The Elusive Off Switch

Why Don’t I Have an Off Switch?

I used to ask myself this question a lot as a drinker. I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that other people could manage to enjoy a few drinks, even becoming quite obviously drunk, but then always and reliably be able to count on themselves to call it a night at the appropriate time.

Not me. At two, three, even four o’clock in the morning and with all manner of challenges facing me the following day from the everyday demands of being a mother, to postgraduate level degree examinations, to job interviews, to packing and setting off on holidays, I would regularly be scouring the cupboards in the hope of discovering a long-forgotten bottle. I once happened upon a beer delivery service when a flier dropped through my letterbox; the answer to my prayers, here was a bloke who drove about during the night dropping off an array of alcoholic beverages and packets of cigarettes to all those (like me) who were after ‘just one more’ in exchange for a slightly inflated charge and a drunken display of gratitude.


For many years I struggled with the knowledge that, on occasion, I went way too far with regards to my alcohol consumption. Regrettable ‘romantic’ encounters, throwing up and destroying yet another carpet, dramatic tumbles ensuing in large, unsightly bruises oddly located around my body – whenever these things happened, I knew I had no off switch. And yet, because such terrible instances did not arise out of every single drinking episode, I was able to reassure myself that when they did, they were one-offs, oddities, freak incidents that could happen to anyone who enjoyed alcohol.

My booze-related accidents were something I accepted as part and parcel of a drinking lifestyle. And in between times, when I did display something akin to an off switch and managed to get myself to bed prior to anything horrific taking place, I comforted myself with the belief that I was, after all, the same as everyone else; I was able to act responsibly, at least some of the time.

For me, drinking was, essentially, a game of Russian roulette. Whenever I picked up the first drink of the evening, I was entirely unaware of how things would pan out. I did not know whether this would be a night when I’d have a few drinks but would then remember that I needed to down some water and go to sleep, because otherwise tomorrow would be hell on earth. I did not know if I would throw caution to the wind and find myself ringing the beer delivery man at two in the morning, holed up in some stranger’s house, smoking and drinking until dawn broke.

I desperately wanted to know why I didn’t have a reliable off switch, but for twenty years I could not simply accept the fact that I didn’t. On my final night of drinking, my off switch finally gave up the ghost. This facility that many people have and which enables them to ‘drink responsibly’ fizzed and popped and eventually blew up altogether. I was like a dog with no concept of having its appetite satisfied – the more booze I could lay my hands on, the more I poured down my neck. And on and on I went, until finally, with the expiration of that little switch, I fell unconscious and wound up in hospital.

I am glad that my little faulty off switch ultimately died for ever. It made everything so straightforward, so black and white. After I quit drinking, I stopped asking myself why I did not have the ability to stop drinking at the optimum point in the night, and instead, threw myself into being a person who just doesn’t drink alcohol. I no longer have to worry whether my off switch will be functioning when I go out socially, and there are no more awful ripples of disaster to have to cope with because it failed to work properly. It’s existence, broken or not, is simply of no concern to me anymore. And that’s the way I like it.

8 thoughts on “The Elusive Off Switch

  1. Lola says:

    I, too, can relate to what you wrote (although we don’t have a beer delivery man available in the wee hours! THANKFULLY) Thanks for nailing it.

  2. stuey says:

    A really nice post, and sums up my former-self entirely. For me not drinking is actually so simple and easy. (OK so it’s a little socially awkward at first, but that gets better after a while). For me what was always hard was trying to drink moderately. I tried many, many different plans, schemes and approaches, with varying degrees of success, but none of them were anywhere near reliable enough. Simply not drinking is the best scheme for me….

  3. MissSoberAgain_v2.0 says:

    I’ve been sober again for a week after 9 years of trying to get my off switch to work. I got sober young and stayed sober for 16 years, but I don’t know that I was ever completely convinced that my drinking wasn’t just a youthful phase. This go-round, as an adult, I’m convinced that I have a broken off-switch. Like Stuey, not drinking is not that difficult for me. It’s moderate drinking that always had that “Russian Roulette” quality. After a night that was supposed to involve 2 simple glasses of wine, but that spiraled into chaos and oblivion into the wee hours, I got tired of fighting the damn switch. Thank you for your piece— I’ve read it almost every day of this new sobriety. I felt like you read my mind.

    • Hi there, thanks for getting in touch. I’m really pleased that this post has helped you, and that you have reached the very freeing place in your life where you’ve found the strength to stop fighting. It will bring you a lot of freedom and peace of mind, I’m certain. Good luck on your journey – all the best. Lucy x

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