Virginia couple praises program for getting them on the path to recovery: 'Get back up, keep trying'

Posted at 4:28 PM, Jun 10, 2024

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- Jonathan Carter is a man on a journey of recovery and rediscovery. His previous battles with substance use came to a head last August when paramedics revived him from an overdose at his mother's house in Chester, Virginia.

"One of the EMTs asked me if I was trying to get clean and I said, 'Yeah.' And he said that if you really wanted to, then they could get me some help," Carter said.

That help came in the form of a visit from Peer Support Recovery Specialists (PSRP) Daniel Athey and Melissa Lewis. Athey works with the Chesterfield Fire & EMS Mobile Integrated Healthcare Program and Lewis works with the county's mental health program and do follow-up visits to people who were subjects of overdose calls.

"We're just trying to bridge the gap between wanting to get help and having the ability to get the help," Lewis said. "We've noticed that building those relationships with people that when they are ready for help, they will circle back around to us and then we will be able to help facilitate whatever their goal is and in that we are meeting them where they're at."

Peer Support Recovery Specialists Daniel Athey and Melissa Lewis
Peer Support Recovery Specialists Melissa Lewis and Daniel Athey

The duo began working with Carter to get him resources to recover.

Carter said their help helped him find his "why" in life.

"I got people that need me. I got a lot of people to look up to me. I got children. I got family members that's younger than me that always looked up to me," Carter said.

Jonathan Carter
Jonathan Carter

Carter later convinced his girlfriend Ashley Dawson to join him.

She had a similar realization after an overdose of her own.

"I remember getting out of the hospital and the first thing I was thinking I was getting high. So, that's when I called Melissa," Dawson said.

Ashley Dawson
Ashley Dawson

Their paths to recovery have not been perfect.

Both have experienced a relapse.

Lewis and Athey called relapses common and said they were there to help them through.

"A national average, I believe, it's for persons with opioid use disorder., it's to get one-year sustained clean time is about six or seven attempts, if not eight attempts," Athey said.

Carter and Dawson are now both around eight months clean, working full-time and Dawson has regained custody of her children.

The duo credited support from the county and the people in this program.

"I didn't think that there would be people out there, especially that has a job, to actually have compassion for people like -- that walk in my shoes," Carter said.

Lewis and Athey said that is because they have walked in those same shoes, both in their own recovery journeys from substance use, and aim to help others as PSRPs.

Lewis said while they provided support, it was ultimately Dawson and Carter who did the work.

"To see them flourishing and just their faces are so different now than what they were a year ago. That it just makes me so happy that I can't even put it into words," Lewis said.

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Both Carter and Dawson hope to be able to pay it forward one day as both are training to become peer recovery specialists themselves.

In the meantime, they shared words of encouragement to anyone who might be starting their journey to recovery..

"It's not about how hard you fall, it's about how you pick yourself up," Carter said. "People fall all the time. As long as you get back up, keep trying, keep pushing, you can get somewhere."

If you or a loved one needs help in their recovery journey, Lewis said you can contact the mental health services board which you can reach directly through their number 804-796-7127.

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