I don’t often watch TV, but when I do, it’s kids shows. I will gladly sit through Power Rangers, Blue’s Clues, Pokemon or anything cartoonish rather than deal with the more inane and ever more cartoonish adult programming out there (I speak more about reality shows – don’t worry Game of Thrones folks, I am not tossing you in the same gumbo pot as the other shows. Your okra has more spice and jazz than most.) Pinky and The Brain is groovy – The Brain being bent on world domination while his not-so-bright-but-bright-in-cheerfulness sidekick Pinky is just there for the ride. Pinky’s emotional and freeing right brain to Brain’s methodical, analytical left side is Yin Yang personified in talking television rodents.
I mention this because I have been thinking about early recovery. Mainly, this thing called a “pink cloud” – the idea that hovers about us and through and is sometimes misunderstood. While this is predominantly a recovery thing, I think the idea of a pink cloud could also translate into other areas of our lives. But mainly pink clouds stay and play in the stratosphere of recovery, spreading outwards and filtering the world through a new lens. A different, more focused lens. Something alcoholic and addicts aren’t sure what to do with once they ascend upon one.
A pink cloud is essentially that almost euphoric feeling one gets after being sober / clean for a short time. It’s that captured state of being where things are fantastic, even in the face of still dire circumstances in one’s life. Our bodies are starting to feel better, our minds de-fogging and we have that lift of spirit that tells us that all is not only well, but beyond well. Fabuloso. Mega-groovy. Swellegant. Mick Mack Daddy. Those who are passing through a pink cloud can’t be brought down. They are in some transcendental bliss that trumps any earthly measures or issues. It’s like we’re high on life itself. Just perfect for an addict / alcoholic, no?
Now, sit in enough meetings or hang around recovery circles long enough and you will eventually hear some derisive comments towards those who are pink clouding. Hang out long enough and you will start to hear cloudbusting (not the Kate Bush variety) remarks tossed about. There is often the sense that there is a fort of gym mats being laid out when (not if) the person plummets down from their Major Tom visit up there.
Why would there be this sort of wet blanket reaction to someone who is, for the first time in ages, feeling so good about their lives? Why would people shoot arrows into that hot air balloon, the one that is allowing a broken and hurting person to soar about their problems and seeing the horizon clearly with fresh eyes? Why be a Sally Spoilsport to a Floating Fiona?
When I stopped drinking, there was feeling that I was fumbling on a tightrope, with not only no net below, but with a school of piranhas circling instead. I was like a newborn foal, stumbling to find my legs on this earth. Everything in me screamed out to have a drink, and yet I knew in my heart that those days were over. I had been broken just enough to allow myself the chance of changing and healing. Of starting anew. And while sweat dripped down the side of my face as I tried to navigate this new way of being, things started to look up, surprisingly. I started to sleep well. My body was properly nourished. I was talking to other alcoholic men. I was sharing my feelings and experiences with people. I was working on my recovery. I started to see the sun, and not the clouds. I was starting to feel that I was invincible.
And so just like Pinky and The Brain there, the idea that I could take over the world started to expand within me, and dominate. My mind and emotions were working in tandem once again. I felt that since I wasn’t drinking, I could conquer anything.I felt that I could climb Mt. Everest with only a hoodie, some TicTacs and an ipod with the Best of Styx on it. Unprepared, but willing. There was no bringing me down from my elation. Elation that I hadn’t felt since I perhaps felt in those early days of drinking. I was pink clouding it like nobody’s business.
So why is there a cautionary tone when we present ourselves in this manner to someone who has been there, done that? I mean, it’s all good and dandy to feel so great after feeling so crappy for so long, isn’t it? Don’t rain on my parade, pal – I have Xtra Strength Teflon Monsoon Shields on this Beetle Bailey float. I couldn’t believe that I could have such a sunny and, dare I say, happy outlook on life. Sure I had been kicked out of my house and had court charges looming over me and was fresh out of treatment and very much unemployed. But I felt good, dude. No buzzkillers allowed, okay?
For the record, I don’t ever burst any one’s pink cloud bubble. But what I will do is mention that it is a bubble. Alcoholics are dummies in the emotions department (sorry, but it’s true…or at least it was for me), especially in their active times. My emotional sobriety follows on the heels of my physical sobriety. I am still learning to manage emotions and emotional situations. But when I was active, I see-sawed between emotional extremes. Either I was a pissy cranky ogre, or I was a weepy, gleeful bag of goo. Not much in between, except perhaps a salad of contempt, sarcasm and crunchy self-pity croutons.
So it goes to say that in early sobriety, I didn’t immediately find emotional balance. So since I wasn’t feeling like utter garbage, I was at the other end of the scale. Ebullient. Hippy Trippy. I was perhaps even delusional. I mean, I had so many unpleasant things going on, just ending a 25 year bender, and I was grinning like a gassy fool. Is that the right or appropriate reaction to my life? I don’t know. All I can say is one thing – the pink cloud saved my life.
As I see it, the pink cloud represents something even deeper – it’s the Grace of God. How could I explain 25 years of drinking suddenly stopped and then feeling good about it? If it weren’t for that elation, that feeling of being a cartoon mouse ready to take on all, I wouldn’t have been able to do the real work of recovery. It was like being thrown into the ocean and then given a set of water wings. Angelic water wings. I was able to tread water long enough, with those same piranhas swarming about (they’re persistent buggers, aren’t they?) just long enough to learn to swim and get going. That pause, that feeling of being weightless, bought me the time I needed to start the work and get through it. If I were a despondent mess during those tenuous early day, I wouldn’t have been able to proceed in changing my life.
But here’s the thing – there is usually a time limit on this Get Out of Jail card. Striking while the iron is hot is essential in recovery. Take too long and our willingness peters out. We take that pink cloud sort of feeling for granted. And what happens, inevitably, is the crash. The drain. We land back on earth and wonder what the crazy Kansas dream was all about. And without any sort of plan of action and/or support, we’re left on the dirt without defence from that first drink.
I always encourage people to enjoy those pink cloud moments. Savour them. But also use them. Take advantage of that bliss and start taking action. It’s like that moment we get anaesthetized before the surgery. Rapture and euphoria before the first knife incision. And that is what the old timers caution about. They caution about pink clouders getting on a high horse and dictating to others what they should be doing instead of focusing on their own recovery. The old timers have seen enough people take that cloud into their coffins, as they tried to exist off that feeling of ecstasy alone.
So my advice (not that you asked, of course) is this. If you’re on a pink cloud right now, for the first time ever or coming back to it: ride it like you stole it. Enjoy those double macchiato non-fat low foam extra whip deserts-in-a-cup from that coffee shop down the street. Laugh at everything. Savour all that junk food. Play Stairway to Heaven over and over again on your lute. Feel the rain on your skin. Hug trees. It’s your time to shine in this special way.
But also take this grace for what it is – grace. Creator’s grace. Or if you’re not into Higher Powers and such, take this as just grace from the universe. A cosmic mulligan. We can’t build castles on clouds like in fairy tales, but we can build them on solid ground as gaze upward any time we want and see the beauty and majesty of the skies and knowing that we’re taken care of. We’re of service to others and that we need not live the way we used to ever again.
And remember, we can still conquer the world – this time with feet firmly planted, heart enriched and spirit intact and blossoming.