposal to her.  He spent the next six months planning this video proposal and filming the footage. I cried, a lot.

ETA, 03/06/11: via the Weddingnator this stop motion mural proposal complete with Scrabble tiles (my little geek heart is singing) must have taken ages. I love this!

 

What’s a girl to do when she has champagne tastes and a bucks fizz budget

I must admit in our newly engaged haze we were a little naive about how far our budget could stretch. My lovely parents had been more than generous and we had over a year to save, which would give us enough money to have the wedding of our dreams and a honeymoon, right?

Dead wrong, as soon as we mentioned the word ‘wedding’ costs started to triple. We spend many meetings perfecting our poker faces as vendors quoted £7,000 for the hire of a drafty barn. Or £70 per head for food (not including the alcohol), which is more than I would ever spend on myself let alone 80 of my nearest and dearest! Talking to my best friends the other day, we coined a new phrase: wedding brainwashing. When you are so bombarded by outrageous quotes that £4,000 for three bouquets, two buttonholes and a centrepiece starts to sound reasonable.

Here are my top ten tips on what to do if you have champagne tastes and a bucks fizz budget.

1. Budget

Before you even set foot in your first beautiful barn conversion sit down with your fiancé and set your budget. Be realistic about how far your money can stretch and where you are going to spend the bulk of your money (clue: food and drink). It can be easy to succumb to wedding brainwashing and think you need that ornate stately home/exquisite dress/vintage wedding car (delete as applicable). But remember in the end the wedding is just a day, it’s the marriage that is important. Don’t sacrifice one for the sake of the other.

2. Check your calendar

The majority of people want to get married in summer on a Saturday. You can exploit this and make big savings by choosing to get married mid week and/or off-season having a winter wedding. Often you will be saving not only on the venue hire cost, which can be heavily discounted but other vendors such as caterers and florist will offer discounts if you book when they are less busy.

If you are mega organised you can pick up last minute deals or cancellations at the wedding venue of your dreams that you could never afford booking a year in advance. The downside is that you have less chance to notify guests so people may not be able to attend.

Finally my top dates to tip is to check when the bank holidays are. Because I am going back to university this October we had to be pretty rigid about dates and could only get married in the holidays. However, my mother-in-law-to-be discovered that our dream venue was charging weekday prices for the Diamond Jubilee bank holiday. This means we can get married at our dream venue, without breaking the budget, on a Monday in June, yet our guests get the next day off thanks to Queeny!

3. Prioritise

If you have a budget you have to be strategic about how you allocate your money. Spend your money on areas that are important to you both as a couple. For example getting married in a beautiful place where we could relax with our guests was a priority – a DJ wasn’t.

4. Bargain, baby

I have a rather British attitude towards negotiating, ie avoid wherever possible. Luckily I am marrying the Negotiathan, who has a steely look in his eye founded in the bazaars of Lebanon. He has convinced me that you should always ask vendors nicely what they can do for you. If you’re not happy walk away and think about it. You can always sidle back later.

Wherever possible shop around and get at least three quotes so you can see if that great deal is really as good as you think it is.

5. Think outside the box

If you want to get married at a place that specialises in weddings you will be paying a premium. If they have an all singing all dancing website, you will be paying for that. Look for venues that are off the beaten track: halls, restaurants and bars, we even looked at a gentleman’s club. What you save in venue hire you can spend elsewhere such as decorating your venue. Alternatively book a gorgeous venue that needs no decoration. As a general rule keep an eye out for venues that offer no corkage charges and a choice of approved suppliers, which allows you to shop around.

A friend found her dream wedding dress in an overpriced boutique, a quick ebay search later and she bought her dress for a fractition of the price. My sister-in-law-to-be got her exquisite dress by buying the sample dress in the shop. If you are flexible and think outside the box you can make big savings

6. Check the small print

Before you sign the contract make sure you are clear as to what is/isn’t included. There are advantages and disadvantages to every venue, for example a barn is a blank slate allowing to personalise your wedding, which costs, whereas hotels are more generic but you might spend less on decorations. Remember to factor in hidden costs, for example the hire costs of some venues will just cover the bricks and mortar. You will have to pay to hire the chairs, tables, table cloths, cutlery… Some places include VAT, some don’t. Some vendors charge you for waiting staff some don’t. Consider taking out wedding insurance as a safety net for your big day.

7. Numbers game

Most people spend the bulk of their budget on catering and alcohol costs so the more guests they have the more expensive it gets. For this reason some couples opt for luxe for less by having an intimate wedding and massive party later on. However, it was really important for us that the people we loved were there for our special day – even if we did have to feed them soggy sausage rolls afterwards (sorry guys)!

8. Bucks fizz instead of champagne

Your caterers will say you have to need canapés and four course wedding breakfast and an evening buffet. You don’t. Opt for a buffet as the wedding breakfast or an afternoon cream tea and you cut your catering costs in half. Or you can do as we are and have a starter, main and serve the wedding cake for pudding. Or cut your alcohol costs by choosing cheaper options such as bucks fizz instead of champagne.

9. Follow your bliss

Before that glittering ring is on your finger people will be telling you what you should, no, have to do. You have to have fruitcake/favours/a first dance… Remember it’s you and your fiancés wedding. That tradition for a diamond engagement rings as the romantic ideal… was invented by De Beers to sell diamonds. Follow your bliss and figure out what you wish to do and don’t get backed into a corner by others expectations. Of course you may then decide that there are traditions that have meaning to you and your partner or to create new traditions!

Use blogs and wedding magazines as inspiration not or examples of the perfect wedding you aren’t having.

10. DIY/DIT

Do It Yourself is touted as the ultimate budget saver. All you need is a small investment in supplies, lots of time and… no small amount of talent. For the less naturally crafty, aka me, who foresees nights of sobbing over a glue gun: remember even better than Do It Yourself is Do It Together. Are you parents green-fingered gardeners with a large garden paradise: get them to grow your centrepieces (ta mum and dad). If your parents-in-law-to-be are award-winning graphic designers, ask them to make all your wedding stationary. If your best friend is a talented make-up artist, beg her to do your slap on the day to prevent you having to invest in shares of waterproof mascara. The nicest thing about this is that it means everywhere you look you can see how the people you love have helped build your wedding day.

The sky’s the limit: clever friends have brewed their own alcohol for the toasts, made their own wedding dresses and even self-catered yummy wedding breakfasts. For your own sanity if you do opt to DIY only take more than one big project if they don’t coincide. For example making your own stationery and baking the cake can be done months apart. The last thing you want to do on the morning of your wedding is ice a cake while arranging flowers!

However, there is no shame in realising you have neither the time or the inclination to DIY and buying a little piece of mind.

Coming up next week: the venue hunt.