A well-known topic in sobriety circles is the so-called Pink Cloud Syndrome. Similar to the honeymoon period in a new relationship, the Pink Cloud is often felt by newly sober addicts. The Pink Cloud is characterized by feelings of elation, excitement, and a “ready to take on the world” attitude. These feelings often come from a sense of accomplishment and emotional and physical relief from the chaos caused by active addiction. Essentially, those who are feeling physically better and mentally sharp after quitting drinking or using may finally realize how much trouble they’ve avoided with their newfound direction and experience a renewed enthusiasm for life. How could that be a bad thing?
While optimism and excitement certainly have their place in recovery, the Pink Cloud is an out-sized version of these emotions that can sometimes obscure reality and cloud judgement. No one is encouraging the newly recovering addict to be negative or cynical, but it’s very important to be aware of over-optimism. This is because over-optimism can turn into over-confidence, which can put the recovering addict in danger of relapse. When an addict thinks they are ready to handle something that they aren’t actually equipped to deal with, such as going to a booze-filled party several months after quitting drinking, trouble can occur.
New addicts learn about Pink Cloud Syndrome because it’s important to understand that The Cloud doesn’t offer any protection from the dangers unique to early sobriety. Plus, it usually dissolves once the real world comes calling in the form of a challenge or setback. Without having feet on the ground, it can be impossible for the recovering addict to successfully navigate these situations.
Because addicts by nature usually have addictive personalities, some people in recovery may actually become addicted to the Pink Cloud and keep chasing it fruitlessly, which takes energy away from where it should be spent. Early recovery truly requires tremendous focus and discipline, which is essentially a “full plate” of responsibility. Chasing unrealistic happiness or euphoria does not add anything productive to the recovery process, and may also be damaging in the way that all distractions are.
It’s important for addicts to understand that their emotions are subjective and do not necessarily serve as a reflection of reality. The Pink Cloud is a great example of an emotion that makes a recovering addict think things are better than they actually are. In reality—not to be harsh—but the addict must understand that s/he has had to stop drinking or using because their habit became unmanageable and caused destruction to themselves and others. New sobriety may feel great, but underneath is the cold, hard truth of how dangerous addiction really is. Understanding this is key to being able to deal with challenges associated with the reality of new sobriety, like raw emotions, stressful situations, and even boredom. If the addict allows him/herself to stay on the cloud, the moment this reality appears, it will be even more jarring than normal. In some cases, this shock can even lead to relapse.
If the recovering addict finds him/herself with Pink Cloud Syndrome, self-awareness is the first defense against getting carried away. Using other people to pull one down to the reality of the situation can be especially useful in this scenario. One reason staying active in a recovery group with an experienced sponsor is so important is because of situations like the Pink Cloud. There is no better reality check for a recovering addict than that of another person in recovery. All of this is not to say that the addict shouldn’t celebrate and be proud of their decision to stop drinking or using. As with everything else in a healthy life, self-praise just needs to occur in moderation.
Many addicts have always struggled with emotional regulation, which may have led to drinking/using as a coping skill in the first place. Often, people newly in recovery have to learn how to deal with all of their emotions essentially from scratch. Therapy and group support are both important ways to help with this process. Many people find journaling, yoga, and/or exercise to be tremendously helpful, too. Whichever way the newly sober addict chooses to deal with these emotions, it needs to be active, rather than passive! Staying in the Pink Cloud or wishing emotions aren’t present is a great way to relapse.
Over time, people in recovery will be less likely to experience Pink Cloud Syndrome. That doesn’t mean that their future of sobriety is doomed to be characterized entirely by raw emotions or negative feelings. In fact, ex-addicts often talk about how quieter, more stable emotions will eventually set in with a long enough period of sobriety. Deep feelings of calm and a sense of well-being may not be as exciting as the euphoric Pink Cloud, but these feelings have actually been earned and don’t obscure reality. Like the rest of the process of getting sober, transitioning from the Pink Cloud to more stable positive emotions can be a challenge, but it’s well-worth it.
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