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What is the Pink Cloud?
Everything you need to know about this surprising stage of recovery.
My first two weeks sober were terrible. I had spent a decade daydreaming about how wonderful my life would be when I finally kicked my drinking habit. Then I quit drinking and ran headfirst into a wall of disappointment.
Not everyone who quits drinking will have physical withdrawal symptoms, but I did. I had headaches, confusion, cold sweats, insomnia, and more. They weren’t the worst physical symptoms possible, but they were enough to make me miserable.
However, these physical symptoms were far from the worst part. The hard part was the psychological side of sobriety. I was constantly craving a drink and felt overwhelmed by boredom and depression.
When I say those first couple of weeks were terrible, I’m not exaggerating. They were truly some of the hardest days I’ve ever gone through. But, I don’t want to belabor the point. I’ve written about those early days many times before, and I’m sure you get the idea.
Instead, in today’s newsletter, I want to share what happened next.
Entering the Pink Cloud
About two weeks after getting sober—just as my acute withdrawal symptoms finally disappeared—my mental state underwent a cosmic shift.
After days of feeling more depressed than ever, I was overcome with a sudden and unexpected euphoria. I had entered the pink cloud.
The pink cloud is a strange phase of sobriety that many, but not all, recovering addicts go through. It’s a time in which we’re filled with a sense of joy and gratitude. Our elation can reach near-manic levels.
It normally comes during the first month or two of sobriety, typically right as withdrawal ends, but sometimes later.
I’ve read various explanations for what might cause this feeling: a re-balancing of chemicals in the brain, the excitement of a new life, or simply the sheer relief of getting through the rough first days of sobriety.
Regardless of the cause, one thing is for sure: It feels great.
I remember feeling incredibly accomplished. After years of trying to quit drinking, I had finally done it. I felt like with that habit gone, I was now ready to tackle anything and everything.
I still had cravings for alcohol, but every other aspect of my mood had done a 180. I woke up each day excited to begin my new life, ready to live it to the fullest and accomplish everything that I had been putting off for years.
While in the pink cloud, I tried to make a slew of other healthy changes in my life. I started exercising, eating better, and trying to spend all of my free time in the most productive ways possible.
I woke up happy and went to bed happy. I truly felt like I was on top of the world.
Falling Back to Earth
There’s nothing inherently wrong with being in the pink cloud. It’s a common experience, and it’s not as if we’re going to die from being too happy. At worst, we might come across as a little annoying and overly optimistic.
However, the trouble with the pink cloud is that it doesn’t last. No matter how great it feels, eventually, we have to come back down to Earth.
In my case, those euphoric feelings lasted for just a few weeks. I’ve heard of others who lasted for months, while still others fell within just a few days. Whether the pink cloud lasts for days or months, though, it never lasts forever.
Unfortunately, once the pink cloud ended, sobriety hit me hard. Although the physical withdrawal symptoms didn’t return, I was once again overwhelmed by depression. Suddenly all of my early optimism felt naive and even idiotic. I developed a nihilistic outlook, asking myself why it was even worth staying sober if I felt so miserable.
Each day felt boring and pointless. Sobriety began to feel impossible again, just as it had in the early days.
I tried to focus on “taking it one day at a time,” but that was hard. I couldn’t resist thinking about the future, and when I did, I told myself that I’d never be able to stick with it. How could I keep going when I felt so awful? Why not just give up and have a drink?
Fortunately, despite these feelings, I kept going. I reminded myself that if even sobriety looked bleak, succumbing to alcoholism was still far bleaker.
One of the things that helped me most was learning from other recovering addicts. I wrote more about this a couple of weeks ago, which you can read in the archive if you missed it. The short version, though, is that sobriety gets a lot easier when you stop trying to do it alone. (That newsletter also talks about a visualization technique that I found helpful.)
In addition to those tools, I turned to exercise. I gave up on most of the habits that I tried to build during the pink cloud phase, but fortunately, I stuck with running. It was a huge game changer for me when sobriety got rough. Not only did it improve my mood, but it also gave me goals to aim for that weren’t related to alcohol.
So, was the pink cloud a good thing or a bad thing? I think that for me, it was a bit of both. It was a welcome relief from the miserable early days of sobriety, but it also gave me a little too much false confidence. It made me think that I had conquered my addiction when I was really just beginning.
My advice to anyone who thinks that they might currently be in the pink cloud would be to enjoy it, but also prepare for what comes next. If your feelings come crashing down, will you be ready?
The best thing that I got out of the pink cloud was that I began my exercise habit. It’s a habit that has served me incredibly well over the past six years. What habits can you build while you’re feeling great? Going for a run? Building a support group? Eating better?
Any tools that you can develop early in your sobriety can help when times get tough. About a year and a half after I quit drinking, sobriety really did become fun and easy, but it took a lot of work to get there. In a sense, the pink cloud was just a preview of things to come.
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