One of the scariest parts about recovery from substance abuse is also the reason many begin using in the first place: emotions. After pushing them down for years, using drugs and/or alcohol as a solution, people find themselves almost raw with nerves. It is at first frightening and bewildering. It’s relief, but also fear and exposure. It’s removing a mask that has long protected you from the things you were afraid to face.
It is natural to feel all of these ways when you are getting sober, but once you start feeling physically better, regain some mental clarity, and breakthrough the initial hardship of early recovery, you will begin to experience bouts of euphoria, of joy. These might surface as feelings of gratitude, silliness, or bursts of elation. They might crop up at random moments as you’re adjusting to this newfound freedom. You’ll start getting things back that had been lost while in addiction. These feelings one experiences are not inauthentic, and they should certainly be celebrated. To that end, they also must be processed and understood lest they give a false sense of security when you are still very vulnerable.
Stages of the Pink Cloud
After the initial physical detox, a person is usually feeling better and will have a fresh bout of confidence and optimism about the future. Once the hardship of the physical discomfort diminishes, things may feel at ease because life has become simpler. Obstacles they faced in active addiction won’t be there anymore, such as having the funds to feed their addiction, hiding their use from loved ones, financial responsibilities, and so on. For many, their addiction was an obsession and a full-time job, and between that and the physical toll on the body, it rendered them exhausted. There wasn’t time for friendships, family relationships, or simple things such as a good night’s sleep or self-care.
Many say getting sober seems to make the world come back into color. There is an exuberance and newfound wonder that makes the person feel positive about the future, which is great. This stage of recovery is also called the ‘honeymoon phase,’ which name implies it won’t last forever. The newly sober person can see clearly, and feel like they have a good handle on their recovery, and have gone through the most difficult part. Because regular life is filled with both good and bad, this can mean that when the natural high of their new sobriety diminishes, they can have an abrupt and unpleasant wake-up call.
How long does it last? How is it dangerous?
This pink cloud experience can last for various lengths of time; it usually correlates to how severe the person’s addiction was and what they are doing for their recovery currently. People who talk about another experiencing the pink cloud often do so in a negative way; they are saying the person is living in a fantasy world, that the feelings they are experiencing are not true to the reality of life. It can also cause people to ignore difficulties they are facing because their mind is clouded by this new false sense of security. They’ll think sobriety is a breeze without understanding the work that lies ahead.
It can also be said that the person is letting their guard down because they are feeling so good. This phenomenon was first coined by Alcoholics Anonymous, and became something to warn newcomers about. The pink cloud is simply not a sustainable mindset, much like being intoxicated from drugs or alcohol. Eventually, we all have to deal with life on life’s terms.
Signs of the Pink Cloud
Essentially, the pink cloud can be very distracting for the person in recovery, and can cause them to lose focus. It doesn’t last forever, however, so when the person least expects it, the rug can be swept out from under them, and if they weren’t careful they won’t have the proper supports in place. They will essentially “come down” and find that there are difficulties to face when newly sober: restoring relationships, financial stability, employment, and other very real things that can be emotionally challenging.
Some of the glaring signs that someone is in dangerous territory are:
- Moods that fluctuate between very high and very low
- Letting boundaries fall by the wayside
- Rejecting offered support
- Acting impulsively
- Committing to things they cannot fulfill
These grandiose changes in a person’s attitude might urge them to neglect Step work, time with their sponsor, responsibilities to their sober house, etc. It can undo all the effort that has been put in since their first day sober, and certainly isn’t worth the relapse it might lead to.
How to Prepare
People who are experiencing the pink cloud might feel so great, they begin to think they have all the answers. A meeting might sound dull to them, or they might be convinced that they have no desire to use because life suddenly seems so easy. The recovery routine they have built up in the time they’ve put down the drugs or alcohol will seem secondary, and if it falls out of place, they won’t have the support around them any longer. This invincible attitude is relatively normal, as is the “pink cloud syndrome,” so here are some ways you or your loved one can prepare for it.
- Have your meetings in place, and stick to them even when you may feel you don’t need them. You may even attend two – they say you need a meeting most when you don’t think you need it.
- Be sure to practice self-care, such as getting exercise and sunlight, eating healthily, and getting plenty of sleep.
- Keep connected with your peers and sponsor.
- Journal. While this might be a time where you’re looking at the world through ‘rose-colored glasses,’ there is truth to your happiness. Write down what makes you feel this way, so you can return to it later and remember things to be grateful for.
- Challenge yourself! If you have lots of energy, parlay it into trying a new physical activity such as hiking or running.
- If you are feeling uneasy and want to try to center yourself, go somewhere peaceful and quiet, such as the beach or mountains, and try to meditate. Try to channel mindfulness and being present with your thoughts.
- Don’t go back to places you used or drank, even if you are feeling very strong. This also goes for friends you used with. Perhaps as you get further in your recovery you will be able to (‘go anywhere on this earth where other free men may go’), but try to avoid risky scenarios so early on.
One of the best things about recovery is that so many people have gone before you. If you attend a meeting, try to talk to some of your peers and share how you’re feeling. They likely experienced this tricky pink cloud and made it out on the other side—and you will, too.
If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse disorder, we’ve been there, and we can help. Our Admissions Specialists are available 24/7 and would be happy to discuss your concerns and treatment options. Please give us a call today at 866-597-1404.