It’s January 2005 and my friend is squinting at a restaurant menu. “So you were back late last night,” he mumbles. It is good that he is not looking at me because I immediately burn with shame. “Ahhh, yeah … we watched King Kong reboot.” A red bus with a King Kong poster just passed by.
Here’s what I still need to learn about lying. They stay as close as possible to the truth instead of orienting themselves on buses. And the truth is, I was in the pub longer than my friends last night and happened to kiss someone.
The other truth is that my “drink ‘n’ cheat” pattern has become clearer after moving to London and starting to party even more than I did at university.
I spend a lot of time frowning meditating on how to stop my useless cheating. Most of the time I drink responsibly, but when I drink I become blatantly irresponsible.
‘I really wanted to see that!’ he exclaims. ‘Tell me all about it!’ Schiitt. I suddenly change the subject. The next day I try to go to the movies by myself to see King Kong and find that the screenings have now stopped. Instead, I read every review I can.
King Kong becomes an oversized emblem of my guilt. Every mention of Godzilla, Bigfoot, even the chuffin ‘Loch Ness monster, has the ability to pierce my scalp with beads of sweat. Because what if my friend gets upset again what I thought of the movie?
These types of sweaty palms are not an isolated occurrence. Over the next eight years, my drinking (coupled with my terrible self-esteem) sparks off a dozen more infidelities. There is a time when I lie in bed with another friend and receive a text message: “You left your bracelet with me”; I toss my phone across the room like it’s a live, unattached grenade. Or the time when I have two bottles of wine deep and wanton enough to kiss another guy on the doorstep of the apartment I share with another friend.
The next morning I wake up in my blackout drunkenness with flash light recalls, as if a dark room is briefly illuminated, and feel the shame cover me like a dirty down comforter. Not again.
I am convinced that I am a reprehensible, despicable, morally malfunctioning person. So I do what I always do when I find myself in this pitch black place. I tell some friends. I choose them carefully. They are the libertarians, the cocaine users, the savages. And yet they are horrified. “Ugh, Cath, how could you?” Says one. And so I start to keep it to myself. Which means that nobody really knows me; a really lonely place to live.
“I would say that their friends don’t approve of fraudulent men either,” says psychotherapist and couple counselor Hilda Burke. “But your friends are less likely to express this disapproval.”
Finally, at the age of 33, I decide to stop drinking. And overnight, with no effort or “work” on my part, my loyalty record became flawless. Hm. And that has remained the case for the past eight years.
Curiously, I research it and find that the likelihood of cheating while being drunk is astronomical compared to cheating if one is not drunk. A 2017 study published in the Journal Of Sex Research found that 70% of scammers cite “I was drunk and didn’t think clearly” as the main reason for their infidelity. So seven out of ten infidelity is made possible by alcohol.
I mean we know that don’t we? But what is rarely talked about is this: How often is the ‘Drink’ n ‘Cheat’ pattern cured by a simple change. Either find a way to drink moderately (personally, one or two drinks were just a starter for me, so it wasn’t in my playbook) or forego it altogether.
I thought the solution to my alcohol scam would be to go home at midnight, develop better morals, or beat myself up daily for my transgressions. I thought my tendency to be unfaithful was a bony flaw in character, but it wasn’t. Because now that I don’t drink alcohol, loyalty is as natural as breathing.
“I thought you had a cheating problem but not a drinking problem,” a friend told me when I stopped. Me too. But it turned out to be both. And I can safely say that I will never do either of these again. What feels nice.
Catherine Gray’s new book “Sunshine Warm Sober: Unexpected Sober Joy That Lasts” (£ 14.99, Aster) is out now