Spring/Summer 2021 | A conversation with Michael Dash

Michael shares his journey from addict to entrepreneur. How making his first bet at ten years old led him to a heavy gambling and drug addiction, drug dealing in college, and battling a million dollar lawsuit with an ex business partner.

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A conversation with Michael Dash.

Today’s Exclusive Guest.

Who is Michael Dash?

Michael G. Dash is an entrepreneur, best-selling author of Chasing the High, business coach, recovering addict, speaker, and philanthropist. He founded the FATE series, From Addict To Entrepreneur published on Thrive Global and Medium and MD coaching and mentoring, where he works with entrepreneurs, helping them streamline their businesses while increasing profits and helping them find clarity, consistency, and connection, allowing them to step into the true leader they were meant to be.

He’s the co-founder of The Activated Life, a social movement focused on inspiring a culture of positivity, authenticity, passion, empathy, and resilience, while giving back to others. Michael is an avid volunteer, fundraiser, and mentor, and is dedicated to bringing positive change to leaders of all kinds.

The Gambling Inception

I grew up the son of an entrepreneur. I knew from the get-go that I was going to be an entrepreneur. I didn’t know how, I didn’t know what, but I knew that. I was always following my father around. He had me working in the store since I was eight years old, breaking all the child labor laws. But he told me if I wanted dinner, that I get into the store and work for him. I learned that at an early age how to sell. I also picked up a gambling habit when I was 10 years old, which I was introduced to by my uncle at Thanksgiving. That started a 20-year addiction.

At 10 years old, I made my first bet. My uncle was watching a football game at Thanksgiving and the rest of the family was eating dinner. I was wondering what is he doing. Why is he so interested in this game? He took this sheet out and he explained to me that the sheet had all the teams that were playing and was a spread and there was a favorite and there was an underdog. And he explained to me that if you picked four of the four games and you got them all correct and you bet $10, that you would win $100. That excited me. So I borrowed $10 from my parents. I told them I was going to get hoagies, which is what they call them back east, which is like these sandwiches that are filled with salami and Turkey, all this stuff.

Anyway, they lent me the money for that. I went and I gambled it. The first bet I ever made, I ended up winning with my brother. So we won $100. That ignited this fire in me that wanted to duplicate that feeling. It was like an endorphin rush. I was 10 years old, so I didn’t really know what it was. It was this high that I wanted and I wanted to continue to chase.

All the guys in my dad’s warehouse gambled, and I started talking to them about my experience at Thanksgiving. I started taking whatever money my dad would give me for working and I would gamble with the guys in the warehouse, and then they would start taking me to the racetrack for horses.

Here I was like 10, 11, 12, betting on horses and betting on football winnings. It turned out my little league coach, my literal baseball coach was a bookie. So he started taking bets because that’s how we do things in New Jersey, which is where I’m from. He started taking bets for me and all my friends. Then as the years went by, we started playing card games, 15, 16. I got a job. I was the first one. I had a job. I had a real job outside of working for my father. I then got a banking account and I would bring my checkbook to these games. Now I’m 17 years old. My friends are 60 and 50, and I’m the one with the checkbook telling them, I’ll write a check if I don’t have the cash to pay these debts.

I was always pushing the limits. I was addicted really even though before I knew what addiction was. I was addicted to that high, that rush I got from making that bet. It was a similar rush I got to making a sale in business. These things were indicative of each other and I was always chasing both of them.

When I went to college, I took it up to another level. I figured why make bets when I could take bets. That’s when I became a bookie and I started taking everybody else’s bets and that also got me into a few drugs. I started experimenting with every drug that was available to me, cocaine, steroids, mushrooms Oxycontin. It wasn’t really Oxycontin back then. It was Percocets and all these different drugs that you’ve come in contact within the college. Besides heroin and meth, you name it. I did it. Then I became a drug dealer.

When I was in college, I was dealing drugs, I was a bookie. I was going kind of going into class, and I was also working, going door to door, and selling home improvements because, amongst all those addictions, I was addicted to money and money fueled everything.

Behind the addiction

I wanted to be rich. I wanted to be loaded with money. That was definitely there from the media, from seeing my father run a successful business, thinking I had to fulfill this role as his son. I think it was part of that, but when I started gambling, it was just fun. I just liked the rush. I liked the game of gambling, risking something, and that thrill of winning or that agony of losing. There was something within me that when I lost, just fueled me to do it again.

Before I went to Gamblers Anonymous, which years later I went to and I credit with helping save my life, I didn’t know that, but once I went to Gamblers Anonymous, I had a sponsor who used to tell me as addicts, we live in the one, twos, and threes, and the eight, nines, and tens, but the key to our sobriety and staying sober is living in the four, five, sixes. That hit me hard, so much because I’ve always been chasing that high, whatever it is, even when I stopped gambling and he stopped doing drugs, I was still chasing a high, whether it was closing the sale, whether it was running a marathon or climbing a mountain, whether it was writing a book, whether it was going bungee jumping or skydiving. I was always chasing some sort of high. Really finding that those four, five, and sixes in life really allow you to live a balanced and healthy lifestyle.

Finding the balance

This balance comes from personality and society. It’s how you grew up, how your parents were, what’s been programmed into your mind, how much news have you watched, how many shows that you watch, what have you watched? What are you reading? What are you listening to from a podcast standpoint? Those things and the people you surround yourself with formulating your thought process. You are going to act similar to the five closest people in your life. So if you’re surrounding yourself with negative people, you’re going to have a lot of negative thoughts. You’re surrounding yourself with positive people, you’re going to have a lot of positive thoughts. It’s not rocket science, but we make it as humans so much more difficult than it is.

The breaking point

I had several breaking points. The first was with gambling. I stopped gambling before I even started my company. I was on the verge of committing suicide, and I thought many times of swallowing a bottle of a Percocet than I had and just going to sleep and never waking up because the addiction was so fierce. I would gamble every single day. Even with the drug use that I partook in, it was very few things that I did every single day where I just completely consumed every thought in my mind. That’s how gambling was for me for like 20 years.

That was the point where it was actually my brother was going to Gamblers Anonymous and we were driving back to Thanksgiving from New Jersey to Massachusetts, which is about a four-hour drive, and he would not allow me to listen to sports radio. So I got into this argument with him, like why can’t I listen to sports radio. I need the information so I know what to bet on. And he told me he was going to Gamblers Anonymous and he wasn’t listening to any sports anymore. I ridiculed him ’cause he’s my younger brother and made fun of him a little bit. Then afterward, I actually just thought to myself, I want to know what this Gamblers Anonymous has done to my brother.

When we got back after the trip, I went to a meeting just out of curiosity, just following my curiosity and intuition. I realized once I was in that meeting, that I had more in common with everybody in that room than the majority of people in my life. At that point, I knew I had an addiction because I was in denial. That’s when I started just going regularly, and I stopped gambling, and I didn’t really start healing for a couple of years, but I was not gambling at that point. That was a big step. That was one big moment in my life where I realized and recognized I had an addiction and I started doing something about it. The drugs came a little bit later on.

The lawsuit and the drug addiction

I wasn’t sober and clean when I was going through the lawsuit. I wasn’t gambling. I’d been clean from gambling for 15 years, but I was taking Adderall every day. I was smoking weed every night. I was doing GHB on the weekends. I wasn’t a big drinker, but I like to party. So I drank on the weekends when I was at the clubs. I also invested in a bar when I was in Utah, which is where I built my business. I had all these things going on. I felt in a way I was gambling because I was moving money from one place to another. I had a six-year lawsuit with my ex-business partner over an agreement that I believe she violated after I purchased the company from her.

Everything fueled the Adderall, which for me was the most devastating of all the things that I took because it fueled this fire inside of you, where first of all, you can get a lot of things accomplished. You start to rely on it because you think you can be more productive in business. But it really controls your emotional level, your emotional state. It would seem like I was angry all the time, but I wasn’t. It was just what the drug was doing to me. And it’s an over-the-counter drug. It’s used to treat ADHD and ADD, which I have, Attention Deficit Disorder. I get distracted very easily and sometimes fail to focus. I just went to the doctor and told her and I got a prescription. Then I started abusing the prescription.

I was taking it all the time. It was fueling everything and it was fueling my emotional level. The best way to describe it is if you’re having a crappy day and you’re on Adderall, it’s the worst day in your existence. If you’re having a good day, it’s the best day you could ever have. I would have these emotions of complete ecstasy and then complete misery. Again, it was those highs and lows like I talked about before with the gambling addiction that I would experience on a daily basis with this drug. I just love the feeling it gave me inside. If you wanted to clean your house, instead of it taking you five hours, it would take you like an hour. You would do it so fast. I just wanted and wanted and wanted that feeling.

It drove me into isolation and then I would be smoking weed every night and I would not be wanting to be around people. It just got to a point where I knew the destructiveness. I ended up in a hospital with an IV in my arm from taking too much GHB and passing out. I got arrested twice doing whether it was GHB or whether it was Adderall. I got a DUI and then I got arrested for possession of GHB because it’s an illegal substance. GHB basically makes you feel completely wasted, but if you take too much of it, you’ll completely pass out and you won’t be able to wake up for a little while. Then it’ll wear off an hour late, but it’s very highly addictive.

I had issues with all of those things. Luckily I was able to stop on a cold turkey because they weren’t serving me. After going in many retreats, after talking about it a lot, after making a lot of mistakes, after all these things happening to me and after being in this lawsuit, I’m certainly much better off without any of those.

Breaking the addiction

I did start drinking a lot more coffee. I’m not here to tell anybody what they should do. That’s a personal choice. However, tapping into my curiosity opened up many doors for me. I think it’s something that as we get older and become adults, try to be responsible, there’s a few things that we lose. A lot of people lose and forget to incorporate into their life. That’s curiosity and that’s fun. Life doesn’t have to be so serious. There’s enough serious things in our lives that we must explore these different areas. Being curious for me was huge. I went to a sound bath or what they call a sound healing and these things changed my life. Basically, you just lie down in a meditative state on the floor and somebody is playing various sound bowls, these crystal bowls, which make this amazing noise that reverberates through your body and hits your senses.

Most of the instructors and facilitators have a variety of instruments. And when I could just be able to control my mindset, turn my mind off for an hour, lay down, and feel this sound piercing through my body, it was an incredible feeling. I actually felt high when I was done with it. It was likable to replace some of these other highs by just experiencing that. I’ve gone to 117 sound healings over the past six years of my life since I discovered it in Utah. I don’t even know if you’ve gotten to one, but if you haven’t, you must go. They are everywhere. You can google them and you’ll find them locally in every state in the country and in every country that I’ve ever been to. I highly recommend checking those out.

Running has always been a big outlet for me also. They talk about runner’s high when you’re able to run and just check out and let your mind and your thoughts fall away and your worries fall away and focus on positive things. That’s a huge one and working out yoga and things like this are important for certain people. That’s their outlet; I used running. I used these sound healings. It’s important that you build strong habits. Now I journal and that’s a big outlet for me, a creative outlet also. I’m not a consistent meditator, but I do meditate. I read a lot more. Reading is very important.

These are little things that we get away from. If we can build this habit structure in our life, it can really keep us on track and it can build confidence within ourselves and it lifts our spirits. These are things that you can do, especially in COVID times, when you’re locked in the house and when you’re feeling isolated and you’re not feeling great about yourself, these are things and different attitudes to use instead of the destructive habits. I would say it’s very important to revisit our habits every six months and see where we are, see what we’ve gotten away from, what’s worked for us, and reincorporate those and commit to those in our lives.

 FATE and other programs

Since I settled the lawsuit after six years and $1 million in legal fees, over 350K case, it was everything I had saved over those years. For some people, it could be very upsetting and I was very upset and actually very furious for the first five years of it. I started recognizing that I did this to myself. It was all the decisions I made. I needed to stop blaming everybody else and take responsibility, which I did. I sold the business to pay off the lawsuit and all my debts and start over. That’s when I wrote the book Chasing the High: An Entrepreneur’s Mindset Through Addiction, Lawsuits, and Journey to the Edge.

I left Utah and moved to California. I started a FATE that stands for From Addict To Entrepreneur. It’s basically an interview series where I interviewed former addicts who are now entrepreneurs and build multimillion dollar companies and write articles for Thrive Global and Medium. I started this program where I take people through this 12-week program. In conjunction with that, I started mentoring others and started this activated movement, which is a nonprofit it’s called activated life. We focus on mental health within the entrepreneur community as well as giving back to the less fortunate and those in need. I started that with a partner of mine, Parveen Panwar. He’s the original founder; I’m the co-founder, and just came off of a retreat.

Third year, we had a retreat in Costa Rica in Dominical in a place called Imiloa Institute, where we take people through a five-day transformational journey that includes sound healing and yoga and breathwork and ice baths, but also music and movement and comedy and all these things, connection, all of these things. I liken it to transformation, a little bit different than everybody. It doesn’t have to be so serious. There are serious moments; there are serious workshops, but I want a couple that with laughter and with movement and with fun and going to the beach, taking a hike out to a waterfall and doing a little stand up and having musicians there who are really singing for us so you connect to your soul because that’s really what allows you to open up and feel alive. That’s what I’ve done with FATE and with the Activated Movement and the book.

The prison service

Before COVID hit, I was going to prisons. I visited four different facilities where I either gave a talk about the book Chasing the High and told them about overcoming my addictions and getting arrested and all that stuff or just participating in a program with an organization called Hustle 2.0, which goes into the prison systems for four days and maximum security prisons usually and gives back and that’s connected with what we call the mavericks there. They’re inmates, but we call them mavericks to give them some dignity back. These are people that have been forgotten in society. The key has been thrown away with them because they made a mistake in their life. Some of them made a horrible mistake, but they still are human beings and they still need to learn emotional intelligence, how to get along with others, how to better themselves, how to provide for their families even though they’re inside. Eventually, these people will get out.

You don’t want these violent facilities going on. You want people to be able to treat each other like humans and to have a future. These programs that actually the mavericks have written books now about all these different topics and how to cope with the struggles they’ve had in their lives with the outside world, with being locked up with other inmates, with dealing with your ego. All these things that we deal with on the outside, they have to deal with on the inside also. They’ve never been taught a lot of them or given the tools to learn. We’re providing them the tools, this organization really, and I volunteer for Hustle 2.0. It’s providing them the tools to grow as human beings and be productive citizens.

Where to find Chasing the High

The book is on Amazon. It’s also on Audible if you prefer to listen and you can handle a New Jersey accent for four hours. I read it. Feel free to jump on there as well. 

Resources for Michael G. Dash:

Where to get Chasing the High

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