Recovery Unplugged: Saving Lives With Music in the Mile High City

by Jill Gleeson

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday September 3, 2019

Colorado's LGBTQ population experiences higher rates of tobacco, alcohol and substance use.
Colorado's LGBTQ population experiences higher rates of tobacco, alcohol and substance use.  (Source:Getty Images)

Rob Lohman didn't get sober at Recovery Unplugged. He did that 18 years ago, long before Recovery Unplugged's flagship center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, opened and redefined what recovery could look like for thousands of addicts. But the nationally-certified interventionist and recovery coach had heard about the program, which uses music to help alcohol and drug addicts get clean and stay that way, from a couple of clients. He'd seen the changes effected on them by Recovery Unplugged. And he wanted in.

"One of my patients went through detox, residential and outpatient — Recovery Unplugged's continuum of care," Lohman recalls. "He ended up staying down in Austin and opening a sober living house, and Recovery Unplugged really supported and helped him. I felt like people in Colorado needed to hear about it, so last year I reached out to them."

Rob Lohman
Rob Lohman  (Source: Recovery Unplugged)

The Journey to Sobriety

Lohman's role at Recovery Unplugged's Denver Outreach Center is to help addicts answer the difficult question, "Do I need help?" But needing help and getting help often comes with hurdles.

"I had someone come in who was familiar with the Florida program," says Lohman. "He was a musician, although the majority of people who come to us aren't — you don't have to be. He didn't have any funds available. So, I talked to him about MusiCares, which is part of the Grammys. He was able to get a scholarship through it and go to our Austin program. He's still sober today."

MusiCares grants short-term financial assistance for personal or addiction needs, and is just one example of how Recovery Unplugged connects with the music industry and beyond for those in need. Recovery Unplugged's comprehensive admissions process looks at all of the options to help addicts get and stay sober.

Lohman also welcomes home Recovery Unplugged alumni, connecting them with aftercare resources in the Denver area and, occasionally, interviews people with especially compelling recovery stories for Recovery Unplugged's Facebook live chats. He hosts monthly community events like "Sober Session Open Mic" and "Musicians in Recovery," which he says are his way of "giving back to the community."

Even before he saw music work its magic on his clients, Lohman understood its ability to help heal the most battered psyches and entrenched substance dependence. "Music played a really big role in changing my life," he says. "Just putting on good, positive music was a big part of my recovery, and that continues today. Music speaks to everybody. It's a universal language that connects people. Our addictions want us to isolate, so music is really the opposite of that."

(Source: Getty Images)

Embracing the LGBTQ Community

There's no doubt Denver needs the services of Recovery Unplugged. The city, like so many others, is struggling with a surge in methamphetamine- and heroin-related deaths.

According to the Colorado Department of Health, more people in the state perished from overdoses last year than ever before. And studies have shown that the queer community, which experiences a complex array of stressors the general population doesn't, are particularly vulnerable to substance abuse, within the Centennial State as well as nationally.

But music transcends gender or sexual orientation. Through music, Recovery Unplugged harnesses the power of acceptance and inclusivity to ensure that everyone who walks through the door is empowered to get — and stay — sober.

It's a challenge facing more and more Coloradans each year. As reported last year by the Denver Post, "Colorado's LGBTQ population — roughly 200,000 people — experience higher rates of tobacco, alcohol and substance use, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment... In a separate state survey," the paper added, "25 percent of lesbian and gay respondents and 28 percent of bisexual persons reported binge drinking, compared to 16 percent of heterosexuals."

Recovery Unplugged specializes in providing LGBTQ people a safe, respectful space that embraces and encourages diversity. In this environment, guided by music's curative energy, emotional walls are shattered, and true healing can begin.

"We do these open mic sessions Wednesdays in our facilities," Lohman says. "Maybe someone performs a song they wrote, or sings something from karaoke that speaks to their pain, or reads a letter to their daughter that says, 'I'm sorry,' for the first time — it's all very powerful. Other people in the program watch, they see how addiction hurts other people and not just themselves, and it teaches them to be vulnerable. There's so much power in that."

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Jill Gleeson is a travel and adventure journalist based in the Appalachians of Central Pennsylvania. Find her on Facebook and Twitter at @gopinkboots.