I remember sitting in a 12 step meeting not long ago and hearing a newcomer, filled with the dubious elation of early sobriety, exclaim he was on a ‘pink cloud.’ For those who don’t know, the term ‘pink cloud’ refers to a state of mind, usually experienced in early sobriety, characterized by unusual happiness and grandiosity in spite of rather difficult life circumstances.
His share conjured memories of my own perils on a pink cloud. It was my second crack at sobriety. My ankle donned an electronic monitoring bracelet, ready to alert authorities should I decide to take another drink. I was facing a couple months in jail after college graduation, and I had just survived a head-on collision at 55mph. As much as I’d like to blame someone else, the accident was entirely my fault.
TURNING A BLIND EYE TO LIFE'S DIFFICULT CIRCUMSTANCES
Despite intensely negative consequences, I wore the garments of grandeur to every meeting I attended. A couple months sober? That didn’t matter. These people needed to hear what I had to share. A few months in the pokey after I graduate college? Not a big deal. Months of recuperation in a wheelchair after a life-threatening car wreck? I’ll walk it off.
My pink cloud manifested from a total inability to accept and meet my present circumstances. It developed almost as a defense mechanism. Life became bleak, so my mind produced a beautiful pink cloud to help me float through it.
Oldtimers tried to warn me. They saw what I couldn’t or wouldn’t – total flight from reality.
But delusion holds the power to reduce truth to rubble. The vacuum of delusion sucked up my life’s mess, leaving only shiny surfaces for me to see. It wasn’t long before I relapsed, and sitting in that meeting, listening to this newcomer share about his pink cloud, I knew he didn’t have long either.
Pink Clouds and Rosy Rainbows in Early Sobriety
Most of the oldtimers I know caution against pink clouds and rosy rainbows in early sobriety. It’s not that we don’t want newcomer’s lives to get better, or that we enjoy playing Captain Buzzkill whenever a newly-sober alkie runs around giddy.
Those of us with long-term sobriety know the power of self-delusion to well, and when it comes to relapse, delusion usually carves the path to drink and drug.
Alcoholics tend to operate in extremes. Even in sobriety, we can dosey-doe from morbid depression to Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. As a result, drama becomes commonplace. So does exaggeration. We simply don’t feel good; we feel floating on a cloud good. And we don’t feel bad; we feel detained-in-Guantanamo-Bay bad.
I know, as someone who spent over a decade in the trenches of substance abuse, that I became emotionally numb towards myself and the world about me. When I finally sobered up, I wasn’t very qualified in the accurately-describe-your-feelings department. I’m not saying alcoholics, me included, intentionally lie when communicating our current condition. But substance abusers aren’t the best resource for emotional navigation.
How does this play into pink cloud syndrome? It’s simple. Over years of substance abuse, alcoholics and drug addicts cultivate total detachment from reality. Emotions become more evasive than the Lost Boys of Neverland. This element, coupled with a penchant for using substances to feel good, and you produce the perfect recipe for a pink cloud extravaganza. Drunks and junkies alike capture good feelings, magnify them tenfold and abuse them like a drug.
It’s the same pattern played out in a different ballpark. Some return from the rainbow a little wiser, having learned another lesson in self-delusion. Others ride the pink road straight to a drink or drug.
The bad news is that you can’t do much to talk someone off the cloud. Delusion doesn’t have a reputation for listening to reason. Sure, you can take a newcomer through various forms of inventories and share experience. But ultimately, early soberites must come to the decision they are completely crazy on their own terms.
For this alcoholic and drug addict, it required a devastating relapse. Hopefully after reading this article, however, you’ll be able to avoid the pitfalls of pink cloud syndrome.
And remember, if you, newly sober, feel like life is an incredible wonderland of magical mystery when facing a 3rd offense DUI in a sober-living house, you might be on a pink cloud.