Photo by Michael Buckelew
At 20, David Casteel began his descent into heavy drinking and cocaine use. He landed in jail twice and knew his behavior had become a burden on his family, but he couldn't find a way out.
"In my eyes, there was like a hole inside of me that needed to be filled with something and I was trying to fill it, take the feeling away," said Casteel, now 43.
"I didn't have a lot of self-esteem and it was anything that I could put in my body to make reality go away, for the feelings to go away, I was trying, and I'm pretty sure that's what every alcoholic does.
"It took me a while and I found God. I found out I didn't have to be a slave to drugs and alcohol and I could live a productive life and be an asset to the community and be a good father and be a good son to my mom and dad."
In keeping with his desire to improve life for others like himself, Casteel recently established a sober house for recovering alcohol and drug addicts. Located in Conyers, the First Step House of Rockdale is a small apartment complex at 1219 Lakeview Drive, owned and operated by Casteel.
The two-bedroom apartments, which each house up to four clients, come fully furnished, with kitchen cookware and utensils, cable television and wireless Internet. Residents pay $125 a week and stay for as long or short a time as is necessary to become stable.
Casteel said the idea is to provide those who are transitioning out of a rehabilitation center, or situation of addiction, an affordable place to live while they work or seek employment and learn to live without drugs and alcohol.
"I really, genuinely, heart and soul wanted to give something back for the other people who are having to go through what I went through," Casteel said.
The facility is certified by the Georgia Association of Recovery Residences, a nonprofit which provides standards of care for facilities offering aid to persons seeking recovery.
Under GARR's recommendations, Casteel administers random drug and alcohol tests to residents; requires them to be employed, seeking employment or attending post-secondary education and attend 12-step meetings.
"Our type of model has shown that we have the highest positive outcomes for long-term recovery," GARR President-Elect Ted McAllister said.
McAllister said providing recovering individuals a more normalized, community setting, as opposed to a medical facility set apart from others, minimizes relapses.
"Our focus is learning how to live a sober life," McAllister said.
Many of the GARR-certified facilities are located in Atlanta, leaving a vacuum in more rural areas outside of the city. McAllister said the Rockdale Houses for Men and Women fill to capacity quickly and the need outweighs the resources.
"David is definitely filling a big gap in services in his area," McAllister said.
Casteel said in order for a person to stay sober, he must want to live a drug and alcohol free life for himself, not for others.
Casteel experienced one failed attempt at recovery, but then traveled from his home state of Georgia to a rehab center in California. He wanted to get as far away as possible from the influences that kept leading him down the path of self-destruction.
It worked. Casteel is working on his sixth year of sobriety.
"Life is a lot less complicated. It's just a joy to live life," Casteel said. "My biggest suggestion for newcomers is to go to meetings, find a sponsor and work the 12 steps and your life will get better one day at a time."
The First Step House is located in an apartment building, constructed in 1967, which required extensive renovation, said Casteel. Even though the venture is a business, Casteel said it's not profit that motivates him.
"It's not about the money. It's that people get on with their lives," he said. "I'm in it to do the right thing."
For more information, visit www.firststephouseofrockdale.com. To learn more about GARR, visit www.garronline.org.