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Rural Missouri Magazine

Message in a bottle
Bob Colbert writes about life as an alcoholic

by Jim McCarty

Bob 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."

Recognizing you 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.

"My handkerchief 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 miraculous.

"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."

Sober again, 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 the opportunity.

"Last Call" 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.

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