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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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Must Read: Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man by Bill Clegg

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“One of my friends from AA has read this book and often suggests it for recovering male addicts. Its a great book for newly recovering addicts that have once built themselves a productive life only to see it crashing down under the peak of their disease. He doesn’t sugar coat anything, many reviews speak of his brutal honesty and graphic descriptions… but something about that is incredibly refreshing in the world of addiction. Tell me for yourself what you thought of this book!” -Love, Robyn

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Successfully Surrendering It All to Crack

By Dwight Garner, June 15, 2010

There are two kinds of crack addicts, those who cook their own — a complicated business that involves cocaine, baking soda, water and a flame — and those who grab the stuff to go, in ready-made chunks called rocks. Most people go for the rocks. Even when it comes to killing yourself, slowly and gruesomely, who has time to cook anymore?

In his memoir, “Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man,” Bill Clegg describes the few times he tried to prepare his own crack. “I wasted the coke, burned my hands, and ended up with a wet glob that was barely smokable,” he writes. He’s not quite Woody Allen, sneezing into the cocaine in “Annie Hall.” But he’s not far off.

Whatever black comedy there is in Mr. Clegg’s book dwindles pretty quickly. “Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man” is a mesmerizing bummer; reading it is like letting the needle down on a Nick Drake album. He tells his story in short, atmospheric paragraphs, each separated by white space, each its own strobe-lighted snapshot of decadent poetic memory. It’s an earnest style that mostly works. This is a short book that pulls you in and spits you back out before you have time to tire of it.

Mr. Clegg is a literary agent in New York City, but don’t come to his book sniffing for publishing gossip. There are no party scenes with Sonny Mehta. Ann Godoff does not leap naked into a swimming pool. The discreet Mr. Clegg doesn’t even mention the names of the writers he represents or, frankly, many books at all. If he’s well read, that’s among the few secrets he’s keeping to himself.

What this book does have — grim scenes in a crack house and behind a 7-Eleven in Newark aside — is an elite, stylized Manhattan milieu. There are meals at La Grenouille and drinks at the Bemelmans Bar. Among the boutique hotels Mr. Clegg holes up in to get high or have sex with anonymous men are the SoHo Grand and the Hotel Gansevoort. There are trips to Paris and London. This isn’t flea-bitten Bukowski territory.

Adding to the book’s sexpot glamour is Mr. Clegg himself, who in his dust jacket photograph, and especially in two recent full-page photos in New York magazine, seems as clear-eyed and clean-cut as a J. Crew catalog model. Glancing at a faded pile of recent addiction memoirs, here’s a salient truth: No one wants to read one of these things by a grizzled or potato-shaped or even middle-aged writer. We want our addiction memoirists to nearly die young and definitely stay pretty. Maybe that’s why, in bulk, these books aren’t better.

“Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man” is the story of how Mr. Clegg lost it all — his clients, his apartment, his loyal boyfriend, his sanity — one crack hit at a time. It’s a story that ranges over several years but finds its dramatic center of gravity during one especially dark two-month binge, during which Mr. Clegg manages to fritter away some $70,000 on crack and Ketel One vodka and on the elegant hotel rooms he often shares with greasy characters, including male hookers. He picks up a cabdriver by asking, “Do you party?”

This story is told in the present tense, alongside flashbacks to Mr. Clegg’s childhood in Connecticut. His father was a pilot for TWA, and not a warm and fuzzy guy; his mother wasn’t much more approachable. He doesn’t really blame them for his addiction, however, nor for his dramatic inability, as a boy, to urinate without first spending hours alone in the bathroom performing a desperate kind of rain dance.

What drove Mr. Clegg to crack? Mostly, it seems, it was a common-enough big city and publishing world malady: the towering inferiority complex. This memoir is laced with lines like, “This is a place for a sleeker, smarter, better-educated, and altogether finer grade of person.” And: “I am not nearly as bright or well read or business savvy or connected as I think people imagine me to be.”

Before insecurity could fully take root, however, there were other addict-in-training milestones. Sneaking Scotch, as a teenager, from his dad’s liquor cabinet. Snorting a line of crystal meth at 15 — his first illegal drug — off a box of mozzarella sticks with a grocery store co-worker named Max. Smoking pot daily, bales of it, in college.

Mr. Clegg was introduced to crack by an older married man from his hometown, a respected lawyer who also seduced him sexually. Here is Mr. Clegg on that first taste of crack: “It is the warmest, most tender caress he has ever felt and then, as it recedes, the coldest hand.”

Among the reasons to stick with “Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man” is the lightly narcotized sensorium of Mr. Clegg’s prose. He nails the “weary authority” of the Empire State Building, with its “shoulders of colored light.” He describes swaying in time, while high, with another addict, the pair of them “like two underwater weeds bending to the same current.” He can write.

Stick with it, too, for its second half, which is thick with jittery drug-induced paranoia. (Mr. Clegg begins to think cabs and helicopters are following him, as well as guys in — the horror — cheap off-the-rack suits.) Along the way you’ll learn some things. Who knew that crack use made your contact lenses dry out, so that they pop right off your eyes?

At one point, Mr. Clegg hops into a cab and orders it to race away from his family, who’ve gathered to stage an intervention. As he roars off, he thinks to himself, “Like so many other moments, this one feels lifted from an after-school special or ‘Bright Lights, Big City.’ ”

Actually, his memoir doesn’t read much like either one of those things. But the first sentence of “Bright Lights, Big City” certainly captures the mood Mr. Clegg works to set: “You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time in the morning.”