Rob Lowe remembers the moment he hit bottom.
He was too loaded to talk, but his mom called over and over again.
“Pick up. Your grandfather’s had a heart attack,” his mother kept saying to Lowe’s answering machine.
After yet another night of binge drinking, the impossibly handsome Hollywood star looked into a mirror and saw how ugly his life had become.
“It was a like a bad scene in a movie. I couldn’t pick up because I was too f***ed up,” Lowe recalled.
He found himself at a crossroads. A bottle of tequila sat nearby. He also had a business card for someone who could help him get treatment. He’d been carrying the card in his wallet for a year.
“I thought, I could drink all this tequila, so I could sleep, then handle it all tomorrow,” Lowe said Thursday night in Denver. “That is the definition of insanity.”
Instead, he called for help and checked himself into a treatment center in Tucson, Ariz. He ended up loving rehab and the 12-step program that saved his life.
“I haven’t had a drink or a drug since,” Lowe said.
That was 28 years ago.
Lowe, 53, shared his story of recovery at a benefit for UCHealth’s Center for Dependency, Addiction and Rehabilitation, CeDAR. The event, Critical Conversations, raised money for scholarships for people who need both residential and outpatient treatment programs.
CeDAR has facilities in both Aurora and Boulder and is one of the few rehabilitation centers in the U.S. to be associated with an academic medical center. As a result of those ties, patients benefit from teams of addiction specialists who use proven, research-based treatment methods.
Lowe’s appearance came as medical experts and policy makers grapple with the newest addiction epidemic.
“We know we have an opioid crisis,” said Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, who also spoke at the CeDAR event. “We have so much more awareness to bring to this issue. If we do everything we can to educate as many people as we can, more of our neighbors and friends might seek the treatment they need.”
She said it’s essential to shatter stigma over addictions and open doors to treatment for those who need it.
Susan Dearing-Bond, CeDAR’s Director of Development and Marketing, conducted a casual armchair interview with Lowe at downtown Denver’s Seawell Ballroom.
“Reducing the stigma comes from having the conversation,” Dearing-Bond said.
Lowe also spoke before the event in private with people who are in recovery. He’s very much part of the tribe.
“I remember having one week, then 90 days, then a year. Those were the best days of my life. My first sponsor had 11 years, 11 years! He’s Yoda. Then you wake up one day and you have 28 years,” Lowe said.
Lowe became a star back in his teens as one the so-called Brat Pack, young beautiful stars who appeared in popular coming-of-age movies like “The Outsiders.” On set, adults plied teens as young as 15 with alcohol. And so began Lowe’s descent into alcoholism and drug abuse.
In his teens and early 20s, he remembers looking up to friends who hung out at alcohol-soaked parties at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles and in Aspen, where they snorted cocaine off the tips of skis.
The self-deprecating star, now 53, has two sons who are 21 and 23. Lowe speaks openly with them about addiction, so they can avoid the pitfalls he endured at their age.
He acknowledges that some people can drink in moderation. But he’s not one of them.
“I’m not interested in your glass of wine,” he said. “I’m interested in the whole bottle.”
After getting sober at age 25, Lowe went on to enjoy a career full of both film and TV successes, with award-winning roles on “The West Wing” and “Parks and Recreation” along with film roles in everything from “St. Elmo’s Fire” to “Wayne’s World” and an Austin Powers flick. This year, he will appear in the film, “How to Become a Latin Lover.”
Recovery is at the core of his life every day.
“It’s so much in my DNA. Today, it’s rigorous honesty and trying to be my authentic self,” Lowe said. “I have no secrets.
“The hardest thing to give up is that. Everybody wants that secret little part of life: drinking, drugs, alcohol, gambling, eating,” he said.
Lowe confessed that he’s sometimes guilty of 3 a.m. Häagen-Dazs binges.
“I get that same feeling like when I was going to score (drugs). I don’t want anyone to know. When I’m eating, it’s ‘Yes!’ Then, when it’s over, you go into that shame spiral. It’s exactly the same thing. I’ve just made it a little more healthy.”
Lowe has great sympathy for family members who can’t force loved ones to seek treatment. He’s participated in many interventions and says his own family members and friends were about a week away from staging one on his behalf when he checked himself into rehab.
“The issue is you can never do it for anyone other than you. No one is going to get sober for a job or a wife or their kids. Not everybody makes it. I had a little segment when I thought I was ready. But I wasn’t,” Lowe said.
“That’s the great letting-go that family and friends have to come to terms with. It’s the balance between wanting to be supportive and knowing what the other person needs, but they don’t know it yet. You’re trying to keep them safe,” he said.
Lowe said he had to come to terms with the idea that he could be a fun person without drugs and alcohol. He could get married without a champagne toast or celebrate the birth of a baby without a drink.
He discovered that life is great when you’re sober.
“I am more fun. I’m happier than I’ve ever been. It’s very hard to give (drinking and drugs) up. But, if I weren’t having fun, I’d be getting loaded again. We’re not here to be bores.”
Lowe said he relished the corny sayings and truisms once he got help.
“I loved being in rehab. There’s no shame in it. It was like going to college. I got a PhD in addiction. And there’s more science today than there was 28 years ago,” he said. “If people could talk and think in terms of getting an education, in terms of learning about your body and mind chemistry, (that would help),” Lowe said.
In Hollywood, plenty of people go to rehab as a PR move, rather than when they’re sincerely ready to get help.
“It’s a serious place for serious people, but it’s unbelievably fun and challenging if you’re into it,” Lowe said.
“I wear my recovery like a badge of honor.”