That is the very essence of the pink cloud or mountain top analogy that I take issue with today. Here are some truths. Since August the 3rd 1984, my last day of consuming alcohol or any mind altering drug (leaving room for nicotine and caffeine in the equation) I have never woken up from a black out with a pounding head wondering what I had done the previous night or stumbled to the window and looked out to see if my car was in the driveway or in front of the house. I have never sat on the edge of the bed with my head in my hands wishing I could just die. I have never entered into a suicide fantasy, a murder plot, or a prison escape, to fall asleep.
As well, there are a host of things that I have done in recovery that I had not experienced during my active use of alcohol. When in detox, I recollect sitting at a table playing spades with three other patients, and not drinking. I could not recollect ever doing that before. During the same treatment, we played volleyball, sober, and I could not ever remember doing that before. When I got out of treatment, I was told to stick with the winners, hang with sober people. I joined a recovery bowling league. I had never bowled before in my life. I bowled on the league every Saturday night for my first year of sobriety.
I had an experience when I went back to school a couple years sober that was instructive. I turned in my first assignment for a class I was really looking forward to. The paper came back with so much red ink, I was completely embarrassed. I felt wholly unprepared to be in school and briefly thought that perhaps my lot in life really was decided all those years ago when I failed to get into college prep courses in high school. But there was something about this course, and all that red ink that spoke to me. There was something about the course that really fascinated and intrigued me. I made a decision to double my efforts in the course, and at least stick it out for the semester.
I studied, and studied the course material like I had never done before. Fast forward to the two hour midterm exam. I seemed to know the answers. I wrote with surprising ease. I had an uneasy sense of confidence when I was finished. As all the students walked out of the class, they all talked about how tough the exam was, and how they felt they had blown it. Not to be left out, I joined in the complaining, afraid that I had been over confident, and the other foot was going to drop.
When we were given the exam books back one week later, I quickly started paging through my writing. There was a grade written on the first page. The instructors hand-writing was terrible – the grade was either a 100, an 80 or a 60. I feared it was the latter. I paged through the exam booklet, deciphered the notes, added up the point values, and concluded that I received a 100% on the exam. Out of the class of 15, the next highest grade was an 80%. Several students had failed the exam. I don’t attribute my high score to my relative intelligence – I know that intellectually I am not the sharpest pencil in the box, by a long shot. But there was a feeling, a sense, an understanding that came over me when I got back that first assignment with all the red ink. I thought about giving up, but realized that there was something very important to me about this class. In fact, to this day, this particular class I consider the most valuable of my entire academic career. I decided I wanted to have this understanding. I wanted to know what this was all about, so I pulled out all the stops to achieve the end.
I liken this very much to my experience with sobriety. In the past, I have wondered why I have stayed sober and so many around me have not. I know that there are folks who have much greater horror stories of family dysfunction and substance abuse than I and those with lesser amounts as well. I know there are folks who have been to the finest treatment centers, and those who simply walked in off the streets into an AA meeting. I know there are those who are very well educated and those who are illiterate. None of these factors seem to dictate who seeks to address their substance abuse, stays sober, or who relapses. For myself, the best I can understand this all is that I had a taste of the mountain top, like I had a taste of the importance of that class, and I was going to do whatever was necessary to maintain that taste. The knowledge achieved in that classroom and the mountain top experience of early sobriety are as fresh in mind today as when they first occurred. They cannot be taken away from me. I can only choose to abandon them – give them away.
I had my own break through on this business of Pink Clouds a while ago. I was sitting at a professional conference in New Orleans with a fellow I had been in graduate school with. He was bemoaning his pending divorce, professional dilemmas and so forth. My response was to very carefully articulate a concept that had been running through my head for some time by then. I carefully said each of the following words “If every breath I have taken, and every action I have done, was necessary to getting me to sitting right here where I am today, I would not change a thing.” I then talked about the living amends I had made over the years to family and friends. That as I live more fully into recovery, I can be more of service to others. That I can give back what has been given to me. That I have the opportunity to model sane behavior to family and friends. That is what reconciles.
I felt cleansed by my proclamation to my colleague. I decided that henceforward, I was only going to speak my truth about life and recovery. I was not going to try and just fit in by exaggerating the problems that were really not there. I was not going to be the self-deprecating ranter about my tales of woe either past or present beyond their true shape. And for the most part, I have stayed true to this commitment. Or, I should say that I am living into that truth and that commitment. That experience cannot be taken away.
A concept I heard early on in sobriety has been referred to coming down off of the pink cloud or descending from the mountain top experience. The general idea is that when you are experiencing something good and positive, whether it is a 30 day in-patient treatment program for substance abuse, the wedding to your lover, a spiritual retreat, the birth of a child, or any sort of life changing or highly charged situation, the other shoe will fall and the mundane intrudes and all the problems of the world come back. For the addict, if they are not careful when they fall from the pink cloud or the mountain top, then they are liable to relapse back into their addiction.
I have never been wholly comfortable with this concept. In some ways I outright reject the very notion. I have never fully understood or come to experience this notion of falling off of the pink cloud. I believe this is one of the reasons that I have stayed sober over the years. I don’t think I have had it any easier or harder than any other addict in recovery. There was something that I was given very early on that makes me focus on the Promises of AA as opposed to the problems. To this day, I catch myself occasionally in support groups wondering if I am being to Pollyannaish. I know that I look forward to sharing when I feel stress or am having some problem because it allows me to identify with a problem end of things. But I am able to end my shares with “I have not a complaint in the world today.” That state of being is not contingent on what is going on around me. That to me remains being in the pink cloud or on the mountain top. One day at a time, my recovery can continue to grow.
“I went to the noon meeting today at Oak Street today and everybody was complaining about how bad everything was. I want to talk about how good I feel today.” These are the words of Tony, a young black man with dreads and a diagonal scar across his face from a knife fight years ago. He spoke the words to a mixed group of about 10 other addicts in various stages of recovery and active use assembled in a conference room for our weekly support group in the factory that I worked in over 25 years ago. The words continue to resonate with me today.
What is exciting to me about Tony’s words is a desire a passion to live into the solution and not dwell in the problem. I don’t mean this to sound like a head in the sand approach to the problems of life. Rather, I see this as a decision to live into the solution and surround oneself with the solution. Often, this is as simple as realizing that there really is a solution in recovery.
In the Big Book there are the 11 Promises and then there is also this:
A Father’s Day Poem for you….
You give me confidence
With your reassuring ways.
I can always
Look up to you for praise.
If I have thoughts
I need to share,
I always know
That you will care.
You always have
An open mind
A better stepdad
I could never find.
You give to me.
I am who I am because you love me.
Happy Father’s Day!!!!
Thank you for all your wisdom and kindness!!!
…and I love you!!!
Being on the road, or out of the norm, is always a mixed bag for me and my addictions. To date, I have found no “out of the norm” that even begins to threaten my sobriety from alcohol. My compulsive overeating is another matter. But I see the “out of the norm” really all comes down to the same thing – being prepared – not walking into a place blind. Years ago I would never have done that with alcohol. I always made sure I knew where meetings were. I had that planned out completely. I thought threw the entire process.
But last night I roll into a small town late. There is no real grocery store open to buy any food and I don’t really think through my options. There is fast food and that is about it. So, I “relapse” on crackers – something I can gorge on to fill my gut. But I also know it is getting better because I don’t so much compulsively overeat as eat a reasonable amount for a day’s worth of food. It’s just that my food sucks. That is a whole lot better than I have done in the past when on the road. I am pleased that last night I did not compulsively overeat for the same reasons I would drink – to escape reality. Instead, I ate crap because I did not plan better.
Once again, showing that this recovery business is a process not an event.