When first entering recovery, you may feel what is known as the “pink cloud” effect. This is when your body finally gets free of all the toxins from substance use and you feel on top of the world. You love everyone and nothing can bring you down.
This pink cloud effect also usually coincides with when you enter a treatment program, whether that is an inpatient or intensive outpatient program, a mutual support group like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or SMART recovery, or whatever else you may have chosen. You get really immersed in the recovery process, how you can help others, and experience general joy and elation when it comes to your recovery journey. This is because you are starting to see the positive effects of what recovery can bring.
This feeling and level of engagement are great, but what happens when the pink cloud effect wears off?
What It Feels Like When the Effect Goes Away
There comes a certain point when that feeling of delight starts to dissipate. You may find that you have become lazy at meetings or that keeping up with recovery work keeps getting pushed off for other things. You may feel guilty about dropping the ball but recovery work just does not excite you like it used to. That is okay—this feeling is completely normal.
The pink cloud effect cannot last forever. If it did not wane, it would be hard to conduct a normal life. When the newness of sobriety wears off and normal life begins to set in, this is when the real work of recovery begins. It can feel uncomfortable but that is because you have to conduct yourself differently now that you are sober. Things that used to never bother you may trigger anxiety. Such things can include bills or work assignments. This, again, is normal.
Imagine your recovery space like a pendulum. On one side is the pink cloud effect, on the other side is depression, anxiety, and whatever else drags you to a dark place. What you want is to be right in the middle. The middle is where you are still able to find enjoyment in life while managing stressors and triggers.
On the one hand, you want to have pleasure in life, but you cannot go through life surrounded by the pink cloud. Imagining you can do so does not set you up well when difficult events or emotions come up. On the other hand, stress and mental illness are not conducive to healing either. Still, stress is natural and should be expected when you are interacting with the real world. A life without stress does not facilitate change.
That being said, this does not make the feeling of losing the pink cloud effect any easier. You may have self-medicated with substances for so long that you might not know that you have developed things like anxiety or depression. Having to confront mental illness for the first time after the pink cloud effect wears off can be terrifying, but there are things you can do to make it easier.
What You Can Do to Avoid Low Points
The most important thing to do is to keep up with your recovery program. Your meetings and sessions should be a safe space to express how you feel, reduce anxiety, and connect you with a group of peers.
The second thing is to get to the root of issues that bother you. If you are stressed or anxious about work, try to figure out why that is and what can be done to change it. You could transfer to a different department or go back to school so you can study for a job that will feel more fulfilling.
Lastly, know that the low feelings that come from losing the pink cloud effect will pass. As mentioned earlier, these feelings can be like a pendulum—even though you are feeling low now, the pendulum will swing back and you will get better. If you keep up with your recovery process and be patient, things will change.
Patience is key throughout your whole process. Recovery is a long journey and there will be many highs and lows. If you are patient and put in the work to change your situation, not only will the situations around you improve but you, as a person, will also improve. By keeping up with meetings and identifying the root of your problems, you will begin to understand your part in certain situations and be able to change and adapt accordingly. You will have a level of awareness that you never had when you were using substances and your life will be better than ever. It may not feel as fantastic as it did with the pink cloud effect, but you will be able to conduct a normal life filled with joy.
The "pink cloud" effect is a complicated feeling and it can be disheartening when that feeling goes away. You may seem unable to engage with your recovery process. It can be hard to pull yourself back up and do the work that needs to be done. Sometimes you need help getting back to the place where you need to be in your recovery journey. Fortunately, there are people who can help you achieve all that we know you can. At NorthStar Transitions, located in Boulder, CO, we can be the ones to provide that help. Our experienced staff can help you and the ones you care about find the middle ground of the pendulum swing. Whether you are at risk of relapse or just need some guidance, NorthStar Transitions can help. When the pink cloud effect is gone and you need help, call us at (303) 558-6400.