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#33 – Yes, We’re Drinking Too Much During COVID-19 with Rob Lohman

The health impact of COVID-19 the disease has been well documented. However, less often discussed is the mental health impact. Drug use and liquor sales have skyrocketed in the past 6 months as the pandemic has increased. According to CDC data, problems with mental health, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation have all increased during COVID-19, especially among younger adults, racial/ethnic minorities, essential workers, and unpaid adult caregivers. As a podcast devoted to health and wellness, this is a topic that we thought it was important to address. 

In this episode, we talk to addiction specialist, and Intervention and Recovery Coach, Rob Lohman, NCIP, NCRC-1, MBA, NCGAC, about when that harmless weekly happy hour morphs into something different. View Rob’s Psychology Today profile, here. Rob shares his struggles with addiction and how he maintains sobriety. 

Listen on Google Play Music



This Episode Covers:

  • Difficulty of finding community during COVID-19 [3:55]
  • Do you have a drinking problem? [8:40];
  • Rob’s suicide attempt [15:00];
  • When drinking creeps up on you [22:00];
  • Extreme examples of alcoholism [25:00]:
  • The importance of community in mental health [31:00];
  • When you can’t afford to be rattled [38:00];
  • Gut health and mental health [45:00];
  • Finding joy in career [48:00];


Rob: And that was happening a lot more in intensity. But I was fearful to tell people that because what would you do if I came and told you and you and my boss or a friend or something that you would think I was what? Nuts or crazy like, you need to be locked up. And so I had this fear of what would happen to me if I was telling you what was going on inside of me. But also I was scared to death I was gonna die.

John: Welcome to the Gene Food Podcast. I’m your host John O’Connor. Hi, everybody, today we have on a guest named Rob Lohman. Rob is the founder of an organization called Lifted From The Rut. He helps people in intervention and recovery work, families, individuals, people who have gotten on the wrong side of alcohol, drugs, gambling. And why did I have Rob on? I had Rob on today because as probably many of you are aware, liquor sales and drug use have just shot up during COVID-19. As quarantine and isolation from our normal social routines continues, we’re drinking more. I mean, myself, I can say for sure, you know, during COVID I look forward to that 5:00 happy hour more than I have in probably ever. And you know, for the most part, that’s probably a harmless thing. But I wanted to bring on Rob and have him kind of give a cautionary tale about when that’s not a harmless thing, and when alcohol can become a problem and what to look out for, and really just kind of to give a sobering account of his own story and make us maybe think twice about turning to alcohol during a time like this. So, without further ado, here’s my conversation with Rob. I hope you enjoy and thank you for listening.

Okay, so I have Rob Lohman here. I’m really excited to have Rob on. I think that this is gonna be an important episode for a lot of people listening. I think it’s gonna be an important episode for myself interviewing. Rob is a specialist and an expert in addiction and recovery in alcohol and substance abuse. And not to say that that’s necessarily where I’m sitting with this. But the reason we wanted to have Rob on, you know, I sort of said that, and then I thought, “Well, yeah, no, I mean, it’s not necessarily to that level.” But a lot of us listening to this we’ve done COVID episodes and people at home are drinking a ton more. I know my friends are drinking a ton more. I’m drinking a lot more than I ever have. And so I wanted to have Rob on to talk to us about the implications of that, kind of on our health, on our well being and just talk about alcohol consumption generally. So Rob, thank you for coming on the show, my friend.

Rob: Yeah, thanks for your vulnerability too, John. This is actually an intervention because your friends are gonna hop on the show and say, “John, I notice you’ve been drinking a little bit too much.”

John: My mom’s gonna bust into the room. It’s like, “Yeah, I know you actually have been. We’re all gonna participate in the Zoom call. You thought it was a…you thought that you’re bringing Rob on for a podcast, but actually, everybody was gonna kind of join.” No, but look, I mean, I want to just have a free-flowing conversation with you about your story, how you come at this, how you started your organization. And then let’s just talk about our current time right now, which is crazy and which is causing substance abuse to go through the roof. So tell us where you’re coming at…from this at, you know.

Rob: I will say it with that lead in there that I’m so glad I did not find sobriety when something like COVID or a pandemic was hitting because that human interaction and that community was so big for me when I found sobriety 19 years ago, that I think it’d be really hard right now to say like, “Oh, yeah, I wanna find my community, a sober community.” It’s like, “Hey, you know, are you wearing shorts or just boxers today on the Zoom call that people know?” So it’s a harder time now I think to find that although meetings and stuff like that are highly accessible online. But there’s something about human interaction in recovery because they say addiction is, you know, the opposite of connection. It wants to isolate us. So kudos to people that are getting clean and sober and whatever words people wanna use for that in regards today versus 19 years ago, it’s totally different.

John: Yeah. No, that’s so true. And so you come at this as somebody who struggled with your own issues of addiction, and then you’re now using your story to empower and help people. So just introduce our audience to kind of your organization, how you came into this calling and, you know, the background story of Lifted From The Rut and all the work that you do.

Rob: Yeah, for sure. Well, I mean, I found a love for alcohol at age 14. I’m 48 right now. So from 14 to 29, it was just this like, constant search of I think like trying to fit in. And, you know, most everything we did in my community of friends and people was around alcohol. You know, playing golf, we were drinking. You know, going on dates, you drink. It was just like that was the community that I was a part of. And so I won’t get into a lot of like the crazy stories between that but it was just, you know, 14 to 29, you know, loved drinking, loved drugs, loved sex, loved gambling, just anything to take me out of who I was because I didn’t like who I was for a long time. And things started changing. We’re talking about, you know, like, a healthy, nutritious lifestyle, right? Well, mine was like, sugar and milkshakes and alcohol and cheeseburgers. But on the outside, I looked really good. Like, I was physically fit, I could run, I could lift a lot of weights but on the inside, I was just like, this complete hodgepodge of a mess. And so I’ll speak into kind of the chaos of addiction because I know people are at home right now, especially in COVID, and alcohol sales have, you know, depending on what statistics you read, doubled, tripled, quadrupled, whatever. They’re higher than they should be. And people have a lot more free time-ish because they’re at home now without commutes or anything like that. So, totally different ballgame but the desperation is still the same. You know, it doesn’t matter if there’s a pandemic or not, you know, the desperation of drinking too much, there’s something going on that’s not being filled inside. And for me, I just had a humongous hole in the inside of my life. I mean, I was suicidal. I dealt with a lot of suicide ideation before I got clean and sober.

Then I found recovery. I’m just gonna say right now that if you’re offended by me saying clean, and you want me to say like in recovery or whatever, just get over that because it’s basically just talking about changing a lifestyle. You know, because there’s a lot of stigma around that. And we can play around with words a lot, but the bottom line is addiction is some desperate attempt of trying to fill a void that’s not there and trying to figure that piece out. But so for me, it was just I hated who I had become. And…

John: Go ahead.

Rob: No, feel free to ask the questions.

John: Well, no, with the whole clean issue I mean, we’re taking a sort of a Rogan-esque approach here on this podcast so however you wanna describe it, you know, is however you wanna describe it. The words I think are that you choose are the words that we wanna hear. You know, I hear you talking about this kind of dark place where you’re self-medicating, and I think that’s where people are right now with this pandemic. You said addiction feeds on isolation. So many of us are closed off from the lives that we used to live and look, we can use myself as a case study. I just wanna riff on this and give people clues as to when drinking becomes problematic, how to spot it, you know, how to know. I’ve never had a situation where I felt like I could feel the sort of the talons, like the darkness of alcohol before up until maybe COVID-19. You know, I’ve always, I’m like you, I’ve always socially drank, you know, going on dates, drinking with friends. You know, I’m sure that especially in college and during my 20s and things like that I wasn’t drinking to a healthy level. It never screwed up my work, it never, you know, put me on some bad path. But I’ve just noticed, like, when I’m at home during COVID, you know, my Mezcal collection calls to me so much more powerfully than it ever has. You know, look I’m not waking up wearing a lampshade or drinking seven drinks or anything like that. But it’s a thing where it feels like it has its hooks in me more than I’ve ever experienced and it’s a weird thing to feel.

Rob: Yeah, and people ask me a lot like, “Hey, Rob, am I an addict or whatever, or you know, do I have a problem?” And I just say, “Well, I can’t tell you if you do or not,” but all I do is I say, “Think about what role drugs, alcohol, or shopping, masturbation, gambling, whatever, what role does that play in your life?” Like when life gets stressful do we run to a drink? Or if our bottle is getting low, do we start freaking out because we got to go to the store? But I can’t go to the store because I’ve been drinking, I don’t wanna get a DUI. So I get an Uber to go to the store to get the alcohol to come back. That might show there’s a cycle of an issue, you know, but it’s kinda like what role does the substance play in your life? And boredom at least for men is like the gateway to sin. Like, and this is really interesting but it’s, you know, just a gateway to things we don’t really wanna be doing more like that extra beer, that extra shot. But it gets to a point kind of like to where my life was in 2001 where I was really desperate to find change but I didn’t know how to change. And I had a job, all those things, but for mine was an attempted suicide the night before I found recovery. And it was a place I had to get to on my own drinking, drugging days to get to where I could find that relief. And it wasn’t something that was planned. It was a moment… I mean, I drank and drove eight nights a week.

Now, people aren’t driving as much because there’s no commute, right? I mean, I drank and drove all the time, and I was out all the time. And the night when I was hanging out in a bar, and all of a sudden the bar got completely dead silent and I audibly heard the words, “You’re done,” and then the bar got really loud again, that was like a spiritual awakening that I never had before but I didn’t know what it meant. I thought it meant you’re finally done drinking, or was I hallucinating or whatever was going on. But what I know happened that night was there was a spiritual shift in me that wanted something different and when I got home, I didn’t know… I was like on autopilot. I ended up grabbing…put about 350 pounds on a barbell, laying down on a workout bench, and I dropped that weight right across my chest. That was my out, you know. In the midst of that, what I believe happened was God grabbed that bar and said, “Hey,” talked to my dog, Jake and said, “Hey, nudge your dad’s leg and tell him it’s gonna be all right.” And literally, my dog started nudging my leg and just looking at me, and my first thought was “Who’s gonna feed you tomorrow morning?” And that bar got put back on the rack. And I just believe that was God that did it because I couldn’t lift that much.

But a complete shift happened in me to where I no longer needed substances in my life or one of them at all. And that desperation went away. And I found these rooms of recovery I was talking about earlier. You know, and for me, I got sober in AA, but it was that human touch, that human community, that feel, all those kind of things that was so key to recovery, and that’s consistently been a part of my life. When I’m in community, my life is a lot better. When I isolate, I start getting more restless, irritable, discontented, all of those things and I start acting like old Rob, you know, and I don’t like that guy. So now what I can say then like, my faith and life like that, and eating healthy… I still love sugar too much. That just hasn’t gone away. You know, things I can…there’s always things to work on but what I do know is as the substances went away, as I encourage your listeners as one thing goes away, other things can still be there. And for me, it was a gambling addiction that did not go away until, where are we at now, about 20 months ago, and that was from about 15 until 47 that gambling was always around.

And so even sitting at home now during COVID there’s the online sports betting. I mean, there aren’t many sports going on now, but you can find all sorts of stuff to still bet on, you know, silly things like statistics in the COVID statistics. There’s random gambling things out there like that, like, “What do you think it’s gonna be next week? So, but that removal from people, not only that, but even being out in a community where you wear a mask and you’re not truly being authentic and available to people is hard as well because it’s hard to be your real self when you’re covered up and talking like this all the time with people. So there’s a significant, not only…well, let me say this, our big wave of chaos coming next is this mental health pandemic that’s going on with people from the…not necessarily substances but just the mental illness and mental health is skyrocketing because so many people are so confused every day of what’s going on in the world.

John: Yeah, I mean, I talk to friends… There’s so much to unpack there. I talk to friends regularly who have lost their entire work culture. They relied on going into work. It’s something they really took a lot of pride in. You know, of course, they don’t love their boss or don’t love all aspects of their job but you see that gets chipped away. And now they’re home all day and we call each other. I mean, I’ve always had more of a remote job so I can adapt maybe a little better than some others, but people are just…they don’t know what to do. And those are cases of people that are actually in a very probably good position. I mean there’s other people…it goes totally unreported in terms of just how much this is affecting people and throwing off their equilibrium. I totally agree with you. I wanna ask you just going back to this event, you’ve told us about your sort of moment of clarity with alcohol. What was your thought process looking like in say the year leading up to that? And what I mean by that is, did you have the self-awareness to see and to know that you are being consumed by this and take half measures to combat it that failed repeatedly, or were you just totally all in on this lifestyle and rationalizing what you were doing without any attempt at…failed attempt at escape?

Rob: I was very well connected to…that things needed to change and I wanted them to change. So, in fact, even talking about just the fact of leading up to that year before that, you know, I mean, four months before my suicide attempt, I dealt a lot with as I said suicide ideation where I would literally see my…I’d be driving down, you know, the interstate in Indiana, in Fort Wayne, Indiana was where I was living at the time. Driving up the interstate, and I would literally see my car veer off the highway in like a vision or a moment and I would see it hit a median and I would see the car explode or something would happen. I would physically like, actually see myself dead on the side of the road. And that was happening a lot more in intensity. But I was fearful to tell people that because what would you do if I came and told you and you’re my boss or a friend or something that you would think I was what? Nuts or crazy, like, you need to be locked up. And so I had this fear of what would happen to me if I was telling people what was going on inside of me. But also I was scared to death I was gonna die. And that was going on about four months or so before my actual suicide attempt. And in the middle of that, I did take an effort to say, “I need to go get help.” And I knew of a 12 step program that I should attend. You know, and then we always say keep it below press radio and films, right. But you know, just go into a 12 step meeting, like I’m gonna give this a shot. You know, I’ve heard about this and I’m gonna go because I need…I was scared.

And so I went to this meeting. And what I remembered was, it was a smoking meeting, you know, good old AA smoking meetings. It was a smoking meeting. There was a speaker, and all he was saying was life sucked being sober and it would never get better. That’s what I heard in my head. What I learned later in sobriety was that was like the best recovery meeting in Fort Wayne, Indiana. It was not even a smoking meeting. And the meeting I went to wasn’t even a speaker meeting. You know, but that was my experience when I went there because I think that’s just what I wanted to believe. So I tried to stay sober on my own. And for three weeks, I didn’t drink a drop. And I was like, “Oh, I can do this.” I didn’t gamble either. I was like, I wasn’t gambling. And then I went to Vegas for a work trip and, you know, talk about, you know, chaos. And I remember going to a retailer’s meeting, and I drank non-alcoholic beer and I fake gambled with the money they kind of gave you to win prizes. And so I convinced myself I could do it, and I went on a three-day blackout bender in Las Vegas, didn’t remember like, almost anything that happened the whole time because I just started drinking the next day. And they say that when you stop drinking if you start drinking again, it could be stronger than it was before. And it was really a very intense ending from that period until I actually found sobriety. But yeah, I was not a good place.

John: You know me like having two or three Mezcals a night during COVID, you know, whereas, before I might have not…you know, I might drink once a week, or I might go nine months and not have a single drink. How do people listening at home who aren’t on that level, they’re not…they have their own issues, God knows we all do, but they haven’t had that level of acute issue. How do we calibrate this and look at this in your view?

Rob: Yeah, I always challenge people if they’re asking that question to themselves, like, is this a problem or something going on or how do I recalibrate this, it’s worth looking at why do I feel like my consumption has increased? You know, and is it boredom? Is it stress? Because, you know, so many people lose their jobs or just are at home now… I feel sorry for the extroverts, right, that are…like, the office clown, they’re kind of doing their thing and everyone’s laughing but now they’re like at home and just, there’s no one else around. And so a lot of our identity can be in our work but now we’re removed from work so now our identity is skewed. And even speaking to couples that are together at home now that used to have separate lives if you will, you go to your job, I go to my job, we come back, but now we are home, and you can start seeing the increase in alcohol in your spouse and it’s like, “I never knew you drank this much,” Because you used to drink during the day or going to lunch meetings or something like that or… I hear people having like Zoom happy hours, you know, with friends.

But a lot of it I think has to do with this extra time that we don’t know how to fill because again, we don’t have these commutes to work. We’re dealing with that spouse that we’re not sure if we actually really like them that much because we’re around them all the time, or the kids are around all the time and there’s all this noise and there’s chaos and the dog’s barking and people are doing roughs, right, you know, and it’s like, all these things are going on. So there’s that extra level of stress. And, you know, people are working from home. Like for me, I podcast from home, you know. I do a lot of recovery coaching from my computer, and intervention work, and advocacy work. But when my kids were home from school, it was really hard for them because like, “You guys, I’m on air. You got to be quiet for this hour. Like not a peep.” You know, microphones pick everything up, right?

John: Yeah.

Rob: It’s like you gotta be quiet. And so that would bring me a little bit more stress. But then I found a nutritional line that actually helped me with that, right, that kind of helped me bring that down a little bit. So, but I think when people are asking the question of, well, I used to drink once every nine months or three weeks where now I’m drinking two or three a night, I just challenge people to say like, “Well, why?” and start looking at the why.

John: Let’s look at that. I mean, let’s look at that. I mean, I volunteer that that’s part of my routine now when it really wasn’t before as much. And I think it comes down to stress. And I think it comes down to boredom. And I think it comes down to this smoldering dumpster fire of a catastrophe that we’re all sort of dealing with on a daily basis, the mental health issues that you talked about. And yeah, you take a hard look at that. I think what happens is there’s a lot of rationalization that goes on. You know, I think that there’s a lot of rationalizing, thinking, you know, for me I like straight up, I think, well, I know, my mom’s best friend’s husband, who’s now you know, 85 years old, he’s older than my mom’s best friend and he’s a guy who super healthy, he’s a physicist, and he drinks. He’s always been an avid drinker. And I think to myself, “Well, Stan has this beautiful rum in his house, you know, and he drinks every day. And if he saw what I was doing, he would think it was perfectly normal and he would tell me to have another one.” And if I was hanging out with my…you know, this nutrition influencer, whose podcast I listen to who I know drinks a bunch of wine, he’d say, “Dude, you’re only having a couple of Mezcals. It’s not a big deal. Maybe have that third one sometimes. It’s not a big deal.”

But in my own mind, I see it increasing. And I also see the trend in my friends. I know it because I’m asking friends of mine. It’s not like a scientific study, but I could think of five friends off the top of my head who are…we would kind of confess to each other like, “Yeah, I’m definitely drinking more,” which is why I wanted to do this podcast in the first place. And it’s like, “Damn, this is something that’s not healthy,” you know, and it seems as though it’s like you said, the unspoken herd of rhinoceros that’s kind of coming at us right now, you know?

Rob: Yeah, and when you talk about, like, your five friends you talk to and they see increases and stuff like that too, is it…? So I’ll ask people sometimes, I’ll say, well, is it just while you’re watching TV? Or what is going on when the alcohol consumption is happening? Is it just mindless kind of like, binging on Netflix and, you know, watching, you know, “Designated Survivor” which I’ve gotten hooked on recently? But you know, it’s like, what are the activities that are going on and if it truly is just boredom, or just fill in time with TV or gaming or whatever it might be, is there something else that if it’s bothering you, is there something else you could do? There’s only so many pushups you can do in your house. There’s only so much cleaning you can do in your house, if your life involves you not leaving your house very much. You know, so finding a hobby that could take some of that time. You know, go learn something new. Go learn how to play the guitar. Go learn how to…like, I don’t know, find another something to do on YouTube if alcohol is taking over. And figure out like, what is the environment that it’s happening in? Is it literally just sitting around like, “Hmm, what do you want to do now honey?” “I don’t know.” “You wanna watch another movie?” “Sure.” And it becomes this boredom dump. So find something that’s gonna spice it up a little bit I guess is what I’m saying.

John: Yeah, but then the thing is I mean, so why? Because in your experience how do you see these issues progressing? Like is this something where we need to warn people? Is this something some people listening at home might say, “Hey, if you have somebody who’s an addiction specialist, you know, if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail so even somebody who’s drinking more, they’re gonna kind of put it through that template?” you know, is that just…is that a valid point? Is that a rationalization? You know, so how do you view these progressions for people that you end up working with?

Rob: Even like the last three interventions I’ve done have all been a direct relation to COVID from family members being concerned to where, you know, when…you know, being furloughed from work, and you’re just at home. I mean, you’ve been with the company for 20 something years, they’re now letting you go, that’s like, you just don’t need to be there because we don’t need that many staff on. And so this was a direct result of just sitting around and literally… I remember he was telling me he would talk to his friends and say, “Oh, yeah, you know, Fred,” you know, I’m obviously changing all the names here, but he was like, “Oh yeah, I talked to my friend Fred and he actually fell down face first at the liquor store.” And we laughed about it because it was like, “Well, you almost got there.” But he needed the alcohol because he was running out and because he just literally sits around all day, nothing to do, no family…he didn’t live with family. He was just a guy on his own. You know, partly… I mean, his alcohol was bad before, right. But now, I mean, he would just say he would talk to his four best friends that all were, you know, furloughed. I guess…I mean I get the term wrong sometimes but basically, yeah, they’re furloughed, their job’s not in jeopardy, it’s just they’re at home. But they’re just drinking all day and they never did that before. And now this one individual is in treatment getting help because his family’s just like, “You’re gonna die.” And sure enough, when he went to the hospital, the doctor said, “You’re gonna die if you take one more sip of alcohol,” because he already had fat forming on his liver and, you know, cirrhosis was starting. And that was one extreme example recently.

And another one was just, you know, their loved one’s living at home, you know, smoking too much pot, right, and the pot intake was increasing and increasing. And the behavioral issues were increasing and increasing to chased the mom out of the house or putting holes in the wall because the pot was running low or it was just messing with their psychosis a little bit, and they just can’t handle the pressure of now not having a job, stuck at home with their mom and dad. And fortunately, he’s also in treatment changing his life right now. But it’s definitely a progressive thing with… Every situation I have right now, like I have a friend of a friend is now…just had a real bad detox moment. And I just wanna say to those people too, like, if you’re drinking tons of alcohol and you wanna detox at home by yourself, go get medical detox help because alcohol is one way that you can die if you try to detox on your own and you’re drinking excessively, your body can go into complete shock. And I have a friend whose spouse is currently in the hospital with tubes everywhere because it was such a horrendous self-attempted detox that now the person is just on like tubes everywhere and not sure what’s gonna happen to that person, so. If you have a concern…people have concern for a loved one, just don’t watch it. Like, have the conversations and be proactive to say, “I think there might be a bigger problem here than we’re leading onto,” because it gets scary, especially with alcohol.

John: Right. If you see somebody that has a serious problem, then don’t hesitate to speak up and try to get them help. What if you just are just talking to a friend…I mean, these lower-level kinds of situations to the extent that that exists, how do you do that? You said, maybe look for hobbies, look for other stuff to do. Like, talk to me to the person like, you know, sitting at home who knows that they’ve been self-medicating a little bit with alcohol, but they hear these stories and they think, “Well, detox no, intervention, probably not me. You know, I could easily take a couple, three, four, five days off if I wanted to,” kind of a thing, but I do know that like, “Damn, I ordered that case of wine and usually that case the wine I’ll have for Thanksgiving dinner, but that stuff’s like going fast.” Like, let’s zero in on that. What do you wanna say to that person listening at home?

Rob: I think I mean, be honest and real with your friends and just say, “Hey, man, I’m drinking too much. Like, what do you see in your own life?” And just have that honest accountability kind of piece. If you’re worried and concerned find an accountability partner to just talk through that and say, “Man, I don’t know why I’m drinking so much.” But yeah, not everything’s like a 911 emergency, right? That’s just like, “Hey, I’m just drinking two or three at night, and it was, you know, one every three weeks or something before.” And then it’s just saying, “Hey…” So how could you interact with your friends to occupy some of that time? And again, it could go back to hobbies, or even like… I mean, how many people do you know personally, John, that are truly happy with what they do for work?

John: Woo.

Rob: What percentage would you say?

John: The number that popped into my mind was 5%.

Rob: Yeah, that are truly happy, right?

John: Yeah. About 5%.

Rob: Yeah. So now there’s this extra time to reflect and think like, “Okay, you know what? I don’t even know if I wanna go back to that job that I have that I’m now at home doing Zoom with.” So take this time to like… There are so many… I mean, I don’t know if you are on Facebook much but if you go on social media, right, you can find one topic and it pops up everywhere. But it’s like, there’s so many free virtual summits that people are putting on that are great time killers for people. Just figure out what do you really wanna do?

John: Right.

Rob: Maybe there’s that entrepreneurial venture you wanted to go out on and do something with but you’re scared as heck to do it because you know you’re gonna fail, right? You tell yourself this. But now it might be time to like put together that business plan.

John: Yeah, it’s like, that Thoreau quote, I think it’s like, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

Rob: Yeah.

John: So you’ve got this desperation, you have this career that you don’t like, you know you don’t like it, you know you always wanted to do something different, it doesn’t feel realistic, you feel trapped. Now, you’re literally trapped inside. You’re worried that the job that you hate is gonna fire you. And you’re worried that you’re gonna catch COVID and get really sick, and it compounds and you don’t have your community as you said. I think one of the coolest things you said is as you became more integrated into a community, as you became more a part of the community, you became that much more healthy mentally.

Rob: Yeah.

John: And as you retreated from your community, your mental health declined. Can you speak more to that and what you’ve noticed in terms of the seasons and the moods of your mental health in that way?

Rob: Oh, yeah. Well, you think about when different seasons of life, right, when I found sobriety, I was single. And then years down the road in 2006, I meet my wife and now I’m married. All right, and then 2007 I’m now a husband, right. In 2008, I’m now a business owner and all these things I wasn’t before. So as my life became more full, I didn’t have time for the things that got me there, like recovery meetings, like Bible studies in church. I started isolating from that because I became what I say was a faith-driven man to a fear-driven man. And then it became my addiction of gambling started just rearing its ugly head. So now, I’m not using substances, but I’m dealing with dopamine depletion and dopamine hits and all this stuff up here to where… And then my daughter was born in 2010, it’s just all these things just kind of ran me into the ground or allowed them to because my mental fitness was not up to par at all. And so I started struggling with those things again of self-worth, and desperation, and suicide ideation, all these things started coming back, basically right where I was before I got sober. But I’m still in this gambling addiction so it’s just another thing.

And for me, it ended up in a mental breakdown in year 11 of my substance recovery, to where that breakdown was just a whole another long story. But that breakdown basically led me to prison for a short period of time, which completely opened my eyes to the importance of mental health and mental fitness, and just all these things that can keep you well balanced. But I didn’t even know I was there at that time again. But I was also, things were going on, I wasn’t telling people, again being vulnerable, because I didn’t want you to think I was like, crazy again because I was dealing with some self-harm things that I didn’t…I just did one day, I’m like, “Oh, that felt good, actually.” And so that sent me into a prison term to where I would say…and God did so many miracles through that that it’s just if you’re going to listen to one of my podcast shows, you can hear the whole story, but it’s pretty intense. But the biggest thing I took out of that was how important it is to have a solid foundation, to figure out who the heck we are because that job can go away. That 25-year-old career can just be gone. You’re home for a month, right and like, “Well, you see, people get laid off, but I’ve been there for 25 years, I’m good.” And then you get that Zoom call, right? Like, “John, we got to talk for real quick. I’m really sorry, buddy, but revenue has gone way down, we got to cut some more people and you’re one of them.”

And then now your identity was wrapped in work. And now you’re…and you tell yourself you’re nothing. I mean that’s the way I felt when I had my mental breakdown was. I felt like my wife thought I was not like…I thought my wife…I felt like my wife thought I was a piece of junk. She didn’t think that, that’s just what I told myself and I internalized a lot of this. I felt like I had failed as a father because it wasn’t providing well. Well, my kids weren’t telling me that but I told myself that. So whatever negative messages are going on people’s minds at home, don’t believe them.

John: With these types of substance issues and you’re talking about there’s fear and shame, are you more vulnerable to these projections of projecting onto other people this storyline that you’re just so wrapped up in that you don’t even have a perspective on? Like, is that what I hear you saying?

Rob: Yeah, I totally agree with what you just said. Yep.

John: Yeah. Because another thing, what I think of also when I hear these different epiphanies you’ve come to and the different perspectives that you’ve reached when you’ve done the work on your mental health, it’s almost like when you have someone close to you who passes away. And it just, it totally takes you out of this ridiculous mindset that you’re in every day where you’re so distracted by money and you’re so distracted by business growth, and you’re so distracted by future plans and what you’re gonna buy, and where you’re gonna go, you know, 10 years from now. And you’re gonna do all this and you’re gonna do this, and it’s just this constant thing you’re telling yourself and then somebody that you love, you lose them. And it sounds like, somebody woke you from a dream and you have this temporary urgency that gives you a much more loving, empathetic, kind perspective on everyone including yourself. But soon it goes back into sort of the fog of these distractions, you know, and right now we don’t have those distractions and so one of the ways that we distract and numb ourselves is with booze.

Rob: Yeah, that and food and all sorts of things because you hear that term a lot of people say, “I’m so busy.”

John: Yeah.

Rob: Like, I’m so busy.

John: I don’t have the time for that. I don’t have time for that.

Rob: I’m so busy. I’m so busy. And I don’t like the word busy at all. I like the word my life’s full, like, I’m…you could say I’m busy as heck with kids and soccer and sports and cross country and school and this and that. But my life is like full instead of busy. You know, and it’s finding those intentionality things. But what I started doing recently which actually was huge because I’m a visionary, so I’m always thinking of like, you know, “What could this look like?” And I’m launching a totally different podcast in a couple of weeks than the one I’m doing now. And I think a lot so…and I like to swim. And so when I swim now I literally put myself in this place where I’m just like, breathe, stroke, breathe, stroke. And I started doing that a couple of weeks ago and it’s totally different than just like, “Okay, I’m starting to think about the appointment, the meeting and who am I interviewing on the show today and da-da-da.” And I was like, “No, this is my time in the pool right now with me, myself and I.” And I would literally just sit there. And it’s so cool because it was so hard to do but now that I’m used to it, it’s just like, breathe, stroke. It helps me just slow down a little bit, which I think is important for a lot of people now again, especially because, like, I said earlier, no matter where there’s a pandemic, or we’re in a raging storm on a boat, or a placid lake fishing for bass, or just sitting there on a raft, wherever we are like, we’re there, and if I don’t know who I am, like, if I can’t figure out who I am, all this other stuff just doesn’t matter but, you know…and it can rattle me, but I can’t afford to be rattled anymore because I know where it takes me. And so I choose to not be rattled because I’m centered in who I am. And it took a long time to get there.

John: Yeah, and you said…there’s something you said just a minute ago, being somebody who was fear-driven as opposed to faith-driven. I feel like so many of us with COVID and all the insane things that are happening politically, we’re being put in this place where we have a sustained fear period. And it’s really difficult to get in equilibrium and to feel like you’re just gonna have a few moments of like really calm, centered time. And those moments are that much more rare. And we’re all looking for ways to just kind of put that uncertainty to bed for a minute and just go back to how things were, you know, before to the extent that they were certain even at that time.

Rob: Yeah, well, and you watch the news these days, too, and you’re like, “Okay, we can wear masks, we can’t wear a mask, we can go here, we can’t go here, we can go to church, we can’t go to church, we can…” I mean, every other day it’s just like, teeter-totter of, I can do this now they say I can’t, and I can go here… And my bank account, oh, I had the stimulus check. Oh, that’s not coming maybe till the end of the year. And I had $600 extra in my unemployment check, now that’s gone. You know, and they say it’s gonna be $400. Is it $300? Will it ever come? I mean, all that stuff is a lot of noise in the head.

John: Yeah, it is. It is. And I…and so this is interesting stuff because what I’m learning from you is that especially for the people that aren’t in a really acute situation where they’re really battling this in its most extreme because I think just like everything else, this is on a spectrum, so for the people like myself who are like you said, “Man, I’m just straight up…just alcohol is something I’m doing more than I did before COVID, before quarantine,” looking for ways to carve out moments during the day that are truly peaceful and that take a break from that fear cycle, whether it’s turning off the news or whatever the case, and that will then put you in the mindset that you’re gonna need to make better decisions from that place of calm, essentially.

Rob: Yeah, I mean, you’re more in tune with who you are. I mean, because even right now, I mean, I hear some people say, “Well, I can’t see anyone ever. Like, I can’t see people. Like, we’re not allowed to.” Baloney. You can call a friend and meet at the park for a hike. And if you need to walk 6 feet apart, do it. I mean, there are people out all the time. I’m on the trails all the time and hiking and doing stuff with my kids and we’re out, you know, and we’re out and about and there’s people out and about. And so for people that are really stuck at home because they feel like they’re not allowed to go anywhere, I’m not telling you to do anything you’re not supposed to do but, but I can say, “Hey, so and so, let’s go Lair o’ the Bear for a hike, you know, and take your mask if you need to or whatever.” But human interaction is possible these days if we seek it out and do it within the realm that you feel like you are allowed to be doing certain things.

John: Yeah. No, that’s right, seeking it out, actively trying to be around people, I think that’s good advice. So where do you see this going? You know, you mentioned that you think there’s kind of this mental health problem that we have now. How are you digesting what this looks like in the next six months or year?

Rob: Yeah, so about a month ago, I did this 21-day free virtual online summit about…called The A.R.T. of Intervention Project. And I interviewed…Vincent Atchity with Mental Health Colorado was one of the guys. I had 44 different experts. And I also interviewed Babu Mathew with NAMI, National Association on Mental Illness here in Colorado. And both of them said, “Rob, the biggest thing coming is this mental health epidemic, this mental health crisis.” Because right now, suicide attempts and successes are way, way up. Overdoses are way, way up. Alcohol consumption is way, way up, as we’re talking about, you know, overdoses, all these problems, which again, all of them are someone trying to find a solution to a pain that’s going on inside.

John: Right.

Rob: And that’s where we need to have these forums where we can actually have these conversations. And now we’re doing these through Zoom, but that’s why human connection is so important because that really does reduce a lot of these suicide ideations and these needs for these internal ailments that just to see people… And I was reading something earlier about…and again, don’t quote me on this, you guys. It’s just something I read over, I didn’t go into a lot of detail, but I can see the reality of this, that so many elderly people are dying in nursing homes because they just feel lost and they don’t have their loved ones. They can’t see their family. So what’s there to…? They give up. And a lot of people today no matter what age they’re giving up. When you hear about kid suicide rates that are so high right now because they’re just kind of giving up, they don’t get to see their friends. And so this whole thing of just it’s up here, if we can get our hearts right and our body aligned well through, again, I’ll say through nutrition and healthy guts, and healthy brains and all these things can really alleviate a lot of the chaos going on, the perceived chaos in our world.

John: Yeah. No, I mean, well, one of the things, we’re obviously “Gene Food Podcast,” we’re usually just a nutrition nerd podcast. I mean, I’m a huge believer in different dietary protocols and the impact of diet on mental health 100%. So I hear you there. At these summits what are some of the tactical strategies that leaders of these organizations for mental health are talking about to stem the tide of this problem?

Rob: I think the biggest thing I heard through…a theme through pretty much most people that I spoke was just this being authentic and vulnerable with other people and let them know how you’re really doing. Because I shared my own story… I wouldn’t tell people how I was doing because you would think differently of me. But if we can extend more grace, and more love to people, to have an open availability to just call and say, “Hey, Rob, like, I’m really feeling like crap today. And I don’t know what to do about it.” And sometimes I’ll talk…in like, a lot of the coaching and stuff I’ll do I’m like, “Well, let’s talk about the last 24 hours, 48 hours, last week, like, honestly, what was your diet like? What was your exercise like? What were your relationships like?” And there’s a lot of correlation between how we feel…I didn’t know this until about a year ago, how much of our emotional regulation comes from our gut.

John: Yeah, the entire gut.

Rob: I didn’t know that. Yeah. I had no clue about that. And then I started looking into it more and that’s one thing I talk to a lot of people about is, like, you know, that’s really important to get that taken care of, from a whole body perspective is to understand your internal makeup. But yeah, I think it’s…I mean, it’s just all related. I mean, we got this… You go talking about the whole being around family so much when you weren’t so much and now, you realize that maybe I don’t enjoy the person I’m living with. And that affects your mental health. Or maybe I’m gonna get fired next week, which affects our mental health. Or I just got hired and I hate this job, but I need it. You know, so it’s all these things play a role in to really how we feel about ourselves and how we perceive what’s going on around us, which a lot of times isn’t even a reality.

John: Rob, let’s finish off on this topic, which is the, “I hate my job, but I need it.” You know, I mean, because I’ve heard that come up a few times. I mean, me, having been an entrepreneur my whole career, you know, I get that. I don’t think I could ever work a normal job I think. In fact, I think I’m unemployable. The reason why I do what I do is because I’m actually unemployable. Not only could I not work another job, I would be bad at it. I would be bad at that job. And I would deserve to be fired. It’s not like oh, I’m you know… But speak to that. I mean, that’s something that’s come up consistently, and that’s been one of the doorways that we’ve identified for these if you wanna call them soft drinking and kind of, you know, low-level type things. So you seem to have an outlook on this. What’s your take on that person that’s sitting at home thinking, “Boom, that’s me, but what the hell can I do about it?”

Rob: I think being able to do something about it is the keyword because we have control to do something about that. So if I’m not happy, there’s something I can do to find happiness. If I’m overweight, there’s something I can do to become not overweight, right? So it’s about all that action. So, I mean there’s so many tools online that people can do these days, from just doing assessments, have fun, do assessments and just go play around with like, you know, Myers-Briggs and Holland Strong and just all these personality things online. And if you take enough of them, it’s gonna start painting this different picture about you. And if honestly, it’s like, if you’re lying on those kinds of things, you’re just lying to yourself. But I mean we go play around and take assessments out there and just see like, what’s the broader picture and what’s my real makeup? And start looking into that now and say, “Well, maybe I would be good at that.” Because I used to be a college career counselor at Indiana University and I would have parents call me up and say, “Why are you telling my daughter to not pursue teaching?” I said, “Actually, ma’am, I didn’t tell her that, I just encouraged her to explore her options before she settles on something she may not enjoy. Because she’s in my office talking about the only reason she wants to be a teacher is because you wanted her to be.” And this girl, it’s fun to watch people come alive with like, “Oh, my, gosh, I never thought of doing that. Maybe I would be good at that.”

And now we’re just gonna go back to this I have more time than I used to have, because of COVID, take this time now to play around with those things, or I mean, hire a life coach or a recovery coach like myself or somebody that can help keep you accountable or just do it on your own. But start exploring. Journaling is a huge thing for people because you can really figure out why you just had a bad day by looking backwards to figure out. And then you can put things in place to not have that bad day again. But if you’re not happy, and you’re in a job just because it’s gonna pay the rent and pay your bills, well, I don’t think we’re put on this world to be a miserable bunch of people. We’re supposed to thrive and find joy in our days and marriages and all those things. But we sometimes can become robotic and just like, “Well, I’m gonna go to work. I’m making $100,000 a year, there’s nowhere else I can make $100,000 a year and do what I do.”

John: Yeah, that happens all the time. I went to law school in a previous life. I’m a recovering lawyer. So I practiced law for a while mostly under my own flag, my own law firm, but I was in a big firm for, you know, like eight months. And that is the thing that happens to the legal industry is one of the most disgruntled industries in the entire professional world. People practice law, not because they really want to, but because of exactly what you just said, which is, “Man, they started me out, I made $145 grand a year. You know, now I’m of counsel, you know, I’m pulling down like $250k plus bonus and I got a mortgage and I got a couple of kids and I got a nice house and by the office. But I hate my job but I could never leave because if I did, I’d have to start at a rung of salary and status that’s lower than what I’m now enjoying.” And so they got you. And that’s built into the business model of law firms too, make no mistake about it. It’s not by accident that that kind of comes that way. So, you know, part of me says it’s easy to say, “Just leave your job,” because when you’ve got these other life pressures, you know, it’s not that easy, and I wanna be empathetic for that, but at the same time, if you do see a crack in the door, as Rob’s describing, maybe you can maybe during this time you could push through and look for something else. And that could be a solution. So I hear you, man. I hear you.

Rob: Yeah. It’s like the best time to dream about what you really wanna do in your life is while you have a job, right? You don’t wanna do that when you get let go or you get fired of COVID, but it’s like just start dreaming and just envisioning that if I’m not happy with where I’m now, or if I’m not happy in my marriage, or if I’m not happy, and, you know, I’m doing a horrible job as a single parent, they tell themselves, or whatever it might be, I believe most of it’s up here in the head. Like when you said, “If I’m making a quarter-million dollars a year, there’s no way that I could leave this.” I’ll tell you a quick piece. Recently, I had an intervention with a family. I got to meet one of the members of the family. And this individual is making a very, very, very good living in this one company she was working with and had an incredible story experience in her life with another company. And this is like a straight commission world, right? And in her mind, she’s like, “You know what, I’m so much more passionate over here on this side. I’m just gonna cut ties here and I’m done. We’ll go over here and build my empire again.” And you talk about job security, right? But it was a mindset thing. And she knew she could do it over here because she did it before. And it’s gonna take a while, but she knows she can get there again. So I believe that a lot of limitation is in our head. In my own life because I used to be a self-sabotager of my own success. I don’t do that anymore. Thank goodness, right? But the mind is where it’s all at, the mind and the gut, man, get them aligned and you can do so many things.

John: Yeah, I totally agree. I totally agree. I mean, a lot of the best sort of entrepreneurial commentary I listened to, you know, the kind of the camps are split. Some people think you go out and you start your business and, you know, you follow what you truly wanna do right away. And a lot of others think you kind of build up your, you know, maybe your FU Fund, you know, that you slowly ship into. And then once you’ve got the FU Fund ready to go and you wanna pull the plug, you know, the FU Fund can support you and that’s kind of the direction of your passion. It’s a tough call but taking steps towards something that’s a little more fulfilling I think is a great message. And man, good conversation, Rob. I really appreciate having you on. You mentioned other podcasts you’re on and your organization. Where can people find you on social media and Facebook and all that stuff?

Rob: Man, just go look up Lifted From The Rut. You can find it in a lot of places. But if you just Google my name, Rob Lohman, L-O-H-M-A-N, you can find all sorts of interesting stories about that. But you know, the easiest way I tell people is, is like just text me or call me. I mean, it’s the easiest, fastest way to connect with me. If you’ve got a crisis, don’t Facebook message me, just call me up at 970-331-4469 and I will help get you in the right direction.

John: Cool. That’s awesome. Thank you so much for your time. Great story, I learned a lot, a really good conversation. Thanks, Rob. Well, I look forward to staying in touch.

Rob: You got it. Sounds good.

John: The “Gene Food Podcast” is our attempt to synthesize the latest developments in the fields of genetics, nutrition, and medicine, and offer you practical tips and stories you can use in your own unique health journey. If you enjoyed this podcast you can find more information online at

John O'Connor

John O'Connor is the founder of Gene Food, a nutrigenomic startup helping people all over the world personalize nutrition. John is the host of the Gene Food Podcast and a health coach trained at Duke's Integrative Medicine Program. Read his full bio here.

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