Have you heard of the “pink cloud”? It’s a term that originated in Alcoholics Anonymous. Everyone recovering from addiction rides the pink cloud at some point. Many don’t understand it. So now is the perfect time to learn the truth about this thing called the pink cloud.
Pink is not a primary color. It appears on only one national flag in all the world. (The Turks and Caicos Islands flag includes a pink shell.) Things associated with pink include: piggy banks, pink eye, pink elephants, cotton candy, pink-o communists, Pink Floyd, Barbie’s™ pink camper, pink roses and soothing pink stomach relief. Consequently, pink has a hard time inspiring confidence. So when you hear mention of the pink cloud, you might not assign much importance to it. That would be a huge mistake.
Of course we aren’t talking about an actual pink cloud; that intensely beautiful mass of water vapor you see hanging in the sky at dusk. Rather, in the context of recovery, the pink cloud refers to a state of mind.
Mention of the pink cloud is found on page 113 of the Alcoholics Anonymous text Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, which describes the feeling you experience when you finally admit that you are powerless over alcohol or drugs and that your life has become unmanageable. A.A. calls this Step One, or surrender. If you don’t relate to 12-step programs like A.A. or N.A. that’s okay. Think of it as the way you feel after you finally hit “bottom.”
Owning the fact you are powerless over your behaviors marks the beginning of recovery. When your ego stops calling the shots, horror gives way to hope. An enormous feeling of relief follows surrender. The bag of bricks you’ve shouldered for so long is lifted, awakening intense emotions long anesthetized with chemicals. You enter the miracle phase of recovery. You’re floating on a cloud; an intensely beautiful pink cloud.
However, there is a tendency at this point to feel so victorious that you stop doing the work, Instead you want to celebrate your newfound freedom by shouting out to anyone who will listen. A.A. describes this person as one who completes Step-One (surrender) and immediately skips to Step-Twelve (sharing the message with others) without doing any of the work in-between. You can also think of it as being naive, lazy or overconfident. You might be sober, but you haven’t identified your triggers or cravings nor learned healthy coping skills. You haven’t set things right with the people you wronged. You haven’t developed a new way of living. This is tough stuff that takes time.
Eventually life tap-dances on your head. You’re jolted back to reality by issues — both good and bad — which you haven’t the skills to handle. So you lose faith in the recovery process, sink into depression, and relapse.
Or not. With all due respect to A.A., that is a myth! The truth is, you can ride your pink cloud for the rest of your life. My miracle began October 21, 2008. Life sober has been intensely beautiful ever since. Of course there are challenges. But recovery teaches that you can overcome anything so long as you keep things in perspective, stop trying to control everything and focus on just those things you can change by using the tools (i.e. Steps) you develop. Let me assure you, the worst day sober is infinitely better than the best day high.
Simply work a recovery program — rigorously, honestly, humbly — and you will find yourself riding atop your very own pink cloud. Then, whether or not you ever give up this intensely beautiful state of mind will be your choice alone. But I warn you, pink clouds, like recovery and cotton candy, are addicting!
Keith Angelin, MBA, CADC-II, CNDAI, is a Master’s level, board-certified alcohol & drug counselor, and nationally certified intervention specialist. He can relate to the worst in addicts because he was considered hopeless myself. His 14-year battle with drugs and alcohol included multiple overdoses. His recovery compelled him to re-evaluate his life and share the miracle with others. Recently he authored the “At Home Recovery Workbook.” Learn more at www.InterventionRx.com.