Former addicts find jobs, purpose, connection in Michael Dadashi’s recovery “ecosystem”
“Rethink value and recreate life” is the credo of Michael Dadashi, owner of MHD Enterprises in Austin, Texas. The company, which employs people in long-term recovery from addiction, recycles and resells electronic parts and computers.
Michael Dadashi, a recovering heroin addict with a knack for business, likes to say he was addicted to “more.”
“More drugs. More alcohol. More prestige. A bigger house, a better car,” Dadashi says. “I wanted more. When I was here, I wanted to be there.”
Cycling through rehabs, jobs and relationships, Dadashi had a spiritual awakening in 2009 at age 25 and has remained drug-free ever since. He tapped the wisdom of sober mentors, walked the 12 steps, invested energies in altruism and embraced the art of mindfulness. “I finally put my spiritual fitness first,” he says. “It was like God saying, ‘This external stuff that you’re trying to fill that void inside of you with is not working. This is an inside job.’”
Today, Dadashi is at the helm of a multimillion-dollar company – and people in recovery are a key part of his success. Former addicts comprise more than half the staff at MHD Enterprises, the electronics recycling firm that Dadashi built while in recovery to more than $7 million in annual revenues. Based in Austin, Texas, MHD was named one of the nation’s fastest growing private companies by Inc. Magazine three years in a row (2012, 2013, and 2014).
Men and women in recovery also rejoin the work force at Dadashi’s newest enterprise: he’s creating a mini “ecosystem” of recovery-related businesses – all taking root in a 30-year-old strip mall in east Austin.
Finding connection at the coffee shop, a favorite gathering place in the nonprofit 4D Community Center. The center is part of a village of recovery-oriented ventures in Austin.
“What we try to do is create an environment that is conducive to recovery, doing things that are going to feed the spirit,” Dadashi says. That might include morning meditation, “leaving during the lunch break to talk to their sponsor, or working one-on-one with other addicts, because there’s such a therapeutic benefit, one addict helping another,” Dadashi says.
“We’re trying to inspire transformation through purpose – not just ‘wash, rinse, repeat,’” (a reference to the revolving-door rehab that traps many people in addiction).
Criminal History, Bad Credit?
“This is where you can rebuild your life”
Local drug rehab centers are a recruiting source for Dadashi’s sober labor pool.
“We know from the treatment center that ‘Bob’ completed treatment, that he’s following the program,” says Gail Zorne, MHD’s chief financial officer and a former Merrill Lynch wealth management banker and broker. Zorne is also Michael Dadashi’s mother.
When she interviews job candidates, Zorne says most are candid about past drug arrests, jail time and the need to start over.
“They willingly say, ‘I’m sorry to say I totally screwed up my credit,’” Zorne notes. “And we say, ‘that’s fine, this is where you can rebuild your life.’”
Zach Pogue heard about a job opportunity through his counselors at a drug treatment center in Buda, Texas. He now works at Infinite Recovery, a treatment center created by Dadashi that serves as the anchor of the new recovery village.
Once addicted to alcohol, meth, and opioid painkillers, Pogue applies his recovery wisdom to guide others. He walks newbies through the 12 steps and teaches critical life skills – from how to write a resume and file taxes, to learning how to “show up” in relationships.
Pogue sees his own sobriety in a new light.
Zach Pogue of Buda, Texas, overcame addictions to methamphetamine, alcohol and opioids. Today he works as a life trainer at Infinite Recovery in Austin, Texas, mentoring clients and showing them skills to sustain sobriety. Zach is accompanied at work by his dog Delilah, who proclaims his owner’s progress by wearing a sobriety medal.
“I always figured in order to stay sober, I’d have to stay at home with my family and play board games. But that’s just not the case,” he says. “As long as I maintain a simple spiritual attitude, I can do anything that people who don’t suffer from addiction can do – like be around drugs and alcohol at concerts and not freak out.”
“We try to show through example,” Pogue says, “just getting people to buy in to their recovery as opposed to telling them how to live.”
“My parents and friends told me I needed to do something different, but no one ever showed me another way,” he says. “So (this environment) was how I was able to find a better way, through getting out of myself, helping others, and surrounding myself with positive people.”
A Ripple Effect
The mini ecosystem that Dadashi is building includes Infinite Recovery and a nonprofit community center open to the public. As many as 70-100 people join the Wednesday night meditation sessions that are held here. There’s also an exercise gym, coffee shop and stage for sober music events and fundraisers (donations are used to fund scholarships for sober living homes and travel to 12-step conventions).
Employees can join the city’s largest fellowship of Alcoholic Anonymous, which meets next door to the treatment center. There’s a nearby vape shop, operated by a person in long-term recovery, that helps former addicts kick their smoking habit with the aid of e-cigarettes. And plans are in the works for a hair and beauty salon being created by women in recovery.
“There are shopping centers all around the country that are in need of good businesses, that can be turned into these recovery ecosystems,” Dadashi says. He notes that the strip mall in Austin was a crime magnet before the recovery ventures arrived.
“People in recovery need connection, they need purpose, and when you can combine those two things – and they’re having fun, and recovery is cool – it’s having a ripple effect on the community at large,” Dadashi says. “These people are not relapsing, they’re not running up taxpayers’ money for having to go to the ER, they’re not driving drunk or doing crimes related to drug activity.”
The 4D Community Center includes a stage for sober concerts, a coffee shop, lounge and exercise area.
MHD Enterprises, whose customers include Discount Electronics, online re-sellers and overseas firms, is a springboard, Dadashi says, to invest in his passion for recovery. He hopes to create a blueprint for ecosystems nationwide that help people stay sober, inspired “through the work I did at MHD and my personal recovery,” he says.
A Family Inspires Healing
Leah Godfrey, a former IV meth user, has been drug-free nearly four years and now helps others achieve long-term recovery.
Leah Godfrey is beating the odds for drug relapse with help from the safe haven that Dadashi has developed. A single parent, Godfrey was a pro at hiding her methamphetamine habit. She ushered her daughters off to school and earned a stable paycheck as a county clerk. She showered her family with a mother’s love and a stream of lies.
“I was a very good actress,” Godfrey says of the façade that sparked “lies upon lies upon lies – as in, ‘I’m running to the convenience store to get a gallon of milk,’ when I was actually going to score dope.”
Her addiction played out with harrowing intensity as Godfrey graduated from pipes to needles. In 2012, she was hospitalized with a blood infection for injecting meth – a catalyst that led her to intensive rehabilitation and recovery.
Today, Godfrey works as an intake manager at Infinite Recovery, where more than 70 percent of her coworkers have also overcome addiction.
“This place has given me opportunities that I really never thought I would have,” says Godfrey, who is attending college part-time to become a licensed chemical dependency counselor. “I wake up in the morning excited to come to work.”
Continual support for sobriety is an obvious fringe benefit for Godfrey and her peers. But she has an even more powerful incentive: her two older daughters are working alongside her.
While they have not been addicted themselves, Leighton and Lindsey are part of the team. Leighton, 21, serves as Office Manager at Infinite Recovery; her sister, Lindsey, 19, is a recovery advocate and medical assistant. They say clients are often surprised to find a mother and her children employed at the treatment center.
Leah Godfrey (center) works as Admissions Discharge Intake Manager (ADIM) at Infinite Recovery in Austin. Her daughter Lindsey (left) is a medical assistant and recovery advocate at the center; her daughter Leighton (right) is the office manager. Godfrey says of her recovery: “Our complete family dynamic has changed. We have an authentic relationship. Everybody in my family has peace in their hearts now.”
“We know of recovery through our Mom, says Leighton. “When (clients) come in, they don’t have the best family relationships. And the impact that we put off as being a family shows them that there is hope.”
When she was 18, Leighton says her mother told her about the addiction, that it had gotten worse and she was going to treatment.
“At first, it was kind of a disappointment. I just had graduated high school, it’s not something I wanted to hear,” Leighton says. “After she went to treatment, I told myself it was time to reconnect with my Mom. I grew up some, we got together and talked, and since then it’s been great. We’re best friends again.”
Clients have asked Lindsey, ‘How did you gain the trust back with your Mom?’
“I tell them it takes a lot of time. When she was in treatment, I didn’t want to go, I was hurt. We grew up really fast,” Lindsey says. “I think that’s a part of how we are now. We are at the age when all of our friends are in college partying. And we go home and watch movies and hang out as a family, having sober fun with our Mom.”
Radical Change in Recovery
The vast majority of people employed by Dadashi pass the company’s random drug tests, says Zorne. Only a few have relapsed or been let go because of active addiction, she says.
A handful of others get hired, “stay a few days and leave, and then we don’t hear good news,” she laments. “Michael has been to far too many funerals for a 30-year-old.”
She reflects on her son’s battle with addiction, and knows his life could have taken the same turn.
“By 18, it was heroin. From 18 to 23, he went to rehab after rehab,” Zorne says. “I think all of the counseling and treatment over the years finally started making sense to him. He desperately wanted to be clean and sober, and he put his heart and soul into it. He had a spiritual awakening, God lifted the obsession.”
Zorne sees a profound change in her son these days.
“In recovery, he’s become very spiritual, very kind . . . he’s so calm and he was never like that,” she notes. The proud mother relishes her son’s “fairy tale life” in recovery and shows off a photo of his new bride, Ylianna Guerra, who reigned as Miss Texas 2015 (and Miss USA First Runner-Up 2015).
“He’s got the girl of his dreams, he’s got a wonderful business, he’s reunited with his family, he has helped hundreds of people over the years,” Zorne says. “I wouldn’t have envisioned such a wonderful life for him.”
* * * * Photos by Brandi Nellis * * * *
America’s Epidemic of Drug Addiction
An estimated one in seven Americans (14.6 percent of the population) is expected to develop a substance use disorder at some point in their lives, according to a landmark report from the U.S. surgeon general. But only 1 in 10 people who are battling addiction are getting treatment.
“It’s time to change how we view addiction. Not as a moral failing but as a chronic illness that must be treated with skill, urgency and compassion. The way we address this crisis is a test for America.”
Vivek Murthy, M.D., U.S. Surgeon General
“Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health”
Released Nov. 17, 2016
Deaths from drug overdoses in the United States have risen 137 percent since 2000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That includes a 200 percent increase in deaths from opioid painkillers and heroin. An estimated 78 people die each day from opioid overdose, according to the surgeon general.
Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)