“For years I said I wasn’t an alcoholic, but I had one foot firmly in the grave,” says Center for Health & Fitness (CHF) member Dash Michaels, who just a few months ago celebrated five years of sobriety. His long, arduous battle with alcoholism is a stark reminder of the perils of addiction as well as an inspiring comeback story that shows it’s never too late to make a healthy change.
Addiction plagued Dash early in life, beginning in his early 20s. It came on slowly at first, a few too many drinks with friends during late nights in Hermosa Beach, but – as addiction often does – intensified quickly and took a major toll as he aged.
“I recognized that I had an addiction to alcohol in my late 20s and early 30s,” says Dash, now 59, “but I knew how to control myself enough not to spiral out of control. I even had long periods of sobriety during those years, but the urge to drink would always return. And it really took hold in my 40s.”
From the outside looking in, it appeared that Dash was living a charmed life at 40 – he had money, a successful career, fancy cars, a big house and a loving wife and step-son. But alcohol was secretly turning his American dream into a nightmare.
“My life finally just went overboard. My marriage crumbled, we had to sell the house and there I was: a 48-year-old man living on his own down at the beach, still acting like a kid. And from there it continued to grow out of control.”
What Dash describes as his darkest days took place when he accepted a job in Nashville, Tennessee. No sooner than he moved back east, the economy tanked and he lost his job. He found himself spending all of his time alone at home, drinking away days, weeks and months at a time.
“Man, I didn’t have a pot to piss in at the time, and every last cent was spent on food for my dogs and vodka, in that order. Each day, I’d get up in the morning, get a pint of vodka and down it in about an hour – then repeat the process at noon, midafternoon and evening. I was drinking enough to kill myself, but, luckily, somehow I survived.”
The winds of positive change first began to whisper in 2010. At the urging of his ex-wife and his best friend, Randy, Dash moved back to the South Bay and took a job in sales. Though the move home did little to quell his drinking, it did set the stage for what Dash calls his “big wakeup,” which came after he lost his car keys in a drunken stupor, stranding him miles from home for eight days.
“After the car incident, I sat alone in my room for three days and listed out all of the things going wrong in my life. And alcohol was the common denominator in all of them. And I finally just said, ‘I’ve had enough.’”
The afternoon of November 28, 2010, Dash stood trembling on the street just outside the Hermosa Beach Alano Club silently pleading with God for the courage to walk inside and ask for information on the club’s Alcoholics Anonymous program. As he timidly approached the doors, he caught the attention of a tall man dressed to the nines in a striking suit and tie who asked, “Are you court appointed?” Dash replied that he wasn’t.
“Good, then you’ve got half the battle beat,” said the man, who Dash describes as a cross between local L.A. weatherman Dallas Raines and actor Don Johnson.
Moved by the words of support, Dash thanked the gentleman, quickly exchanged a handshake and walked into the Alano Club where he was greeted with the same question and response by a nice-looking woman in reception. The two brief exchanges marked the beginning of sobriety for Dash, however, they also marked the last times he’d lay eyes on the thoughtful strangers again.
“When I hit the 90-day mark of sobriety, I started making a serious effort to find that man and woman, to thank them for telling me exactly what I needed to hear at the time. I went to meetings in Malibu, L.A., Palos Verdes, basically all over the area, but never saw either of them again. I’d even ask people in recovery if they ever heard the phrase ‘you’ve got half the battle beat,’ and they all say no. It’s not something I’ve ever heard since.
“Call me crazy, but I believe they were angels sent here to save me,” said Dash, choking back tears. “There’s no doubt in my mind. And I’m just so grateful that I got another chance at life.”
More than a year into sobriety, Dash joined the Center for Health & Fitness (CHF) in 2012. At the time, he couldn’t do a single pushup. The years of alcohol abuse had deteriorated his muscles and all but killed his stamina – but instead of feeling discouraged, Dash eagerly accepted the challenge to take back his health and did it with his trademark grin on his face.
“If I can quit drinking and change my life, why can’t I get back in shape? Exercise isn’t work for me anymore, it’s easy. Even if you give a little bit in here, maybe just complete half of your goal, you’ll leave feeling invigorated. It’s a shot of adrenaline each day for me to visit the gym and to see familiar faces.”
Today, with five-plus years of clean living under his belt, Dash may have the most recognized face at CHF – visiting a minimum of five days a week to lift weights, take cycling and yoga classes and, true to character, crack a few jokes and offer up words of encouragement to everyone within earshot. Outside of CHF, his personal life is also thriving: Dash has become close friends with his ex-wife and step-son; his career in sales is back on track; and he reports experiencing a stronger sense of faith and purpose than ever before.
His disciplined exercise regimen has paid off, too. Two years ago, after falling on nine straight waves, Dash summoned the strength and agility to hop up on his surfboard and ride out his first wave in decades. “That felt damn good,” Dash said with a grin.
“I’m living again. And the best part is every day I get the opportunity to treat people better, to bring happiness to others and to, hopefully, motivate someone else to turn their life around.”
After meeting Dash, you walk away feeling like you have half of your battle beat, too.