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The Pink Cloud

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Many people like to criticize a person who is in early recovery and flying high on their ‘pink cloud.’ This is a word used to describe that possessive positive feeling when your in the first months of  recovery. I know a lot of people say I am sitting on a pink cloud. They like to remind me that relapse is possible— as though they don’t think I know that! I absolutely hate when I am in a meeting, smiling wide and so excited about my bright future in sobriety and someone glares me down, rolling their eyes at my optimism. I understand they’ve most likely ‘been there and done that’ but whats wrong with being happy for me and encouraging more excitement?  Is too much positivity a bad thing?” -Robyn

pink cloud The Joy of Recovery

Getting free of drugs or alcohol is something to celebrate. Addiction destroys lives and escaping this hell is certainly a wonderful achievement. Enjoying the freedom and newness of early recovery is to be encouraged. It is a time for waking up to the possibilities of life and benefiting from improved relationships with friends and family. The nightmare is over so there is plenty to smile about. Sometimes though, the newly sober person can feel so good that it becomes dangerous.

People may feel exceptionally good for weeks, or even months, in early sobriety. This pink cloud period is undoubtedly enjoyable, but it can also be risky. Some will come back down to reality with a bang, and that can be painful. It can also lead to overconfidence which could put people at increased risk of relapse. The individual is feeling so good that they fail to do the things they need to do to stay on track.

The Pink Cloud Defined

Early recovery is often referred to as a rollercoaster ride because it involves a mixture of great highs and great lows. Emotions that have been anesthetized with alcohol and drugs suddenly awaken, and feelings can be particularly intense. As the body and mind adjusts to this new life, there can be rapid changes in mood. There will usually come a time though, when the individual hits a smooth patch. Life will feel wonderful and the future exceptionally bright. Staying free of addiction now feels effortless and the individual may wonder what all the fuss was about.

The term pink cloud tends to be used negatively to describe people who are too high on life. They are individuals who have lost touch with reality and are now living in a fantasy land. The emotions that this person is experiencing do not properly reflect their actual situation. The pink cloud syndrome in addiction recovery was first described by Alcoholics Anonymous.

The Dangers of the Pink Cloud

It might seem odd to claim that there would be any disadvantages to feeling good. The addict may have spent decades battling their problem so it seems reasonable that they should get to feel great now. While it is true that life in recovery should be about enjoying life, there can be problems if people become too confident and complacent. They may conclude that their problems are over, and that there is no need to do anything more to maintain their sobriety. There is also the risk that when the pink cloud period ends, it will lead to huge disappointment.

Relapse is most likely to occur during the first few years of recovery. It is particularly likely to happen during the first few months after leaving rehab. The most usual reason why it occurs is that the individual stops putting enough effort into staying free of addiction. They start ignoring their problems and stop asking for help. The relapse process describes how people begin the road back to addiction as soon as they hit a point in recovery that they fail to get beyond. The risk then is that those who are on a pink cloud may feel so confident that they become stuck.

If an individual experiences a particularly pleasant period in recovery, then it can be disappointing when it ends. Life is full of ups and downs, and nobody can stay up forever. Emotions eventually settle down as the body adjusts to recovery, and the highs and lows become less intense. The individual can respond to the end of the pink cloud by assuming that they have done something wrong. They can begin to lose faith in those tools that have been keeping them away from alcohol and drugs. They may even start to question if recovery is that worthwhile after all. People can feel cheated when the super highs of early recovery are replaced by more modest emotions.

Criticisms of Pink Cloud Syndrome

There is no denying that people in early recovery do tend to experience periods when they are emotionally high. There are undoubtedly risks associated with feeling overly confident, and the comedown can be harsh. The main criticism against pink cloud syndrome is that it can be used negatively to describe people in much the same way as dry drunk is used. This could mean that the individual feels guilty about experiencing positive emotional states. The problem is not feeling good in recovery, but with staying on track.

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One Word at a Time

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When I came back from India, where I hit my rock bottom, I wrote some journal entries and some poems. Grant it, I was still in psychosis for a month, so much of my writings are teetering on questionable madness.. but at least I have documentation of my unraveling thoughts. I have spoken to many people who see me in meetings jotting quickly —and mindfully— everything interesting that someone might say. They come to me after, questioning and prodding. “What are you doing? Why do you do this?” Inspiration, I say. For the future. To distract my mind all the while keeping it focused on the purpose of me being here. I reflect on these words somedays, these phrases that are jotted down in a penmanship only I can make out, it lifts my heart.

My journals on the other hand, don’t always do the same. People question me about this too, saying, “I don’t journal. I’ve tried. I just can’t get into it. Where do you start? What do you say?” I simply reply, anything. Everything. Theres no judgement but your own. Its just you and the paper/the keyboard, whatever. You just let your guard down and scream through the only words that come to your mind in that moment. You let it out. You get lost in the present as the words slip out of your hands and manifest themselves in front of you.

I find it healing. I also find it necessary to let go of all the thoughts that collect in the back of your mind. You make them real when you scribble them down. Something tangible that you can reflect on in the future. You start to realize how crazy you are. How human you are. You can map your progress, track your emotions and notice the moments in time that you let yourself fall and the moments you picked yourself up.

Its unlikely that I ever write on a good day. I am far too merry and cheerful and I often think I sound like a idiot. My ambitions are bloated and my head is held too high. I sometimes get scared when I observe this. It makes me think of mania… But its on those good days that I like to spin the clock back and see where I’ve been. Remind myself of the way life was regarded before I woke up with this smile on my face. I can see clearly that all things will pass. There is evidence of my mind when I felt I was stuck. Where time didn’t exist and the idea of life moving on to send me into the unknown was far from my imagination.

Today is one of those days to reflect. Not that I am in the best mood in the world; my thoughts have wandered here and there, sending me on a whirlwind of inspiration and thought provoking questions. After spitting out the ideas that were trapped in my mind (untangling them enough to make sense), I took a break. I shifted my attention to a long lost entry written when I got out of rehab, it read:

 

“Nothings doing it for me; running, Spongebob, Facebook, reading. Nada. Nope. I still feel like a heavy lump sits in my throat, a thousand butterflies wish to come up from my stomach, my body aches, my head spins, my eyes droop lazily on my clean face. I’m at a loss. I’ve been out of rehab for a few weeks now and plans of moving are becoming more official by the second. Halloween comes closer to reality. I just want to move. I just want a job. I want to go to school again. Some grandiose voice in my head tells me to study philosophy and be a professor. Write a bunch of books. Be a success. Be a success? Why am I always wishing for success? I can hardly handle failure. And I am such a great failure. The essence of depression wreaks from my veins today. Taunting me through every controlled breath. Gently caressing me, telling me things will look brighter. Don’t use. Don’t use, I tell myself. Moments like this, these receding moments that have lasted over 12 hours… they are the ones that make me want to use. Make me want to just pass out and sleep to wake up to a new day that has more purpose, more umph in my step. Where are those days? How do they come to me in my life? How do they even exist? I know that they have before, I can remember the ease of those days. Where did they go? What brought me here? I digress.”

Writing

As I sat there and read these lines I saw a glimpse of my past. Grateful to be here in the  future/present. Though I can’t say much has changed. I still get the occasional craving, though I try not to bother my mind when things are working out. I remove myself, not allowing my thoughts to unravel, revealing nothing but increased anxiety. Stop, I say. Don’t go there. You know how you’ll feel when you go there. And surely I do. You do to. You know how it is when your mind gets caught in a single thought. How it spins down, causing you to loose control, throwing you into a black hole. Thats no fun. Certainly counter productive. But its during these times that we have to remember to do only two things. Only these two things (from my experience) seem to work; prayer and journalling.

We need to take a step back from those winding thoughts and give them to our higher power to answer. “This too shall pass,” God most commonly replies. Then we have to let it out. Its no good bringing someone else down by removing them from their busy lives to complain and ramble on comically about nothing at all. At least, thats what we feel in these moments… So, instead of locking it up inside to save it for a rainy day, you got to just write it out and give it to yourself to listen to. Once its all down and you hand hurts from the process, you can read it over. Wow, you’ll think. Thats it. Thats me—right now.

You’ll feel better. Trust me. I know it may seem hard at first. Maybe time consuming. But it really isn’t. Once you lose yourself in the rapid collection of your thoughts, you’ll pull back feeling a weight lifted from your shoulders. You’ll realize that everything that had concerned you in those moments that were just vented seconds ago were actually real. There for you to decode and “digress,” as I say. Its out, your free. Free from those emotions that once felt like they were going to take over and drag you down so low that there would be no way you could get up. The feelings where you felt like you just wanted to give everything up, just to use, now seem like foolish memories. You thank God they’re gone.

I recommend to everyone I meet to journal whenever they are bored, alone or confused. Sometimes I find myself coughing up broken sentences and take those opportunities to write poetry. They don’t always have to rhyme, you know. None of that it matters. You have to keep in mind that these entries are for no one other than yourself. Of course, if your proud of your creation you can always share it, barring in mind that not everyone can or will relate. I certainly keep that in my mind every time I post a blog that is actually written by myself. I have never been trained in the art of English, but I enjoy it. I know that not many people (or no one at all) will actually read the things I put out there. I don’t let that bother me. And you can’t let it bother you. Let any shred of doubt be transformed into emotional release. Because writing is like a form of meditation; you focus your thoughts on present, reflecting on the things you feel and the anxieties that are stressing your mind — then you breath— and let it go; one word at a time.