When moderation is the key to a glass of wine or two

Review: Annamia van den Heever

My Year of Not getting Sh*tfaced – How I tried and failed to give up alcohol and learned the joys of moderation, by Pamela Power (Jonathan Ball)

Script writer and author, Pamela Power, decides never to drink again after she cannot remember how, on Mother’s Day, she fell and hurt herself while dancing drunkenly – and other wild behaviours.

A day or two later she suffers a “severe shame attack” when her “Westcliff Wives” lunch companions remind her what had happened.

After a day of consistent celebratory drinking, Pamela is sh*tfaced, which she describes as: “Off-your-face, dancing on tables, loving everyone, maybe crying, thinking you’re super-sexy, singing into a beer bottle, room spinning, having to put one foot on the floor when you lie down, calling relatives in Australia drunk.”

She decides she does not want to be that person anymore.

Even though she does not need to join the AA, she realises she might be a serial binge drinker who needs to get her booze habits under control. She turns to “quitlit” – books about giving up – including Ruby Warrington’s 2018 book Sober Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Limitless Presence, and Deep Connection Awaiting Us All on the Other Side of Alcohol.

She is a television scriptwriter and script editor, and also the author of novels Ms Conception and Things Unseen, as well as being co-author of Chasing Marion. She has two adult children and one husband and lives in Johannesburg.

Pamela starts what she calls a “#sobercurious memoir” in which over a year – 367 days to be precise – she documents her attempts to get her booze habits under control, even though “the thought of having to survive social situations/holidays with no booze and cope with drunk people while not being drunk myself is scary”.

The book is an honest, poignant, yet humorous account of the year which coincides with the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. Her family faces financial troubles and life in their leafy Johannesburg suburb is hard as she attempts to stay on top of things by taking on a heavy workload while trying to be a supportive mother, wife and friend.

Through her, we experience all the frustration, irritation and surprising benefits of going dry. As she says about the book: “It’s a bit funny and a bit sad.”

We are drawn into her day-to-day ups and downs, her gratitude lists, her bouts of anxiety and insecurity. She reflects honestly on the pressures and exasperations of writing and editing – at the same time – three scripts for television series, a novel and a weekly blog for her husband’s tourism marketing company, which has no income because of the lockdown.

We get to know her family, her thoughts on whether to leave South Africa, the pandemic and “all the shit going down on a daily basis in SA”, including loadshedding.

Pamela meditates, watches motivational TikTok clips and puts wishful thoughts out to the universe.

Her involvement in writing the novel provides light at the end of the tunnel as she hopes it will be a bestseller. She and her co-authors (friends Amy Heydenrych, Qarnita Loxton and Gail Schimmel) are in the final stages completing Chasing Marian, about four strangers who become friends on social media and who have the same goal: to meet internationally renowned Irish author Marian Keyes. The novel was published to local acclaim in March 2022.

Once the year is up Pamela seems to have found a sweet spot between total sobriety and binge drinking: moderation. She has not got shitfaced once. The ending, she says, is “happy for now”.

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