The common wisdom is that the first three to five days of sobriety are the hardest. My personal experience of quitting drinking certainly fell in line with this. During my first days of sobriety, the physical symptoms of withdrawal were at their peak — I couldn’t think clearly, I could barely sleep, and the minutes crawled by as if my life were moving in slow motion. I felt a constant urge to drink from the moment I woke up until the moment I fell asleep.
Fortunately, this acute stage of withdrawal passes relatively quickly. Although the first days of sobriety are long, there aren’t many of them. Within a week I had already started to feel better and my cravings became less frequent. The awful mental and physical strain of withdrawal subsided, replaced by the sensation that recovering addicts call the “pink cloud.”
The “pink cloud” refers to a nearly euphoric state that many recovering addicts feel after getting through the early withdrawal symptoms. While I was in the pink cloud, I felt like I was on track for a perfect life. I was motivated to exercise more and improve my diet, and it seemed like every day I was running forward on the path to self-improvement. Life felt great.
Unfortunately, the pink cloud doesn’t last forever. For me, it disappeared after only a month. For others, it can last longer, but rarely more than a year. And when the pink cloud disappears, the second hardest part of sobriety begins.
The month after the pink cloud was an incredibly trying experience. Although I was no longer feeling the physical symptoms of withdrawal, the mental challenges of sobriety were tougher than ever. It felt as if one-half of my thoughts were at war with the other half. The following are just a few of the problems I had:
By the time the pink cloud subsided, my cravings for alcohol had thankfully grown much less frequent. Unfortunately, when a craving did appear, it was stronger than ever.
Most of my cravings were brought on by stress, but sometimes they seemed to come for no reason whatsoever. Some cravings would disappear after a few minutes, while others went on all day. The best tactic I found for dealing with the cravings was to get out of the house and distract myself with an activity. I couldn’t always make a craving go away completely, but distracting myself tended to at least decrease the intensity of a craving.
The Temptation to “Moderate”
During this time I also kept catching myself second guessing my sobriety. I reasoned that if I could make it a couple months without alcohol, maybe I didn’t have a problem at all. I went through mental gymnastics, calculating how often I could get away with a drink without risking returning to addiction. I tried to come up with some way that I could be a “moderate” drinker.
Of course, it’s easy to see from the outside that this kind of thinking is full of faulty logic. Although there are plenty of people in the world who can drink alcohol in moderation, it just isn’t in the cards for me.
When I started to feel the temptation to try “moderation,” I’d turn to a trick I first heard from another addict: “playing the tape forward.” I’d picture what would happen if I tried to just have a few drinks on a weekend — realistically, it wouldn’t take long before I was back to drinking every single day. Going through this thought process was a huge help at resisting the temptation.
Struggling to Take Things One Day at a Time
The biggest challenge I had during this period was to remember to take sobriety one day at a time. I’d catch myself wondering too much about whether I’d still be sober in a year, or a decade, rather than worrying about the present. There are times when it’s important to think about the future, but during the first few months of sobriety, it really helps to just focus on the here-and-now.
If any readers are newly sober and finding themselves coming out of the pink cloud, remember to keep taking things one day at a time. Think back to the strength you had getting through the first few days of sobriety. You were able to get through the withdrawal and constant cravings, so you will be able to get through this second difficult period as well.