Cloud Sweet Cloud

I started writing a comment on another blog, but realised it was turning into an essay. I also realised I had written it in such a rush – you know when you’re really excited about something and the words just tumble out in a torrent? – that it probably came across as though I was really rubbishing everything this writer had said. So I removed it and just left a comment saying thanks for sharing and making me think, because that’s what the post did. It was about what this writer referred to as “pink cloud syndrome”.

Personally, I call it “home” but probably without the syndrome bit.

In some sobriety circles, the Pink Cloud is this treacherous land you wander around in when you’re in early sobriety, some sort of high that will wear off and when it does your old demons are right there to dig their claws into you. In some meetings it’s almost whispered with a sense of ominous foreboding, where old timers will nod and give you knowing glances. Be afraid, dear. Be very afraid. It’s not real and soon you’ll see.

OK, so imagine you were paralysed from the waist down. For years and years you’ve not been able to use your legs. And then you suddenly can. Imagine the elation and euphoria you will feel – a high indeed! I’ll sign my name to it any day of the week, it was absolutely one of the first things I experienced when I got sober – hell, almost ten months on I still spend my mornings feeling grateful that I am clear headed, strong and hangover free. Had I not sunk into alcoholism, would I have felt that way? Maybe not, I’ll give you that. I probably wouldn’t have, any more than I walk down the street with tears of happiness streaming down my face because my legs carry me. It’s quite likely that if I’d never had the drinking problem I did, I wouldn’t have felt such overwhelming joy over something as simple as a cup of morning coffee. But do you know what? That’s neither here nor there because just like someone who lost the use of their legs for a while, I don’t think I’ll suddenly (or even gradually) forget all the things I so very nearly threw again. Call me naive (I’ve been called worse) but I think if you have ever tango’d with the Devil, you’ll hold on to life more tightly when you escape her clutches.

Yes, I set up home on the Pink Cloud. Almost immediately. That’s the beauty of sobriety – it delivers almost instantly. You’d think I’d just come back from having been in a war zone but that’s what it feels like. Yes, the joy and gratitude I feel may very well be the result of appreciating life more simply because my addiction was taking it away from me. Will I one day have forgotten where I was heading with my drinking? Will I one day begin to believe I can have “just one drink”? They say complacency creeps in and that’s when you fall right back down into your addiction.

Here’s what I think: I think you only fall back if you still believe that alcohol brings something positive to your life.

Before I got to 23 January 2018, I knew I had a problem but I still also wanted to drink. I made some death defying attempts at both quitting and moderating, each as fruitless as the other and I failed every single time. Why? It’s near on impossible to quit something you still want to do and I just don’t have that sort of will power. As for moderation, well, I’m an alcoholic and per definition I can’t stop if I have that first one. There were a few times when I quit drinking for a while – a few weeks usually and on a couple of occasions I managed a handful of months with my longest stretch being four-ish months. The physical well being would always kick in, of course, and I’d feel elated at having kicked my dangerous habit. But that wasn’t enough because I was pining for a drink. I was GASPING for a drink. It was all I could think about and it took a Herkulean effort to get through each day. Eventually, my alcoholic brain – Drunk Me – would win by telling me “look, you’re not an alcoholic, you can totally stop any time you want” and I’d go and celebrate by drinking myself to black-out faster than you can say Sauvignon Blanc.

So yes, I think I know what they mean when they warn you about the Pink Cloud, but I only think you’re ever in the danger zone if you still deep down want to drink. I mean, why would you be in the danger zone of doing something you really don’t want to do?

That’s the clincher for me this time around. I don’t know exactly how or why, but I guess it was just a perfect storm. I’d reached a point where I was so thoroughly fed up with drinking and how it made me feel that I just knew I was done with it. And at the same time I tried to figure out why I’d been drinking in the first place. What I discovered was that all the reasons I thought I had were utter bullshit, and of course once I no longer had any reasons to drink, well…

Will I suddenly – or gradually – start to believe that alcohol will bring me some sort of benefit? Even though I know for certain it never did? Would that even be possible? I know for a fact it doesn’t make fun more fun, and given that it’s a powerful depressant it CAN’T make happy happier. Or what about if I end up going through something deeply traumatic and difficult? It is an anaesthetic, after all, so it’d make more sense to fall into the pit then, no? Well. I’ve gone through a couple of thoroughly shitty patches and didn’t touch a drop because I was terrified that alcohol would make me feel even worse. So I suppose it strikes me as unlikely that I’d reach for the bottle then either as this was never my pattern anyway.

The Pink Cloud, as far as I’m concerned, is nothing other than LIFE the way we are designed to live it: healthy, sober and free. Mother Nature even equipped us with a kick-ass warning system to alert us to stuff that’s bad for us – that’s why poison generally speaking tastes bad. EURGH! NOT GOOD FOR YOU! SPIT IT OUT! Even this jaded old drunk shuddered the first time she tried booze. Can’t imagine many people taste alcohol for the first time thinking oh yummy! And doesn’t it speak volumes that we have to dilute it endlessly and add flavourings to disguise its foul taste? It wouldn’t actually be physically possible to ingest 100% pure alcohol – our bodies simply wouldn’t allow it.

Being on the Pink Cloud just means you live life as a human being. Yes, of course it’s going to feel amazing in every sense – literally every sense, given how alcohol numbs our senses – to be sober, but I think if you’ve ever sunk into alcoholism and then find your way out you’ll never lose sight of what you nearly lost. When I was drinking I was fully aware that alcohol was destroying me, yet I still drank. It’s our reasons to drink we need to remove. I truly believe that. Only when we expose the Beast for what it is can we move on. Clinging on for dear life on a mad white knuckle ride will never be freedom.

Today I’m not going to drink.