David Chestnutt admits he drank too much, smoked marijuana, snorted cocaine and used heroin. He once took $150 from his daughter’s sock drawer that was being saved for a trip to Carowinds in order to support his habit.
A trip to Bethel Colony of Mercy in 2005 — his fourth stay at a different drug and alcohol rehabilitation center — turned his life around. He’s spent the past 10 years helping other men do the same. He’s now looking to help more men beginning this summer as executive director of Carolina Crossroads, the new center being opened at the former Eckerd youth facility in Bladen County. Several Bladen County churches and denominations have come together to open and oversee the facility.
“I struggled with drugs and alcohol for over 20 years,” Chestnutt, who is 50 years old, said. “When I came home (from Bethel), I just wanted to help people. I wanted to let people like me, who struggle with drugs and alcohol, know that there is hope, and that is in and through Jesus Christ. My goal is to give people hope and show them that they can change.”
Chestnutt has operated Open Door Ministry rehabilitation center in Delway in Sampson County, first in an old sewing factory and recently in his parent’s backyard. More than 1,000 men have gone through the program in the past decade, he says, and the success rate is 62 percent. “A secular program is less than 10 percent because they don’t have the answer,” Chestnutt said.
Chestnutt and his staff are in the process of closing the Sampson County facility and moving into the 400-acre wilderness area off Susie Sand Hill Road between White Lake and Garland. The facility, which is scheduled to open July 1, will be able to house up to 24 men who are seeking help for drug or alcohol addiction.
“This place is so peaceful,” Chestnutt said. “It’s a renewal place. There’s a lot to be done, but it’s worth the investment. We want to get churches and businesses and concerned citizens involved. There’s a drug problem.”
Chestnutt’s story is one of triumph, tragedy and triumph. It’s a story of a good kid who went down the wrong path, but found his way back before it was too late. Through faith, determination and support, Chestnutt has made it to an age he once never thought possible.
“I’m living on borrowed time,” Chestnutt said. “I put my wife through a living hell. There was a time that my wife said that she just wished I’d die so we could mourn and get it over with. I was in and out of life just like a tornado. I just wanted to die.”
It wasn’t like that when Chestnutt was growing up. He graduated from Harrells Christian Academy in 1982 and “played anything that had a ball.” He admits that school wasn’t his favorite thing, but he attended Sampson Community College for a time after graduating from Harrells. At 20, he landed a job selling cars at a Clinton dealership.
“I started smoking weed, started drinking, started doing cocaine,” Chestnutt said. “I gave into peer pressure and wanted to fit in.
“I really didn’t get hooked until I started snorting cocaine. That’s what jerked the rug out from under me. I was doing about $200 a day.”
Later, Chestnutt opened a used car dealership in Kinston. “I had a $250,000 business one year, and the next year I had nothing. I had snorted it up my nose.”
Chestnutt’s addiction grew, and he went from snorting cocaine to smoking crack. “That is when I just went totally out of control,” he said “That’s when you start stealing. I even stole from my own daughter. One time I was on a crack binge and I didn’t have any money. She had saved some money in an envelope for us to go to Carowinds. I went through her sock drawer and found an envelope that had $20 and a line through it, $21 and a line through it, all the way up to $150. I sat there crying, saying ‘I can’t take this money.’ But I did.”
Chesnutt was in and out of treatment centers from 1990 until 2003. Finally, he arrived at Bethel Colony of Mercy in Lenoir. He found the help he needed.
“I didn’t know there was any way out,” Chestnutt said. “My mother had been telling me for years that I just needed Jesus. I told her that I needed something because this sure wasn’t working.”
Listening to his mom and following the Bethel Colony program allowed Chestnutt to turn around his life.
“All the other programs said that you’re an alcohol and an addict,” Chestnutt said. “It’s an incurable disease. One counselor said that you’re born a cucumber, but once you start drinking and drugging, you become a pickle, and once you’re a pickle, you can never be a cucumber again.
“When I went to Bethel and learned 2 Corinthians 5:17, ‘Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.’ I remember asking in class if that meant I didn’t have to be an addict no more, because I was tired of being an addict.
“When I share my testimony, I tell people that I’m a watermelon. A pickle is a dill and sourpuss. God made me a whole new thing, sweet and good.”
Chestnutt is hoping to turn more pickles into watermelons as he begins his new venture with Carolina Crossroads.
“What excites me today is to let people know about this place,” Chestnutt said. “There’s a wife. There’s a mom. There’s somewhere they can go. It doesn’t need to be a secret. We want people to come.
“Those other programs are good as long as you have insurance. When the insurance goes away, thank God for a place like this. God forbid when a poor man reaches up for help and there’s nowhere for him to go. Guess what? There is at Carolina Crossroads.”
For information about Carolina Crossroads, contact Rev. Bruce Cannon at Bladen Baptist Association at 862-3496.