Interview with Michael Lohan
ichael Lohan is a TV personality turned minister who has chosen to dedicate the rest of his life to the treatment and recovery of individuals suffering from drug addiction. Famously known for being father to popular actress Lindsay Lohan, Michael’s life has not been a stranger to the strongholds of drugs and alcohol.
Michael’s childhood was surrounded by a good family, as he describes it. He had never touched drugs or alcohol throughout high school and college. He began college studying pre-law with hopes of attending law school after graduation. Michael realized law school was not his calling after performing poorly on his practice boards during his third year. He sought options elsewhere when his Godfather invited him to work at his firm on Wall Street. This is where Michael Lohan’s life would take a dramatic turn.
Michael’s Introduction To Drugs And Alcohol
“I went from living a very humble, quiet life to the fast pace of Wall Street.” As he describes it, Michael’s relationship with drugs and alcohol was ‘in control’ during his time on Wall Street. On the weekends, he reported that he would go out with colleagues to drink and occasionally snort cocaine, but that the drinking and drug use would never affect his job. “I hate to say it was controlled,” Michael admits, “but it was to a degree.” Michael’s explanation of this control was the fact that alcohol and drug use would begin on Friday after work and end on Sunday, keeping his mind clear for work on Monday morning.
“I went from living a very humble, quiet life to the fast pace of Wall Street.”
In 1985, Michael married Dina Sullivan after a quick 6-month engagement. He reminisced on his introduction to Dina, describing it as a ‘whirlwind romance’. Less than a year later, the couple welcomed first child Lindsay into their lives. The birth of Lindsay brought Michael’s drug and alcohol use to a stop. Only one year after Lindsay’s birth, Michael and Dina welcomed another baby, Michael Jr., into their growing family.
Less than three years after the birth of his second child, Michael found himself being investigated for insider trading during his years on Wall Street. “God comes back to remind us of what we did.” Michael explained, using his deep rooted Christian beliefs as guidance through the investigation. Although the indictment for insider trading was lifted, Michael refused to talk to the authorities and was thrown in prison for three years for contempt of court. At the time of his sentencing, Michael Jr. and Lindsay were only 3 and 4 years old.
Michael was released from jail in 1993 under a probationary arrangement. At the time of his release, Lindsay’s modeling-turned-acting career was taking off. Four years into his five-year supervised release, Lindsay was filming in California on set for The Parent Trap when she was hospitalized for an asthma attack.
Despite having just returned to New York, Michael made moves immediately to go see her in California. His probation officer had told him that he couldn’t go because he had just returned from a trip to London.
Michael pressed the issue, pleading that his daughter was in the hospital and he needed to go see her. He remembers his probation officer’s response; “You do what you have to do and I’ll do what I have to do.” Michael hopped on a plane later that day to visit his daughter in the hospital. When he returned to New York, he was immediately handcuffed and sent back to jail for another year for violating probation.
Michael explains his experience with jail and the justice system, and the PTSD that he continues to endure from these experiences. In combination with suffering from his time in jail, Michael had a troubled relationship with his two brother-in-law’s, who were actively in his kids’ lives. Michael explains that there were many people trying to get involved in Lindsay’s life to make money as her acting career grew, and two of those people were his brother in laws. “I didn’t get along with them”, Michael recalls, “and my wife and I ended up getting separated over that in 2004.”
During a party at his house celebrating his son’s first communion, these failed relationships came to a breaking point as Michael walked in on his brother in law Matt smoking crack. The discovery quickly gave way to an argument leading to a physical fight between Michael and Matt. Michael hit Matt which caused him to fall and hit his head, leaving him in a coma. Dina officially filed for divorce following the fight in 2005.
“I went on a rampage for a couple of months after that,” Michael remembers. Although he doesn’t go in depth on this rampage, it seems as though the hardships of the justice system, his time in jail, and the failure of his marriage had brought him to a breaking point. After taking out his frustrations for a few months, he said “That’s it. No more, I’m done [with drugs].” After this realization, Michael was able to get clean.
The Wake Up Call
One day Michael received a call from a blocked number. The voice on the phone told him that his daughter Lindsay had overdosed. With so little information, he had no idea if his daughter was dead or alive. At the time, she was in New Orleans filming a movie called Just My Luck. While sitting at a restaurant, he received another call stating Lindsay was ok, but he should get down there to see her. Michael also learned that Lindsay had overdosed on drugs that had been spiked or laced with something. He kept asking the caller who had given her the drugs, and remembers how angry he was that someone had done this to Lindsay.
It had been years since Michael had drank, but he remembered on that particular day, he let down his guard. “I had an Irish coffee,” Michael recalled, “three to be exact.” Immediately Michael reached out to his cousin, who had a private jet, to fly him down to New Orleans. He drove home, only to grab his gun, and sped towards the airport. He wanted to kill whoever had done this to his daughter.
“By the grace of God, I never made it to the airport.” Filled with anger and Irish coffees, Michael wrapped his car around a telephone pole going 80 miles per hour. His heart was reportedly stopped by the trauma from the accident, but emergency crews were able to revive him.
Turning Things Around
“I was only in jail for a week or two when Pastor Jimmy Jack came to visit me.” Michael had just begun serving his sentence of 2 and a half years for his DWI charge from the accident. Pastor Jimmy Jack was a previous drug addict himself, and also the founder and global director for a faith based substance abuse program called ‘Teen Challenge’.
“You have a calling.” Pastor Jimmy Jack said to Michael. Pastor Jack went on to tell Michael he wanted him to give up what he was doing and dedicate himself to helping others suffering from substance abuse. He believed Michael had a calling, and he asked him to dedicate his life to God and helping others with addiction problems. Pastor Jack also instructed Michael to study at Bible College to become a minister.
Michael followed Pastor Jack’s instructions carefully, even enrolling in Bible College to begin studies to become a minister. Michael worked with the Long Island Teen Challenge rehabilitation program in New York for a year and a half, then started in the treatment industry in 2005.
A Different Approach
Michael’s approach to addiction treatment is from a clinical perspective, with a focus on outcome based studies and evidence based research. His goal was to develop a process that was different and better than other rehab programs out there. When discussing alcoholics anonymous and other 12-step programs, Michael describes that these programs are only a portion of what a complete treatment should look like. “Once we help them identify those problems and those triggers… what do we do with the mind and with the body that has been damaged from the use of drugs and alcohol.”
As a former drug user himself, Michael is able to bring a unique perspective into the addiction treatment industry. “Most addicts and alcoholics are really good people, some of the most creative and intelligent people I’ve ever met in my life. It’s just that they don’t know what to do with these thoughts in their head and so much energy,” he stated. “They are very highly intelligent people and they just get caught up in it”
Michael spoke in depth about the role that trauma plays in addiction. He described trauma as an onion, that for many addicts there are layers of trauma that you must peel back in order to learn the full story. He used child of divorce as the first layer of his example, the first trauma this hypothetical individual faced. Say ten years later, this individual was caught with drugs and sent to jail. This adds another layer of trauma.
Followed by an abusive relationship after they get out of jail, adding another layer of trauma. Each of these layers plays a crucial role in the life of this individual, and each layer needs to be addressed to really understand the whole story.
When describing the direction addiction treatment has been heading in, he attributed some of the failures of modern treatment facilities to the fact that they are trying to fix a chronic issue with acute therapy. Michael explains further, “you cannot heal 10 years of abuse with 30 days of rehab.” He is a big believer that the effect of trauma on someone’s life is long term.
Michael mentioned a few types of modern addiction treatment that he believes are particularly successful. The first was EMDR, which stands for Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing, a therapy method that Michael believes tackles the underlying issues of trauma. EMDR is a therapy that attempts to change the way your body and emotions handles the recalling of traumatic events. It is a fairly new therapy, and strays far from a typical therapy session that would simply talk you through traumatic events that have happened in your life.
Neurotherapy, holistic therapy, and non-narcotic medical treatment were also therapy types Michael mentioned could bring a different approach to the addiction treatment industry. When asked what type of therapy he used personally to continue his rehabilitation from his past traumas and addictions, he said homeopathic methods, prayer, exercise, and gym.
Michael explains his belief that rehab is a lifelong journey that must last longer than a 30 day inpatient program. After 30 days of sobriety, he says that an individual will feel more emotions than they did while they were still on drugs. This influx of emotions becomes more ‘raw’, as he describes it, as an individual continues along their path of sobriety. There is where Michael extended programs are necessary. “Longer term sobriety causes feeling to be raw, and allows you to face it head on. That’s why extended programs are so important, so as these emotions come to the surface you have the support to continue to face them head on.”
“I think the best support system in the world is surrounding yourself with people in treatment who work in treatment.” Michael mentions the success he has had with hiring three of his previous clients to work with him, “When you stay connected to the treatment industry, and you surround yourself with people who are clean, it helps hold you accountable and keeps it at the forefront of your mind.”
A Struggle That Never Ends
When asked what has been one of the hardest things for him in the past 12 months, Michael mentioned the worsening trends he has seen in addiction across the country. He stated that the relapse rate is increasing along with the overdose and death rate. Michael does not hesitate to mention that he believes the industry needs more voices to stand up for these people and the struggles they live with everyday. This is very frustrating to him, and something he has had to deal with in the past year.
On a personal level, Michael is currently married to a woman who has been in and out of rehab for the past several years. He said he is often asked, “Michael, if you know so much about treatment, why is your own wife having such struggles?” His reply was that it is always easier to treat someone who isn’t your own family.
Touching on the troubled relationship he has had with his own daughter, Lindsay Lohan, in the past, Michael mentioned he sought out advice from the famous celebrity addiction specialist and physician. Dr. Drew said to Michael, “Don’t tell her what to do, advise her what to do.” Michael said that in response to this, he began to offer insight and ask questions instead of lecture. Now he will say something to her like “Lindsay, do you think this is a good idea?” or “Do you think that’s a good person to be around?” July 8th, 2017 marked three years sober for the 31 year old actress.
Despite his attempts to help and guide his current wife and daughter through their struggles with addiction, Michael maintains a keen focus on his own rehabilitation. Michael explains that he can’t always focus on his wife’s addiction, he also needs to take care of himself. “If you’re not surefooted, then you can’t take care of someone else.”
When asked what coping skills Michael utilized to maintain his sobriety during trying times, Michael mentioned the importance of prayer and his Christian roots, as well as continuing his active lifestyle through exercise and the gym. Michael also mentioned some homeopathic supplements he has used to ‘keep him on track’. He explains that everyone has their own coping methods, whether they are medical, psychological, or holistic, it will differ based on the individual.
Currently Michael is working on completing his book, Turning It All Around, which details the journey his life has taken to get to where he is today. Michael says this book will focus on how he took his life from drugs and alcohol to becoming a minister and joining the drug treatment industry.