Howling Up to the Sky: The Opioid Epidemic

Howling Up to the Sky: The Opioid Epidemic

by Jaynie Royal (Editor)


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Pact Press brings you Howling Up to the Sky, the second anthology in a series designed to spark conversation, promote awareness, and generate funds to assist in our battle against addiction.

Contained within are throughtful, thought-provoking essays on addiction, recovery, loss and hope by Barbara Lodge, Abigail Warren, Sarah Ghoshal, Ken Benson, Anna Schoenbach, Laura Golden, and Alma McKinley. The anthology also includes a short story by Jenean McBearty and poems by Tom Pescatore, Susan Vespoli, Kerry Rawlinson, Edison Jennings, Cynthia McCain, Brian Koester, Jemshed Khan, Justin Karcher, Nathanael Stolte, Damian Rucci, Will Cordeiro, Larry Thacker, and Luke Muyskens.

We are grateful to Catherine McDowell, Executive Director of Roots of Recovery, for her insightful forward.Pact Press is proud, in the sale of this anthology, to support the fine work of Shatterproof in their efforts to assist families and individuals struggling with addiction.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781947548329
Publisher: Regal House Publishing
Publication date: 01/01/2018
Pages: 146
Sales rank: 1,198,030
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Pact Press, a dedicated imprint of Regal House Publishing, is fervently committed to promoting the diversity of ethnicity and religion, of politics and perspective that enriches and empowers us all. Our Pact to you is to broadcast, proudly and loudly, the voices of those who wish to influence the debate in favor of acceptance, equal rights, respect, reproductive rights, peace, and religious tolerance. We seek rolling submissions of fiction, essays, poetry, anthologies, memoir, and/or interviews on Black Lives Matter, immigration, justice, the Supreme Court, hunger, poverty, homelessness, jobs, education, LGBTQ concerns, health care, and race.

Read an Excerpt


A Bad Night

— Barbara Lodge —

"Are these okay?" My son motions towards the red plastic bowl containing a few pieces of torn sourdough bread. "Too big?"

"Zach, they're fine. Any way you tear them is fine; they're just for stuffing."

Still, he hesitates, and as I sit next to him at the table and watch him labor over symmetrical circles or squares, I sense that his post-rehab confidence is tender and new, just being born. His fresh skin and crystalline blue eyes suggest that ten months clean and sober have agreed with him. I hope he's agreed with them; we haven't seen each other much in the few weeks since he found work, moved out of sober living, and into his own apartment.

Tonight I want to take hold of his hands and ease his mind of any uncertainty or discomfort. I want to reassure him that I'm proud of his new life, he's doing a fine job with the bread, and all he needs to do is stay away from drugs and good things will begin again.

I grab an unopened loaf and start haphazardly tearing pieces, hoping he'll notice my nonchalance. "How have you been, Zach? You're looking great!"

"I'm good ..." But then he says, "Except everyone's overreacting to what happened. The overdose wasn't a big deal — it was just a bad night."

What? Where is this going? Why now? I stay silent, stunned.

He tells me he's not like those guys in rehab, and he's definitely not an addict. After being sober for almost a year, he has a new plan. "I've decided I won't take pills; I'll just drink and smoke weed. I'll be 'sober enough.'"

Sober enough? Bullshit. After all you've put me through? You almost died, for God's sake. Get out of my house and come back when you're sane. Haven't you learned anything?

But I say nothing. If I've learned anything, it's that I don't know anything, especially about what's going on inside of my son. Especially about what underlies his drug use. He is harder on himself than any twenty-one-year-old has a right to be. Although I try, I don't understand how or why he suffers, what his fears are, his insecurities, what lurks in his dark places. I should know those things, but I don't. My yelling at him is nothing more than white noise — frustration at my limitations crashing into his.

So, I steel myself and calmly inquire, "Um Zach? I'm not sure what you're saying." He looks at me, imploring (or is it manipulating?) glistening oceans in his eyes. "Mom, I can't imagine being sober forever."

He's twenty-one and can't fathom a lifetime of abstinence. Drugs and alcohol feel good. He doesn't want to be a drug addict. Who would?

For two decades, I've been sheltering him from the storms of his father's addiction, our divorce, life's tragedies. I built a lifeboat of the finest wood and thought we were happily bobbing along. I made things easy, loving him in the well-intentioned yet materialistic way my mother loved me, shielding him from even his own mistakes; rewarding him with "things" for the least amount of effort. Denying, denying, denying the hard stuff.

We watch an episode of Modern Family as we chip away at the eight loaves of bread. "Mom, you sure this size is okay?"

Since his overdose, since he was found in a hotel room barely conscious foaming-at-the-mouth, since his music partner called 911 and the ambulance came and took him to the hospital, since he was given back to us whole, I've tried not to blame myself for missing something, for falling short as a mother. For loving too hard; for loving too soft. In theory, I accept the truth of his addiction and of my own powerlessness over his choices, but in practice, I still torment myself with what I could have done, or not done, that may have kept him safe.

In our family, denial is a force of nature.

When the show ends and the loaves are done, he stands to leave. So soon? Weren't we having fun? Please don't go. We hug, and while I cover the bowls with Happy Thanksgiving kitchen towels letting the pieces harden overnight, I call out, "I'm excited for tomorrow."

"Me too, love you Mom, see you at two p.m."

But on Thanksgiving Day, as scents of turkey and stuffing fill the house, two p.m. turns to three p.m., then four p.m., five p.m., then dinnertime, and he hasn't arrived. I call his dad who tells me, "Don't worry; he probably had something better to do." But I know my son. He wouldn't miss this holiday. My family sits down to eat and be thankful while I quickly check outside just one more time. Petty conversations, discussions of world events, and a few gushes that "this turkey is the best you've ever made" do nothing to calm my nerves because something is very wrong with this picture. I look at my partner wide-eyed with terror, my hands shaking, losing their fragile grasp on serenity.

"Wait it out. He's fine," she says to me under her breath.

Wait it out?

Over the past two years while Zach's been in-and-out and in-and-out of treatment, we've lost nine young friends to opiate overdoses. One after another, like falling dominos, kids are dying. The parents, good parents; the kids, sensitive and loving. Like me, like Zach. There's a war going on and it has invaded my small country.

Sometimes I write down their names just to look at them and remember: No one is safe. No one is immune. Lives are lost in a millisecond. These are our children.

Catherine — stepped in front of a moving train after being kicked out of sober living

Thomas — fatal overdose the day he got home from rehab

Kevin — brain death from overdose while living in sober living

Melanie — fatal overdose between appointments as a personal trainer

Christian — fatal overdose the day he got home from rehab

Matthew — fatal overdose while house sitting

James — fatal overdose while in sober living

Toby — fatal overdose

Lyle — fatal overdose

I eat my dinner on autopilot, choking down heaping forkfuls so my plate will empty and we can move on. I skip the stuffing and can't taste the turkey, creamed spinach, or even the honey-baked ham. Racing thoughts hijack my senses:

Don't catastrophize, smile every now and then, stay calm for your family, BUT what if, what if, what if he's in a hospital somewhere scared and alone, or worse blue and stiff and ... gone the others?

Norcos. Oxys. Percs. Vikes. They're everywhere. Pouring from the sky like sheets of steady rain. What will become of him?

* * *

Finally dinner ends — empty plates, full stomachs, and still, his vacant chair beside me.

Call the hospitals, call the police, call his friends. Find him!

My partner says, "I think it's time. We should start with his apar–" I rise from the table and grab my keys. Careening down Wilshire Blvd, I repeat, a robot on tilt, "Please make him okay. Please make him okay. Please make him okay ..."

The trip is a blur until I stand outside of the locked door of his security building. I frantically buzz residents' buzzers from A to Z and of course no one's there because it's Thanksgiving and they're home with their families. There's no way to get in and I cross the street to be on the same side as the fire station — to be near those who save lives. I sit on the sidewalk rocking back and forth, wishing I knew how to pray. The cement is cool and my head throbs — fear and powerlessness pounding into my skin. As if watching a scene from a movie, I watch my partner follow someone into the building.

I don't go, petrified of what she may find.

She calls my cell —"He's here. He's okay. He was sleeping."

And I crack wide open, dropping my phone on the ground and howling up to the sky like a wounded animal, "Thank yooou, thank yoooou, thank yoooou." Suddenly I'm kicking the goddamn security door because I need to hold him NOW, feel his heart beat, hear his breath, make sure she's right. "Someone help me! Open this goddamn door," I scream to no one and everyone. I'm feral, sobbing, kicking, pounding. Breaking the skin. She opens the door. A gust of cool air. I push inside.

He's sitting on the couch, hanging his head, repentant, self-loathing. "I'm sorry, Mom. I really messed up."

"Yeah, you did, Zach." And as my beautiful boy stands to face me, anger and blame dissolve into the warmth of his aliveness. His heart beats into my chest as my fears and tears saturate his shirt. Yes, yes, he's here, right here. My son is alive; many other parents can't say that.

This is the same scared boy who, seemingly lifetimes ago, stood in the pelting rain behind the preschool gate red face crumpled, lips tight, holding in terrified screams. Brimming with blue water, his stormy eyes begged, "Mommmyyyy! No, don't go." And I left because they told me to. But when I picked him up, fraught with guilt and remorse, I pinky-swore that I'd always, always, always, always come back and keep him safe and warm and dry.

I didn't know then that my promise couldn't be kept. I didn't know then that Zach was to become his own storm, hurtling himself every which way in order to make us proud, get good grades, finish what he starts; crashing against his learning disabilities; bashing his body with pills, alcohol, weed, pills, alcohol, weed; battering his soul with lost jobs, lost opportunities, lost trust, with lies and deceit and shame; pushing himself towards, then away from his loving family; and finally, yanking himself so close to the precipice that complete self-destruction lay only a breath away.

Trying to protect him from himself is like trying to protect atmosphere from weather.

"Mom, I'm so sorry. I am so stupid. I had some really strong weed last night. I didn't know how it would affect me."

My hands press harder onto his back as he heaves waves of shame and regret. I shed my own tears too — each one a reminder that I don't believe him and I can't save him. In this moment of clarity, this miniscule moment connecting earth and sky, only one thing matters. Love. Love for my son in all his complexities. Love for my son, and for myself — whether he's using or not. And a new feeling borne of compassion, for both of us, enters the room.

I continue to hug him and tell him I love him and yes he majorly screwed up, and yes he made a mess of Thanksgiving for everyone, and his grandmother was so worried, and we all were a wreck, and this is the kind of shit that happens when you do drugs ... but still, "I love you more than words can say."

"Mom. I promise this will never happen again." I know he means it, from his heart he means it. Yet I feel a pang of truth and terror that despite his best intentions, this probably will happen again.

We're in the eye of the storm. All the more reason to be kind. All the more reason to love, right here, right now.

We sit on the couch where he, again, hangs his head. My heart breaks a little more for his pain and confusion. Our pain and confusion. My son has a disease. Its symptoms include bad choices, irresponsible behavior, self-aggrandizement, self-loathing. If only I could inspire confidence that would seep through his skin, if only he could see his worthiness rather than his failures and setbacks, if only he could internalize the words of Rumi that I've printed and hung above my desk:

Do you know what you are? You are a manuscript of a divine letter. You are a mirror reflecting a noble face. This universe is not outside of you. Look inside yourself; everything that you want, you are already that.

If only I could, too.

* * *

"A Bad Night" was previously published in Voices on Addiction on The

Barbara Straus Lodge is a native Angeleno who earned a B.A. in English from UCLA and a Juris Doctor from Pepperdine University School of Law. She is a graduate of the UCLA Creative Nonfiction Writer's Program and her personal essays, mostly about her family's struggles with addiction, have appeared in Parabola Magazine, The Rumpus Voices onAddiction, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Random Acts of Kindness, The Good Men Project, New York Times, Motherlode Blog, the LA Affairs section of the Los Angeles Times, and a variety of anthologies. Ms. Lodge was also a 2017 guest blogger for Speakers for Change and Facing Addiction.

Ms. Lodge teaches writing to incarcerated young girls through WriteGirl, a Los Angeles based mentoring program, and is the founder of TruthTalks™ workshops which offer hope to parents of young adults struggling with addiction. In TruthTalks™ workshops, parents of active addicts have the opportunity to have a dialogue with kids who've found solid recovery. These dialogues with those kids who've "been there" offer rare insight into their motivations and experiences. As a result, parents often de-objectify their addict sons or daughters and begin to see their struggles with new eyes. There is no room for stigma or judgment. The act of talking and listening to kids in recovery opens doors into a new space where parents can connect with their own children through compassion, empathy, and love. Ms. Lodge lives in Los Angeles and has two amazing young adult children.


— Tom Pescatore —

frame by frame

your life escapes me

little white pill

many mashed words in a mixer like mom's 1950
powder blue or green whatever my mind sticks to whatever memory pops out

whatever color smells right

like flour wisps in sunlit circles and by the time I write this I am 30 years old confined to my bed

in pain


higher still

too weak to resist the next four hours

* * *

Tom Pescatore can sometimes be seen wandering along the Walt Whitman Bridge or down the sidewalks of Philadelphia's old Skid Row. He might leave a poem or two behind to mark his trail. He claims ownership of a poetry blog: His first poetry collection, Go On, Breathe Freely! is out now from Chatter House Press.

Alex's Teeth

(Spiraling Abecedarian)

— Susan Vespoli —

Alex's baby bottom choppers crept up like darts.
Duo of early pearls emerging front row finial twins grinners grinders happy sprouts held in mouth like innocence jiggled loose, lost,
jammed beneath pillow. Kid notes kissed up to tooth fairy "Leave cash, please.
Lots." The mom
(me) never said
"No" or maybe only rarely. Put five bucks under his pillow, smiled quietly smoothed quilt. No sign of rotting then. Cavity free.
Really straight sans orthodontia. Teeth to die for eventually under siege. Addiction is ugly. I can't watch them vanquished,
vanishing into white powder,
wasting gray. Xed out by OxyContin Rx. Then junk. Ya. I can't watch him dissolve, zero each enamel bead into zilch. Zot.

* * *

Susan Vespoli lives in Phoenix, Arizona. She received her MFA in 2010 from Antioch University Los Angeles. Her poetry and prose have been published in a variety of spots including New Verse News, Mom Egg Review, South85 Journal, Writing Bloody, and Role Reboot. Her second chapbook, entitled I Come from a Line of Women, will be published by dancing girl press in 2018.

Heroin Addiction: News From the Happy Valley

— Abigail Warren —

Down the road from my house, about a five-minute walk, my street leads into the "Meadows." The Meadows is fertile farmland bordering the Connecticut River that snakes through the valley. It's a great place to walk the dog, bike, run, or go birding. Acres upon acres of feed corn and rye sometimes fill the open fields. When there are heavy rains, everything is underwater. Last summer I saw rows of rotting zucchini.

It's not unusual to see two or three tents tucked in the woods throughout the summer; homeless people make the Meadows their home in the warmer months. I was surprised to see a tent still standing this past November, into the beginning of December. It was way too cold to be living in a tent. Temperatures had dropped into the twenties for several nights. Puddles were icing over, and the river was running cold and steady with heavy rains.


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Table of Contents



Forward by Catherine McDowell, Executive Director and Founder of Roots of Recovery

Introduction by Jaynie Royal and Ruth Feiertag

A Bad Night, an essay by Barbara Lodge

Oxy, a poem by Tom Pescatore

Alex’s Teeth, a poem by Susan Vespoli

Heroin Addiction: News From the Happy Valley, an essay by Abigail Warren

Sophie, an essay by Abigail Warren

Grade School Photo, a poem by Eddison Jennings

Suburbia’s Downfall, an essay by Sarah Ghoshal

Apology to a Heroin Addict, a poem by Sarah Ghoshal

Hart’s Cove, a poem by Cythnia McCain

To a Dead Friend, a poem by Brian Koester

A Doctor’s Perspective, an essay by Ken Benson

A Visit From Reality, a short fiction by Jenean McBearty

Chicken, a poem by Susan Vespoli

Intersects, a short fiction by Kerry Rawlinson

Modern Blue, a poem by Jemshed Khan

Not Just Pills for Pills, an essay by Anna Schoenbach

Screaming Really Loudly into van Gogh’s Severed Ear, a poem by Justin Karcher

Soul-Rot, a poem by Nathanael Stolte

Roots of Recovery, an essay by Laura Golden

All the Junkies on Carr Avenue, a poem by Damian Rucci

Graveyard, a poem by Will Cordeiro

Deal, a poem by Larry Thacker

Make Green the Lawn, a poem by Luke Muyskens

Some Good Has Come of This, an essay by D. Ketchum

Good Morning, Death, a short fiction by Kerry Rawlinson

Hopeful, a poem by Tom Pescatore

Overpass, a poem by Will Cordeiro

Junky Obituary Newsfeed, an essay by Nathanael Stolte

Pyramids, a poem by Damian Rucci

Brother-in-law, a poem by Jemshed Khan

A Pharmacist’s Choices and Their Impact on the Opioid Epidemic, an essay by Alma McKinley

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