….And then I would rise, walk up and down the room – sheer motion, the great therapy of the restless man, pour myself a small drink –which seemed to help, go back to my chair, and begin again the farce of preparing to get down to work.  And in a while the whole procedure would be repeated, and then later, it would be repeated again.  The only change was one of emphasis; as time went by, the small drink got no smaller.  Slowly it became more important, and over the months the occasional help came to be steady necessity.   At all hours; at night so that I might sleep; the first thing in the morning, to deaden the passage into the long, dull empty ache of the day…

-Edwin O’Connor, The Edge of Sadness

Restlessness.  In having worked with individuals struggling with chemical dependency, this is the theme that courses through various discussions, that intersects conversations about the ‘why’ and that joins together those who have no other connection.  “I was restless and uncertain.”  Some might call this anxiety, and I’d be remiss if I said I didn’t agree to the extent that it is a form of an unsettled mind, but often, there’s a restlessness that comes with a thought, a memory or a seemingly innocuous interaction remembered later in the day, that has the muscle to overwhelm what might have been an otherwise peaceful moment. 

We all succumb to restlessness at some time or another.  It may very well be one of the mightier plights of the human condition.  Or rather, it might call us to new inspiration, providing the motivation to drive us forward into something new/better.   Restlessness, however, to one besieged by past trauma, negative memories, poor decisions, and the like, often takes the form of chemical dependency, as so beautifully written by Mr. O’ Connor.   It becomes a “steady necessity” in managing the restlessness that arises over a period of a few years, weeks, days, hours, or even minutes.  I’ve heard people say, “It came out of nowhere, but there it was.”  The restlessness.   It is often a deep and abiding form of agitation soothed only by the numbness that a chemical provides in the moment.  And so chemical dependency is born, at least for the majority of people I’ve encountered in the work I do.  When we really dig into it, it’s the restlessness that overcomes.  And so… we dig deeper, dig further and farther, in order to better understand the origins of our restlessness and how to power through those moments, ultimately, without taking a drink.  And that, takes muscle all its own. 

Written by Ann Kellogg, MS, LPC