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John back to enjoying nature and his passion of skiing

Turning darkness into a bright future

Business owner and long-time Breckenridge local John Pallaoro recalls the moment his life hit an all-time low. His best friend and wife of 13 years had left and taken the kids. He was completely alone. She had decided she couldn’t raise her children around his toxic lifestyle. John’s rock bottom took him into deep darkness, and he turned to his top choice at this time in his life. “I couldn’t escape the chains of drinking. It’s the lowest point I’ve ever been in my life,” says John, now approaching his one-year sobriety anniversary. 

The Colorado native grew up in Evergreen, attended college in Boulder and landed in Breckenridge, settling down in Summit County 18 years ago. He loved the mountain lifestyle, skiing everyday and working in the service industry. Eventually he opened Northside Pizza in Breckenridge. He admits that the majority of the last 20 years of his life revolved around alcohol. What started as college experimentation and partying in Boulder turned into a daily occurrence in Breck. Soon drinking after a shift and wandering down main street exploring the numerous bars was his routine. 

Dulling the pain

Over the years John began to realize alcohol was the common denominator in everything negative in his life. His drinking had escalated quickly, with mornings initiated by plans for the next drink or visits to the liquor store. Several times he tried to quit on his own, often feeling successful for a month or two at a time before succumbing to his constant villain. It was that fateful day when John hit an all-time low after his family left that prompted his journey out of the darkness and back into the light. 

“Looking back, I wouldn’t be living with the level of freedom I have now without living through that dark time,” explains John, “I realized the only thing stopping me from the future I wanted was myself.” 

John knew this time that he needed recovery assistance and began working with the IAMACOMEBACK organization. This program helped change his mindset and perspective to focusing on the future, combined with a healthy dose of self-accountability. “What really changed my life was taking personal responsibility for things and learning to listen to myself, respect myself, and love myself. I began to learn the value of my time on this Earth and what I wanted my life to look like.”

Self-accountability turns to healing

By holding himself accountable, John began to clearly see alcohol had been distracting him from past issues and current problems. Alcohol dulled the beauty of his life. Small steps like walking past the liquor store or being in a social setting with drinking helped John focus on facing his issues, owning his past, and forgiving himself. “I had a clearer vision of what I wanted my life to look like. I wanted to maximize myself as a man, father, husband, and business owner. Someone who loves the mountains and values my life.”

Although John is proud to be approaching his year of sobriety, he doesn’t always suggest counting the days of success. He looks at his recovery as a lifestyle shift and each day is a blank slate. He has found success in setting a regular routine, which includes spending 10 minutes each morning quietly setting his daily intentions. John also participates in journaling and writing. And, of course, he spends time skiing and hiking and finds nature brings him clarity. Spending time with his wife and kids again brings him the ultimate joy, happily reunited and providing his family the best version of himself. John is hopeful that sharing his story will benefit other people in our community. He also suggests asking for help or finding a program that works best for you.

Candy Elkind

John and his daughter

There are many options. “I love people. I want them to have a better life for themselves, to awaken their future and get away from distractions. My story proves that struggles can be turned into opportunities. Take action everyday in your present life to create your dream future,” John concludes. 


Story by Alyse Piburn, special projects writer for Building Hope Summit County. If you have a story to share, reach out to her at alyse@buildinghopesummit.org. Photos submitted by John Pallaoro.