in a bottle
Bob Colbert writes about life as an alcoholic
by Jim McCarty
Colbert's novel "Last Call" is loosely based on his own
struggle with alcoholism.
Is this book your
life story?" Bob Colbert gets asked the question many times by people
who have read "Last Call."
The question is
not a flattering one. Bob's novel "Last Call" is about the dark, gritty,
hopeless life of an alcoholic. It's so heartbreakingly accurate that many
readers question whether anyone can drink that much.
Bob, a member
of Cuivre River Electric Co-op from Troy, assures them it's possible.
He should know.
Now 63, he was
35 when he realized without a doubt he was an alcoholic. For most of his
adult life he would start drinking and find he could not stop.
He drank in the
morning while his kids ate breakfast. He drank in the car on the way to
work. He drank enough at lunch to put most people under the table. Even
that wasn't enough. He found his cravings so intense that he would pull
on a bottle at work to keep him going until happy hour. Then he would
keep drinking until it was time to fall into bed.
"I was like Gabe,"
Bob says, comparing himself to the main character in his novel. "I woke
up one morning when I was 35 and my body and my brain were like a transmission
stuck in neutral. I couldn't function, I couldn't think."
have a problem and doing something about it are two different things,
however. It would take Bob many more years of hard drinking before he
found the strength to sober up.
He has no idea
what made him do it. Like so many days before, Bob was driving drunk.
Then, for no apparent reason he pulled over, got out of the car, found
a doctor's office and asked for help. At 50, he found himself in an alcohol
treatment center, trying to sober up.
"I tend to think
God was looking out for someone else and got me out of that car," Bob
recalls. "Because I was probably headed to kill somebody."
At first Bob resented
the religious signs on the walls of this faith-based rehab center. He
was an agnostic, one who questions the existence of God. But during the
group sessions Bob found himself breaking down and weeping bitterly.
was not adequate," Bob says of the tears he shed that day.
Finally he went
into the tiny shower stall of his room and prayed for the first time in
years. "That's when I felt this weight, a physical sensation of it just
going up my back, not fast but very steady as if to make sure I noticed.
And I knew then that I didn't have to drink anymore."
Bob felt he had
been given a gift. But he also realized keeping that gift would require
changes. He started therapy and the 12-step Alcoholics Anonymous program.
He's stayed with the program for 14 years, and considers his success almost
"Those 12 steps
basically lead to humility but along the way you suffer humiliation,"
Bob says. "No one wants to humiliate themselves. That's the price you
pay. If you do these steps you'll get better."
Bob discovered he had time on his hands. "Not only do you find more money
in your pocket that you aren't used to," he says, "you have all this time,
all that dang time you wasted before."
He started writing
again, a skill he was trained to do but never put into practice. Bob went
to college to be a journalist, but upon graduating discovered jobs in
his field didn't pay much. So, he took a job as a salesman and that would
be his career.
Trying to shed
light on alcoholism, Bob began the painful process of writing what became
"Last Call." And who better to tell the tale than someone who was literally
on his last call and somehow found the strength to recover?
"I had a real
desire to tell this story in a way that would do some people some good,"
Bob says. "The part that was difficult was that I wanted it to be authentic.
It was tempting to cut a corner for Gabe and maybe make him a little heroic.
But I felt like then I would be giving away the one thing I had to offer
to this thing and that's authenticity."
Bob has only
one criticism of his efforts. "It makes achieving comfortable sobriety
look easier than it really is for most people," Bob says.
In the book Gabe
wakes up and confronts the demons that drove him to drink. From that moment
on, he moves rapidly into sobriety. He avoids the client lunches where
drinking is almost required. He makes peace with his estranged daughter.
And he proves, as Bob has, that alcoholics can recover.
Perhaps the author's
greatest achievement in writing "Last Call" is the fact that those reading
the book find Gabe likeable enough to care what happens to him in the
end. And that fact underlies a lesson Bob hopes readers will take away
from his first novel.
He wants people
who love an alcoholic to take control of their situation, quit making
excuses for their loved ones and instead encourage them to seek help.
His first effort
achieved, Bob has a second novel complete. This one deals with race relations.
A third novel dealing with personal growth is in the works.
He remains sober
but like the character he created, he lives one day at a time, glad for
is available at On Cue in Troy, (636) 528-2762, or direct from SterlingHouse
Publishers, The Sterling Building, 440 Friday Road, Pittsburgh, PA
15209. You can find the nearest Alcoholics Annonymous Chapter in any telephone
directory or at www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.