I feel like people usually say that they were “overcome” by drunkenness or lust or love, and that’s why they cheated.
To be perfectly honest, I knew what I was doing was wrong.
I’m talking about a time in my life when I loved someone…while I was in a relationship with someone else.
No, I wasn’t too drunk to know what I was doing and I wasn’t out to “get back at” my boyfriend at the time for anything either. Things weren’t going well in our relationship, but contrary to the kinds of narratives we usually hear, I didn’t cheat to hurt him—in fact, I prayed I never would.
So by now you’re probably thinking, “If you knew it was wrong and you didn’t want to hurt your partner, why did you do it?”
That season of my life was a difficult one. A lifetime of unresolved hurt and trauma was coming to a head and later that year I would find myself in a depression that ultimately catapulted my personal and spiritual growth journey—which led me to my career as a life coach today.
I was hurting on the level that you don’t realize you’re hurting. I lived in a constant state of busyness and numbing. Between getting straight As in the Honors program at Vanderbilt, holding multiple jobs, and basically nonstop drinking in between, I couldn’t possibly know what was welling within me.
So, what was going through my head?
It was one of the strangest phenomena I’ve ever experienced, and it wasn’t the last time I felt it. I knew what I was doing was not the “right” decision. It wasn’t “by the book.” It wasn’t “good” for me in the traditional sense. It definitely wasn’t right by my partner. At the same time, I knew I had to do it and there was nothing that would stop me.
I knew enough to know it was wrong, but I didn’t know how not to do it.
It wasn’t until much later that I was able to look back and really process what was happening. I was looking for love. I was looking for connection. I was looking for happiness. I was looking for those things outside of me because I didn’t have them within myself. Not only that, but I had done such a good job hiding it that I was ignorant to the fact that I was struggling in the first place.
I’m not excusing myself. God knows I’ve had to reckon with my shadows and have been harder on myself than anyone else could ever be on me. Looking back now, though, having forgiven myself for where I betrayed my partner, my word, and most importantly, myself, I’m grateful I did what I did. For a lot of reasons. But one, in particular, I wanted to share with you today, whether you’re someone who has cheated and you’re looking for a way to make sense of what you did, or if you’ve been cheated on and you’re trying to reckon with that hurt, is this:
I am grateful because while I can now think of a million better outlets and ways to handle the situation I was in, I was coping. The truth is, the alternative for hurting people, especially those who don’t really know how bad they’re hurting, can be even more ugly. The answer to suffering within is not found outside. I know that now. I also know that if I didn’t stay busy, numb myself, and find comfort in somebody—who I did love—when I couldn’t find that with my partner, I don’t know what would have happened.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, I know cheating wasn’t right, but it was the best I could do at the time. I know better now. That’s why I hate—and I rarely use that word—the phrase, “Once a cheater, always a cheater.” I truly cannot think of anything more inhibiting to human growth and healing than to say that you are always going to be something because you once were.
I much prefer the quote by Maya Angelou, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
There is a great deal of healing that needs to come, both when you cheat and when you’ve been cheated on (I’ve been on both sides). Do yourself a favor and ditch this phrase. Give yourself space to grow.
The human experience is messy.
It is often the messiest parts of our journey that hold the biggest lessons and opportunities for growth. The sooner you learn that, the better.
In the end, I wasn’t meant to be with either of them.
I wasn’t meant to be with anyone until I healed myself. I had to learn how to find within myself what I was unconsciously seeking outside; and sure, there are better, more efficient, less painful ways to get there, but cheating was an essential part of my path to healing and I wouldn’t have it any other way.