The Perpetual Pink Cloud in AA

By Lucinda Lumiere 09/07/16

When a newcomer shared in a meeting about euphoric bliss or sparkly optimism—any evidence of the miracle of recovery—clubhouse old timers would nod sagely and wink: enjoy your pink cloud, newbie.

The Perpetual Pink Cloud
Still enjoying it.

When I first got sober, there was much talk of the Pink Cloud. A fabled state of well-being mysteriously conferred upon newcomers, this was thought to be a fleeting condition that left as abruptly as it arrived. Like a virus, a unicorn, or an uninvited guest at a party, it came and went capriciously.

When someone counting days would share in a meeting about euphoric bliss, God consciousness, or a sudden state of sparkly optimism—any evidence of the miracle of recovery—clubhouse old timers would nod sagely and wink: enjoy your Pink Cloud, newbie. The implication was that this wouldn’t last, it was just a door prize for coming in to AA. 

And you know what? They were right. Those white light “there are no accidents” moments of fairy dust that sparkled like sequins over my life in the beginning did seem to dissipate over time. The $9,000 hospital bill that came back “paid in full” after I paid all I could afford—one hundred dollars? Magical. Getting a job in a diner with my first sponsor that ended up paying well and hooking me up to everyone I needed to know in my new town, leading to a donated vintage sports car and a part in a play, which then launched me on a new career path as an actor? Mystical. The new sense of boundaries after taking a fourth and fifth? Fourth dimensional. Sudden collisions with those I owed amends as I humbly, but willingly, commenced a ninth step? There are no accidents. These early mind-blowers conferred upon me a sense of faith, one I sorely needed if I was to stay sober.

But as time went on and the years racked up, the path got narrower. I worked the steps, sponsored and did service, but lost the Pink Cloud. This, I assumed, was natural, as it was only temporary anyway. Real life on life’s terms was work. You should be grateful to be sober today, I told myself, and raised my hand to do more service.

Then, things got harder. I got into a really bad relationship. I struggled with career issues that were immune to the steps. I worked out compulsively, trying to replenish depleted levels of “feel good” chemicals. I went to yoga, meditated and prayed. A baseline, low-level depression ballooned into anxiety. I sought outside help. At ten years, undiagnosed and presenting as “functional,” I realized I needed medication. I met with the head of chemical dependency treatment at a prominent hospital and received a prescription for an SSRI. I took the medication, which did help take the edge off. After a year, I quit taking it, glad for the help but not willing to become a lifer.

I got a new sponsor, worked the steps in another program, and trained in a new career. I kept going to meetings and things got better. But the Pink Cloud, God-is-everywhere feeling I had experienced in the beginning? I didn’t even remember it, much less expect it. If I thought about it at all, I reasoned that expecting recovery to always be euphoric was addict thinking, and as I got more sober, I shouldn’t expect bliss. 

Things did get better. I got into a healthier relationship. I experienced a huge new level of career fulfillment and success. Then I got married and had a kid, all milestones that filled me with joy at times, and sorrow during others. The Pink Cloud never came back.

The marriage? It started to unravel. As I was often alone with a small child, I began to feel increasingly isolated. I wanted on bad days to use, and on terrible days thought of worse options. I grabbed on to the program with renewed vigor. I hated my husband every day, and this impelled me to attend meetings. 

I realized that despite my best thinking, at 16 years sober, I had married a functional alcoholic. I leaned in harder, picked up commitments, shared everywhere, found home groups where I could be myself, warts and all. I called sponsors and picked up new sponsees. I read literature. People now recognized me at new meetings, and wanted to know how I was. No matter how confusing or hard my “real life” was, I found harbor in the rooms. I started to feel better. A lot better. 

At the absolute lowest ebb of my sober life, 28 years in, I got Pink-Clouded again.

And I realized this: the Pink Cloud is not the sole domain of newcomers. It comes to those who work as though their lives depended on it. It comes to those who work all the tools, not some, because they are desperate. For just like the Pink Cloud, desperation is not the sole provenance of the newcomer. They are actually two sides of the same coin. Where there is desperation, there is total willingness. And where there is total willingness, there will always be a Pink Cloud. 

The AA big book states that the spiritual program is not a theory—we must live it. I am here to tell you this is true. We are promised serenity if we sincerely apply the program. Perhaps "Pink Cloud" is a misnomer. Perhaps "State of Grace" is a more accurate term. 

We don’t get to control outcomes, but we don’t have to. If we apply the tools to the best of our ability, we will experience a well-being independent of circumstances. This is the serenity that is promised. Pink Clouds aren’t just for newcomers. They are for us all.

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