By Dawn Heinbach
Kutztown University student, Catherine J. Mahony, was the featured poet at the Oct. 2 meeting of Berks Bards, which takes place monthly at GoggleWorks, Reading, Pa. Mahony’s work brings the hopeful message of recovery from addiction by telling her own story, from her time as a homeless heroin addict, to a psychiatric ward inpatient, to a college graduate with many accomplishments and a fulfilled life. Mahony has shared her story at local recovery facilities like the Caron Foundation, White Deer Run and Berks County Prison.
Her first chapbook, “Prior Restraints,” was released on the same night. The book is a brutally honest compilation of poems that reflect on her experiences during her addiction and mental illness. While it took five years for Mahony to build sufficient confidence and skill in her writing before seeking publication, the poems themselves did not take long to write since they adhere to a specific theme.
Her goal with the book is to give a voice to those who are struggling with addiction or mental illness.
“I hope that through reopening my wounds, I can assist others in healing their own,” Mahony said.
Her future plans include a full-length memoir, of which part one is already completed. The theme is similar to the chapbook but the longer length allows for a deeper probe of the 12-year-old Mahony’s loss of her mother, her father’s alcoholism and motherhood, which she attributes to saving her life.
Mahony is especially sensitive to the rise in heroin deaths in Berks and surrounding counties.
“What I would say to young people today who are considering experimenting with drugs or who are already in the throes of addiction is that your life is a precious gift and you are all here for a very specific reason,” she said. “I guarantee that reason is not to fall victim to an addiction that can only end in three ways: becoming institutionalized, becoming incarcerated or the ultimate sacrifice, dying.”
The strength of the opiate and the various substances with which the drug is combined significantly inflates the danger of trying it even once.
“The potency of the drug which is being distributed today increases the chance of overdose and death exponentially,” Mahony said. “That first line or shot could very well be your last.”
Mahony is available for speaking engagements and offers a therapeutic writing program to prison inmates and patients in treatment facilities.
Below is a video of Mahony.