The grand negotiator: Mike Dudick’s journey to take back control from alcohol
Building Hope Summit County
By all accounts, Mike Dudick is an excellent negotiator. He’s a successful marketer, manager and developer, a generous philanthropist, active community leader, and CEO and co-owner of Breckenridge Grand Vacations, the largest year-round employer in Summit County outside of the ski areas.
But when it came to alcohol, Mike’s skills failed him.
“Alcohol was always the better negotiator,” he said. “It got me to cut all kinds of deals with myself to have another week, just another day of drinking. If you get to that point like I did, where you’re negotiating between yourself and alcohol, I promise you’re going to continue to lose that negotiation. And it’s a great breakthrough moment when you realize you’re never going to win without help.”
Now two years sober and intensely grateful for the changes it has brought to his life, the 55-year-old is sharing his recovery journey. Mike is articulate about his relationship with alcohol and passionate about helping others who’ve also lost their ability to negotiate with the substance.
“Addiction is indiscriminate, regardless of your position in the community,” he said. “It can happen to anyone. It happened to me. Alcohol got control of me, and I had to take it back.”
Participate in The Longevity Project
The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.
Embracing a party culture
Mike found his way to Breckenridge 32 years ago in much the same way many local longtimers did: He came on a college ski trip and basically never left. Back then, Breckenridge was a laid-back little town with a single stoplight, but it was full of opportunity for a young man with a college degree, an entrepreneurial spirit and a boatload of energy.
In those early days, he worked at a liquor store and tended bar at what was then Adams St. Grill on Main Street. He met his first wife and had Michael, 31, Sam, 28, and Chloe, 26, in quick succession. Knowing that raising three kids on bartender tips was unsustainable, Mike launched Breckenridge Magazine in 1988, teaching himself graphic design, ad sales and the publishing business, all the while continuing to bartend and change diapers in the middle of the night.
It was during this sleepless 10-year span with the magazine that he met and became impressed with developer brothers Rob and Mike Millisor, who at the time owned the Gold Point condos on Bald Mountain and were beginning work on the Grand Timber Lodge.
“I was growing weary of the ad business,” Mike said. “I was ready to do something different, so I sold my business, invested my proceeds with Mike and Rob, and took over marketing for them when Grand Timber Lodge was just a hole in the ground.”
That was 23 years ago. Grand Timber opened in 1998, and the team went on to open the Grand Lodge on Peak 7 in 2007 and the Grand Colorado on Peak 8 in 2015.
Mike met Anna, his second wife, during this time. She and Mike met, fell in love and were married in 2005. They have a son together, Henry, 13.
Mike describes life during those heady times, when everything was falling into place for him personally and professionally:
“The company had a ‘Let’s work hard and party harder’ kind of culture,” he said. “When BGV started taking off, we were all in our mid- to late 30s, early 40s. We were bulletproof, things were great, everyone was having a good time, the business was successful, we had great employees. … That said, everyone around here knew when it was 5 o’clock. We would go across the street, have a couple on the way home — that kind of thing.”
Finding the road to recovery
As the business became more established, with competent leaders in key roles, Mike’s free time grew and so did his alcohol consumption.
“Mike was a highly functioning alcoholic,” Anna said.
Mike’s wake-up call came in the form of a blackout evening of drinking in October 2018. The following morning, he couldn’t remember anything from the night before.
“With alcohol, I didn’t have an on and off switch,” Mike said. “I didn’t have a rheostat that lets me monitor my drinking. I got to a point where I thought I could hurt myself or someone else by doing something stupid. …
“My family finally said, ‘You need to stop.’ And I said, ‘You’re right; I do.’ I didn’t fight. I knew it was coming. There was no sit-down drama like on reality shows. This was my moment. I wanted to stop.”
He started a 12-step treatment program two days later, and though he felt the program wasn’t right for him, he vigorously defends Alcoholics Anonymous.
“There needs to be a judgment-free zone about AA,” he said. “Whatever works for the individual works. My father and many friends are devoted AA members … and it works great for them and millions of people around the world. But it didn’t work for me, and that’s OK.
“There are many paths to recovery, no one-size-fits-all. If it’s the 12-step program, awesome. Put as many tools in your tool chest; give yourself a fighting chance.”
Mike later transferred to an Atlanta-based Accelerated Recovery Center, an in-patient treatment program devoted solely to alcohol dependence. Mike stayed for 12 days and was grateful for the brevity and for what he considered effective treatment.
For Anna, it was the initial question they asked that impressed her: “Are you ready to unconditionally move forward and not talk about the past anymore?”
“It took me a little bit because I had anger about the past, but I realized there’s no point in that,” Anna said. “Mike couldn’t change it; he couldn’t control it. We just needed to move forward.”
Mike spent eight hours a day for two weeks in intensive education and therapy, learning about the disease and receiving counseling and medication to stop cravings and reduce anxiety.
He also learned a lot about how alcohol changes the brain.
“With addiction, the opioid receptors in your brain are saying, ‘Give me more,’ and there’s a sort of shock absorber, which is your brain’s ability to reason and negotiate,” Mike said. “That gets smaller and smaller, until you end up in a really messed up place. Your brain craves more, and you have less and less ability to say ‘no’ to the urge.”
Now, he is on a steady and grateful path to long-term sobriety.
Working to help others
Mike is acutely aware of the lack of treatment services in Summit County and looks forward to being involved in efforts that can help others like he’s been helped.
“I think it’s one of the priorities we really need to focus on as a community,” he said.
For now, Mike’s purpose is clear: to offer his help to anyone who needs it.
“I’m here to tell people that I had a problem, and I did something about it, and if you need help to solve your problem that you can talk to a guy like me,” Mike said. “I’m not proud of the way I was before, but I’ll take pride in being able to help even one person.”
Anna becomes emotional when asked about how life has changed since Mike’s sobriety.
“Nothing works without Mike in our family,” she said. “He’s our leader, our protector and caretaker, and I became nervous when I felt that being threatened. He had been that way for us for 10-12 years before his drinking progressed. Now I think our kids and I know he’s solid, he’s there, and he’s going to take care of everything. And that’s who I married. It’s nice to be with the man I married.
“He’s a rock. He wasn’t there for a little bit, but now he’s more solid than ever.”
Editor’s note: This is a shortened version of a story written by Suzanne Acker, a special projects writer for Building Hope Summit County. Read Mike Dudick’s full story and watch a video interview with him at BuildingHopeSummit.org/about/hope.
• Substance use recovery meetings: SummitRecovery.org.
• Women’s intensive outpatient program: WomensRecovery.com (Dillon)
• Recovery Resources Summit County detox program: 970-368-6502
• Therapy resources: BuildingHopeSummit.org/resources/therapy-resources
• Mind Springs Health outpatient counseling: MindSpringsHealth.org
• CrossFit Low-Oxygen Fit to Recover classes: 443-480-0218 (mixed gender or women’s only)
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