There are lots of buzzwords in recovery, “recovery” being one of them. And any time you have to learn a foreign language, it can be disorienting. I wonder if there’s some sort of urban dictionary of recovery to define things like “geographical” and “do the dishes.” I’ll Google it and get back to you but until then, we have to learn by listening, doing, and taking cues from those around us more familiar with the vernacular.
The “pink cloud” is one of those phrases I’d heard in passing but was too shy to ask about. In my early days of sobriety, the single and double-digit day counts were relatively smooth sailing, she says with guilt. I felt nervous and a little scared going to meetings, as I’ve mentioned, but I truly believed I was doing the right thing for myself. I didn’t have the urge to drink because I was so utterly disgusted with the behavior that led me to that point that it was pretty easy to stay away from the stuff. Plus the physical benefits were outstanding; no hangovers, no memory loss, no fear of getting caught driving tipsy (or plowed), and no crushing feeling of shame after a night of wretched debauchery. I felt renewed, positive, hopeful, healthy, and even a little giddy sometimes. And if I stayed in the moment, I even felt the hand of God on my shoulder.
That’s the pink cloud.
And that pink, wonderful puffy cloud dropped a little light rain on my head at day 91. And here’s why. AA traditions call for celebrated milestones or “birthdays.” These happen often early in recovery because let’s be honest, every day sober in the beginning is a victory. It’s important for a new person to get positive reinforcement and encouragement to keep going, so AA leaders ask new people in the program to identify themselves and publicly state how many days or weeks they’ve been sober. There are even 24-hour coins or chips to acknowledge the daily milestones. Chips are given at 30, 60 and 90 days, 6 months, 9 months, 1 year, and every year thereafter.
You may notice that there’s a 3-month gap between 90 days and 6 months. I sure did. This is when the rains came for me. I’d been basking in my monthly acknowledgements and enjoying the feeling of an entire room of people wishing me “Happy Birthday” in unison and spontaneously applauding. It was, dare I say, addictive. But at 91 days, I was left with a longing feeling – now what? 3 more months to get a chip seemed like an eternity.
But I didn’t have a choice. I had to get out of my own head and stop being so fucking self-involved. I had to feel good about where I was, on whatever day that was and in whatever moment I was experiencing, and just be content. Now, content is not something I’m particularly fond of. Content is akin to complacent, for me. It’s a downright dirty word. If I’m not working toward a goal, being immediately gratified and self-congratulatory, then life is meaningless for me. Or rather, I feel like my image is tarnished and meaningless to others. This is an important distinction. Most of my life I’ve been more concerned about the way I look to others – physically & intellectually. So to sit back and be sober for another 90 days before getting a pat on the back in a room full of people is humbling and a little torturous.
Sit back and be sober. Just shut up and do it.
But here’s the beauty I found; I get to watch other new people come into the program, bewildered and afraid and broken, just like I was. I get to clap for them, genuinely and enthusiastically and be hopeful for their recovery. I get to listen intently to others’ stories and learn that we all share a common bond. I get to connect with people who I thought were so different than me, but turns out we’re all in the same damn boat. I get to learn patience and peace. AA is pretty genius that way.
I’m about 30 days from getting my 6-month chip. But I swear to God, I’m not even focused on that. Instead I’m working through the 12 Steps with the fervor and ambition I give to every goal I set for myself. And this time, I don’t care how it looks to anyone but me.