Michael Dubree started smoking marijuana when he was 13 years old. Not with a friend’s older brother, as you might expect, but with his stepdad, a drug dealer, and his mother, a user.
At 15, the Kentucky native was drinking heavily. When he turned 16, he used methamphetamine for the first time. He was hooked. “It was my first true love,” Dubree recalls. “The first time I did it, I experienced complete euphoria.”
By the time he was 19, Dubree had backed away from the marijuana, having “graduated onto bigger and better things.” He upped sticks to Louisville, where his biological father lives, looking for a fresh start with a grocery bag full of clothes. Soon enough, he hit the bottle. Hard.
Not knowing when to stop
“I started drinking on Friday and Saturday nights,” he says, “and then Sundays, too. Then it started on a Wednesday through the week, and before long it was every night. I would get so sick from drinking that I would have to take a day or two off, because I couldn’t hold any liquor down, I’d just vomit.”
By the time Dubree turned 20, he’d made a reliable methamphetamineconnection in his new home, and was taking the drug on occasion. He was at work one day when he started feeling a pain in his chest.
“It felt like someone was standing on my chest,” he says. “I was operating a piece of heavy machinery, so I just ignored it. When I got out of the machine to use the restroom, which couldn’t have been any longer than 50-100 yards away, I was extremely out of breath.”
When his shift ended, Dubree went home. The pain continued. At around 5am the next morning, his left arm suddenly went numb. He called a friend and asked him to go to an emergency room. A series of tests confirmed his suspicions: he’d suffered a heart attack.
“They said I’d done significant damage to my heart,” he admits. “Most people would’ve made a pretty big life change at that point. Not me.”
Dubree stopped taking methamphetamine, but he continued drinking almost every day. One year later, he and a friend were involved in a head-on collision at 60mph.
“We’d been out drinking all night,” says Dubree, “I remember looking down the road at an overturned truck. It absolutely destroyed, the cab was filled with smoke. I remember thinking that my life was over. That we had just hit and killed somebody.”
Fortunately, that didn’t happen. But the incident shook Dubree up – so much so, he stopped drinking alcohol for a month or two. It also marked the beginning of his opiate addiction.
“A friend of mine got me an OxyContin pill,” he says. “The feeling was euphoric, and I didn’t feel intoxicated like I did when was drinking. But it was quite a bit different to the alcohol and the methamphetamine – once I had used the OxyContin for a period of time, I noticed that I felt sick when I didn’t have it.”
In August 2010, Oxycontin’s producer reformulated the recipe to prevent addicts from crushing the medication down to snort, inject, chew or even smoke it. Like many other addicts, Dubree switched to an even stronger opiate: Opana.
“The withdrawals were way more intense, so at that point it became an absolute everyday thing,” says Dubree. “I went to the drug dealer’s house and a guy had brought his flat screen TV to trade for drugs.
“I remember looking at my [ex] girlfriend and saying, ‘If I ever get this bad, I’m gonna stop’. Within three or four weeks, my flat screen TV was in his upstairs bedroom, along with my pistol.”
Before long, Dubree and his then-girlfriend were homeless. The few things they hadn’t sold were stored in the boot of her car. She met her father for breakfast one day, in the throes of withdrawal. He offered the couple professional help, but at first, Dubree refused.
“Finally I saw in her what I could not see in myself,” he admits. “How serious it was, and how sick she was getting, I was afraid that she was going to die.”
Dubree knew she would not seek help alone. He resolved to attend rehab for two months with the intention of getting off the opiates. Shortly after, he checked into The Healing Place in Campbellsville, which was like “walking into a whole new world.”
“The variety of people was so vast,” he recalls. “I’m a country boy and I really didn’t feel like I fit in. I thought, ‘There’s just no way I can do this. I’m just not like these people’. Turns out, I was like those people. Even though we came from all these different backgrounds, we all had the same problem. And we were all seeking the same solution.”
On March 1, 2011, Dubree stepped into the gym for the first time with a friend. Initially daunted by the crowds, he didn’t work out for the first 45 minutes. Eventually the gym bros filtered out, and together they hit the weights He hasn’t stopped going since.
“I didn’t look at myself in the mirror for probably four to six weeks,” he says. “Then one day after a shower, I walked up to the mirror without my shirt on and I couldn’t believe it. My shoulders were wider and more defined, there was a very noticeable change. I really dug in deeper from that moment on.”
Dubree set about broadening his knowledge; seeking advice from other gym-goers and reading fitness books and magazines from cover to cover. The more he discovered about training and nutrition, the more he wanted to know.
After 11 months, Dubree left The Healing Place and secured a room at a halfway house. He got a secure job, kept to his rehab meetings and continued putting in hours at the gym. Two and a half years (and a few job promotions) later, he left the halfway house to rent his own place. Eventually, he was able to buy a house.
“I will never forget that moment, it was amazing,” says Dubree. “For some people this is just an everyday way of living, but where I come from it was a huge deal. I never thought that I would be a homeowner.”
Dubree remains a regular at The Healing Place, but as a motivational speaker. “I talk to guys who are struggling like I did,” he says. “I share my own story and let them know that where they start is definitely not where they’re going to finish.”
In the gym, Dubree has gone (quite literally) from strength to strength. He weighed 160 pounds when he first started training. Today he clocks in at 205, “and that’s lean for me,” he adds.
“I generally work one body part per day,” says Dubree. “I feel I get the most muscle development and strength by doing that. I usually work out six days a week, and every now and again I’ll take two days off.”
The days when Dubree ate little else but cheap fast food, fizzy drinks and chocolate bars are long gone. For the last six years, he’s been on “a pretty strict eating regimen” that sees him eat five whole eggs and a cup of oatmeal with blueberries for breakfast.
His next meal is usually chicken, rice and peas, “and I usually eat that same meal at least four times,” he adds. In the evening, he’ll eat lean meat and vegetables. “And I drink water only now,” he adds. “A gallon of water every day if not more.”
Becoming a Men’s Health cover star was a poignant moment for Dubree. Four days before winning last year’s Ultimate Guy competition, his best friend overdosed on heroin and died. Two months prior, he’d lost his mum to addiction.
“I wanted to show that not everybody who becomes an addict or an alcoholic is doomed for the rest of their life,” he explains. “I know several people who have stories just like mine, and they’re now productive members of society.
“They’re lawyers, doctors, judges, nurses, teachers. They’re everyday common people. It’s important that people hear both sides.”