Pink Clouds, Cocaine and Synthetic Bliss
Updated: Oct 8
*The following is an excerpt from the book "Polluted! My Sober Journey. Alcohol, Addiction and The 7 Stages to Getting Clean."
At one point or another, almost every alcoholic and addict passes through a pink cloud phase in their recovery. For some people, it starts after a few days or weeks of sobriety. For others, it kicks in after a few months. But no matter when it occurs, it seems to be a universal experience that can be both exhilarating and dangerous.
The most accurate way to define the pink cloud is “false euphoria” or “synthetic bliss.” This is the time when our heads begin to clear, we’re getting more rest, our senses are reawakening, and we feel like we’re floating on fluffy pink clouds of joy and happiness.
It brings a fantastic sense of optimism and hope because we finally feel like we're free and clear from the chains of our addiction that held us captive for so long. We start to think: I'm good. There's nothing to worry about here. I've got this. I'm in the clear now.
One of the things I noticed the most in my pink cloud phase was how good everything smelled. It was strange. It seemed like I could smell everything in the world, and each aroma brought a flood of pleasant emotions and memories to my mind. A specific type of flower would remind me of my grandmother. Freshly cut grass brought back fond memories of my childhood. It felt like I was sharply attuned to all the intricate details of the world, and that I would live in peace and joy for the rest of my life.
Ironically, the pink cloud phase of recovery is very similar to the experience of snorting cocaine. We snort the first line, and there's the rapid upward swing of exhilaration when the world seems magnificent. Then there's the inevitable crash as the blow runs out. We fall rapidly from a pink cloud of bliss to the brown mud of depression.
The pink cloud in recovery can be similar. One moment we're floating on a cloud of optimism and hope; the next moment, we descend into depression, irritability, and frustration.
Early recovery for me was filled with peaks and valleys. I would be on top of the world one day, and the next day I’d be drowning in misery. It sucked and left me confused and desperate for emotional consistency.
There was a constant war raging inside me; do I stay sober and fight through the emotional swings, or do I take the easier way out and pick up a drink. Stay sober or drink? Stay sober or drink? Stay sober or drink?
I realized early on that if I could just manage to make it to a meeting every day, my chance of surviving twenty-four hours without drinking increased exponentially. Something about AA meetings seemed to resonate with me. I still didn't WANT to go to meetings or particularly enjoy them. But every single time I went to a meeting, especially at night, the urge to drink went away almost entirely. Was it the stories I was hearing people share? Was it the prayers they were always reciting? Was it the fucking hand-holding at the conclusion of each meeting (I hated that part)? What was it that left me feeling better after each meeting? What was it about the meetings that diminished my urge to drink?
Honestly, 12 years later, I still don't know the answers to these questions (I don’t mind the hand-holding anymore, either). What I learned early in my recovery was that if I could just make it to a meeting every day, I might survive without picking up a drink. And that's all I wanted. I didn't care about anything else, not the prayers or the hand-holding, nor my mood swings or depressions. I only cared about one thing: NOT DRINKING!
The pink clouds came and went. My emotions went up and down all the time, an endless roller coaster of highs and lows, euphoria, and angst. But I kept going to meetings because I knew that's where I needed to be.