Dear Mr. SponsorPants,
My question is in regards to changes in sobriety dates.
I have swallowed beer. I was a couple of years sober and at a bar with coworkers. I had ordered a root beer and was surprised when my taste buds registered beer. Rather than spit it out in front of everyone I swallowed it.
I also smoked something knowing it was not a good idea. Almost three years ago I was overseas and was told it was medicine that would help with sex. I remember wondering what it was going to feel like and wondering if it was going to have any effect on my mood. I knew what I was doing was not a good idea. I don't remember any effect on either my mood or my libido. I did not want to get high and even prayed for God's help before smoking. My behavior in regards to sex was my motivation. I have recently had an awakening in regards to my behavior with women and along with my change in perspective is a desire to share these occurrences.
To come clean is it selfish? Should I change my sobriety date? I have not had a drink in more than 20 years nor have I ingested, smoked nor in any way tried to change my mood. I pray almost every day, try to share the message and practice these principles. However, I feel like a hypocrite for not telling on myself. That I am not being honest. I have the most sobriety in my home group and I am afraid that ego may be keeping me from disclosing these events.
I have been praying for an answer and need some counsel before puking this all up on my friends and home group.
Don't Want To Be A Hypocrite
Dear Don't Want To Be A Hypocrite,
First off, let me congratulate you on your commitment to staying sober, to being honest, and to working to look within and consider if or how your ego may be involved with the issues you are addressing.
As has been said many times here -- but always bears repeating -- I am not a spokesman for AA. There is no such thing. It is a happy anarchy where often it seems the inmates are running the asylum. There is much autonomy at both the group and the individual level, but while there are a number of strong suggestions there are no real hard and fast rules one must follow.
I can do for you what AA has done for me: Share my experience with these issues, but I cannot tell you what to do.
There are, I am sure, no shortage of people - in or out of AA - who would be happy and feel powerful! telling you what to do. But really, the spirit of AA when it comes to a request for help is to share what has worked for us, and to offer whatever personal insights we've gained from walking through the same, or similar, circumstances. After that it's up to you and your Higher Power. I've often found that I know the right course of action well before I am ready to admit it to myself when faced with dilemmas. I'm usually just not ready -- willing -- to own it.
With that said, let's get down to talking about what you wrote.
This is not a question of math; how much time you have or you lost or whatever. Nor is it a a simple question of chemistry -- what you drank, what you smoked. It's more than that. It's a question of rigorous honesty (with yourself and others), and of willingness.
Right up front let me say that I understand your process, and you'll find no judgement from me on this stuff. I've had my own relapse-without-drinking experiences (and the living-with-the-secret piece too). It is a measure of your desire to live clean that you are troubled by these two things and are also considering where your ego may be at play clouding the issue of what to do.
You have two moments, two decisions you made which are torturing you, so let's take them in order.
First, the sip of beer swallow. This one's pretty straightforward. My motto is this: First Sip's a surprise, Second Sip's the slip. If you didn't know it was beer when you picked it up and put it in your mouth, it's an honest mistake. To actively spit something out -- especially in a work situation -- is to overcome an awful lot of social programming. You are lucky you didn't trigger the phenomenon of craving, and hopefully you learned to pay better attention to what you pick up and drink at social occasions, but for me, if you didn't know what was in that cup when you raised it to your lips it was an honest mistake, but not a relapse.
You don't specifically say it, but I am assuming you did not finish the drink "just to be polite" and it was just the one sip. If you drank more after that sip which identified it as beer then, to me it's a slip. We're not in a religious order, the reason we do not have the first drink is so that we do not trigger a physical reaction which drives us to keep drinking; not as some sort of I'm Keeping Pure For The Lord tally sheet. We count the days -- I count the days -- for a lot of different reasons: To remind myself of my commitment to sobriety, to see how far I've come, to try to be an example to others that AA works, because that's how they did it when I showed up (and it works, so I'm not going to change it)... lots of reasons.
I wouldn't refrain from sharing about the incident, it can be instructive to others -- a kind of cautionary tale -- but I don't think it's a slip.
Now, about the smoking thing while you were overseas...
DWTBAH, let me just say, that if we were close sober friends, and you shared with me about smoking something, and that you didn't even know what it was, just to give your sex performance a little boost while you were in a foreign country... well, while I am possibly one of the least physically aggressive men you are likely to meet (Exhibit A), I would probably grab you by the shoulders and shake you like a friggin' rag doll, quite possibly shouting "Are you INSANE? What the hell's the matter with you!" about six inches from your face.
Now, I might decide I needed to make amends for that outburst shortly after the fact, because while it is certainly honest, and born of fear for a friend (if I knew you and we were close, that is) it's still a little judgey and not exactly very supportive. Honest, yes, but not helpful.
Looking at this rationally, through a 12 Step lens, there are two kinds of medicine we take: Medicine that effects us from the neck up, and medicine that effects us from the neck down.
Regardless of what kind a person takes, you should only accept direction or advice about taking, changing, starting or stopping medication from a DOCTOR. From a TRAINED MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL. Not from a sponsor, or from your group's old timer or resident guru or the Mayor of AA Town where you live. CONSULT A DOCTOR with any questions about what you take. Should you consider whether your doctor is a skilled health care provider, with an understanding of issues specific to people in recovery? Yes. Should you listen to the experiences other people in recovery have personally had around medication? Sure, as a way to learn more about what you should ask your doctor regarding your meds. Should you read AA's excellent, balanced writing in several brochures and in "Living Sober" on taking medication? Absolutely. But when it comes down to making decisions about starting, stopping or changing medication, your Doctor should be your only hardline resource and you should follow their direction, not some well meaning, (or ego-driven), AA.
So here's how I look at your incredibly foolish action to smoke a "sexual enhancer" overseas:
Taking Viagra (or Cialis, or anything in that family of meds) to address sexual performance issues is not a slip. From what you write your intention was to enhance your performance in some way, not to change your mental state. So while what you did was (if I haven't made it clear already) wildly, incredibly stupid and foolish (Dude. Seriously.), I'm not convinced it was a relapse. It was shady as all hell, but I'm not sure it was a slip. And I think at this point we should be sure and mention that people - men especially - can be prone to doing incredibly stupid and foolish things around sex sometimes. You are not the only guy who's listened to the wrong body part when making an important decision.
There is another troubling element to this, however. If you were to take a pill prescribed for you by YOUR doctor, that's not a slip. But by my standard, generally speaking, taking medicine prescribed for someone else certainly can be. Not always -- I'm not talking about someone's left over ampicillin to save a few bucks instead of running to the doctor if you think you might have strep and want to try and knock it out yourself and save your copay or something -- while that's pretty stupid that's not a slip -- I'm talking about a little casual self-medication with other people's meds -- and again, sorting medication into above/below the neck is a good place to start when discussing these things. Taking someone else's antibiotics? Stupid, but probably not a slip. Browsing through your Mother-in-Law's medicine cabinet and taking some of her anxiety meds to, you know, take the edge off a family visit? Slip City.
Given the circumstances there is a lot of self examination required to find your answer, which is why at the beginning of this whole thing I said that ultimately, after considering the counsel of others, it's probably going to come down to what feels clean in your heart, after some serious prayer and reflection.
But I can tell you this: It's not the Did-I-or-Didn't-I slip that's really eating at you.
It's the secret.
And you know you can start to share this with people before you decide what to do. Start to dismantle the secret and the right answer will probably be easier to see. Certainly you'll start to feel better.
For what it's worth I have deep respect for your willingness to bring this up and not bury it under layers of ego and justification. That's a big sign that you will make a clean decision about this, whatever that decision may be.
It's a strange thing though, I will give you that as well. Time sober in AA both doesn't and does matter. It is a bit of a paradox.
But I assure you, it is the quality of your time which will change your life and allow you to help others far more than the quantity. I relapsed on pot -- smoking only once -- at about 90 days, and then two years later, driven by the guilt of that memory, did amyl nitrate. And then I kept it a secret for a while. Damn near drove me insane. I know with absolute certainty that if I hadn't come clean about those things when I did I would not be sober today.
One last thing: You never know who else is tortured by something they're afraid to bring to the group. You might save a lot of lives moving forward if you get honest about this problem at group level. You might begin speaking for someone who has yet to find their voice, and who desperately needs to be heard.
Good luck. Remember that ultimately, all we have is today.
I'll keep you in my prayers.