Sara Hendren has a brief note on alcohol and its “slowing and clouding effect” but it’s a phrase she uses later on that made me want, briefly, to revisit something.

The off-switch from the head noise that might otherwise demand some closer attention and grant some liberating changes.

This effectively is what I’ve referred to as alcohol acting as a masking agent, and it’s an idea I first hit upon when discussing smoking although I didn’t finalize the term until later.


For decades, my socializing nearly always involved drinking. For years after moving to Portland, I spent almost every night out at a bar. The thing about alcohol is that is disinhibits both behavior and judgment—internally for oneself and externally among others. Social communication is both smoothed over and social foibles forgiven if even noticed.


The tapping and packing of a freshly pulled out cigarette. The switching up how you’re holding one when its lit. The flicking of the lighter. In essence for two decades I had a sort of masked stimming, for lack of a better term. Stimming that was in the form of a thing many people, autistic and allistic alike, did as a matter of addictive course, and so unnoticed as my being autistic.

In my case, then, the “head noise” being masked was the fact that I was unknowingly autistic.

It’s anyone’s guess whether or not my autisticness somehow would have drawn attention to itself absent my various masking agents. As I’ve argued before, the gravitational pull of society’s demand for conformity itself means you unconsciously hide things even from yourself anyway.