Geri-Lynn Utter, who is signing copies of her recently completed book on Dec. 20, has quite a story to tell.
Geri-Lynn Utter’s late father was a rock 'n' roll singer in a band called Destinations that had a pretty good run in the late 1960s, playing lots of local clubs when rock 'n' roll was exploding on the music scene. He also owned a bar in Kensington called Utter Nonsense, which was renamed Lucky's when it was used in the iconic Sylvester Stallone movie, “Rocky.”
Utter, who is signing copies of her recently completed book about those years at a Stag and Doe Night event at booked on Wednesday, Dec. 20, from 6 to 7:30 p.m., has quite a story to tell.
Utter’s father was also a hardcore user of heroin and methamphetamine who spent time in jail on drug charges. Utter herself often lived with housemates addicted to opioids, but she refused to fall into the abyss.
“My mom was hooked on fentanyl, heroin, binge drinking, [had] anxiety, major depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, so she was incapable of caring for me,” Utter said last week. “My life at home was absolute hell. People told me there was no way I could make something out of my life, but if someone tells me I can't do something, it fuels my fire. I will do everything I can to prove them wrong.”
Given her past, what Utter has accomplished is nothing short of a miracle. In February 2020, she released “Mainlining Philly,” an autobiographical account of her life as well as an in-depth look at the opioid crisis. Her latest book, "Aftershock: How Past Events Shake Up Your Life Today,” was just published by Simon and Schuster.
Utter uses the term “aftershocks” to refer to trauma including divorce, the death of a loved one, miscarriage and the pandemic. Those ordeals do not quite rise to the level of PTSD, she said, but are disorienting enough to cause irritability, difficulty sleeping, and other symptoms.
“No one goes through life unscathed,” Utter said “That s--- sneaks up on you later.”
Her own life experience is a reflection of what it takes to cope, and conquer.
During her high school years, Utter went to Nazareth Academy for Girls in Northeast Philadelphia. “The girls were motivated there,” she said. “I could not afford the tuition, so I got a job waitressing, and I gave my tips to the school for tuition, and they were so moved by that, they did not charge me anymore.”
She went on to earn an undergraduate degree in English and communications from Cabrini College in 2002, and a master's and doctorate, both in psychology from Chestnut Hill College. Since then, she has been using her education and life experience to educate people about addiction and to help those who are spinning around and around on the hamster wheel of addiction.
“Because I had parents who struggled with drug addiction and severe mental illness,” she explained, “I worked hard throughout my life to conceal it by presenting myself in a manner very different than what others would assume of me based on my upbringing.
“I, too, adopted the same mentality of feeling ashamed, angry and embarrassed about my upbringing. So I hoped that writing 'Mainlining Philly' would help to destigmatize addiction and mental illness, in turn creating a safe space for people who need treatment to seek it out without feeling judged or ashamed.”
Utter, whose new podcast “Mind over Mayhem” debuts this month, also recently produced a documentary, “Utter Nonsense.” Four years in the making, it will soon be formally released on Prime Video, Apple TV, Vimeo and Vudu streaming platforms.
The documentary showcases her life growing up in Kensington, her dedication to mental health advocacy, and the impact of her work on the community.
“I still go down to the Kensington drug market,” Utter said. “Kensington has been terribly stigmatized, but the addicts there are not from Kensington. They are from all over, including wealthy areas like the Main Line. They are called zombies, which is dehumanizing. Some people film them for the 'clicks' and 'likes,' exploiting the suffering of addicts.”
In her opinion, she said, Philadelphia is not ready to handle a safe injection drug site, which city council has considered doing.
“That would be too progressive,” she said. “first we’d need cops and all other parties to sit down and talk together. Safe injection sites could be successful if done right. They have been done successfully in Canada, Nordic countries, and even New York, but you must have all hands on deck.”
Utter has a small private telehealth practice and she does psychological evaluations of people on probation in Montgomery County. She also has a full-time job in drug development for Orexo Pharmaceutical Co. in Central Jersey. Her husband, Greg Godfrey, is a physical education teacher at Abington Middle School, and they have two children.
For more information, visit drgerilynnutter.com. You can reach Len Lear at firstname.lastname@example.org