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From a junkie addicted to methamphetamines to a federal judge, Mary Beth O’Connor’s memoir shares her inspiring journey from rock bottom to resilience as she forged a personal path to recovery from trauma and addiction.
Silver Award, 2023 Nonfiction Book Awards
Searing, unsettling, and ultimately triumphant, Judge O'Connor's debut memoir takes readers on a wild ride through the rock-bottom underbelly of intravenous drug addiction to the hallowed halls of justice where she rose to the pinnacle of success as a federal judge. With wit and unabashed honesty, O’Connor shares her remarkable three-phase journey: the abuse and trauma that drove her to teenage drug use, the chaos that ensued from her addiction; and how she developed a personalized secular recovery plan that led to twenty-nine years of sobriety. Her story proves any addict can recover and anyone can build a productive and happy life, no matter how low the bottom or how deep the pain.
Within a week of being born, O’Connor was dropped off at a convent. When she was brought into her home, her mother focused on her own needs and desires, ignoring her young child. When she was nine, her stepfather kicked her in the stomach for spilling milk, beat her when she didn’t clean a plate to his satisfaction, and molested her when she was twelve. A few months later, with her first sip of Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill wine, her life changed. She felt euphoric and relaxed. So she got drunk as often as possible, adding pot, then pills, then acid. At sixteen, she found her drug of choice--methamphetamine. With her first snort, she experienced true joy for the first time. When this high was no longer sufficient, she turned to the needle and shot up.
During the next sixteen years, she descended into a severe meth addiction, working her way down the corporate ladder, destroying relationships, and shattering her physical and emotional well-being.
At thirty-two, she entered rehab, where she was ordered to submit to the 12-steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. As an atheist, turning her will and her life over to a higher power was not an option, and she refused to agree she was powerless. Told to comply or fail, she bravely created a new path that combined ideas from multiple programs and even incorporated some AA concepts.
Clean and sober now for more nearly three decades, she is proof that anyone can find their sober self, their best self, no matter how far they have fallen. Along with her inspiring story, she offers a comprehensive checklist of questions for readers to ask themselves as they take the brave steps toward recovery, offering a powerful blueprint for personal change.
About the Author
Mary Beth O'Connor has been clean and sober since 1994. She also is in recovery from abuse, trauma, and anxiety. Mary Beth is a director, secretary, and founding investor for She Recovers Foundation. She also is a director for LifeRing Secular Recovery. She regularly speaks on behalf of these organizations and about multiple paths to recovery. This includes conferences, podcasts, radio, and recovery houses. She also develops relationships with other organizations, such as Women for Sobriety. In August 2020, Mary Beth had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, "I Beat Addiction without God," where she described combining ideas from several secular programs to create a robust recovery foundation. Mary Beth’s memoir writings have been published in Memoir Magazine, Awakenings, The Noyo River Review, The Fault Zone, Carry the Light, and Ravens Perch. Professionally, six years into her recovery, Mary Beth attended Berkeley Law. She worked at a large firm, then litigated class actions for the federal government. In 2014, she was appointed a federal administrative law judge.
"I found this story, so honest and compelling. It’s incredible to see how much the author overcame and then went on to become a judge. That kind of life story and experience has to give someone a great perspective when looking at how we treat other people under the law. A great read." —Lee Woodruff
"This is a sad but ultimately uplifting story. Recommended."—Library Journal
“There is often an unspoken hierarchy in the recovery community, with IV drug users unofficially labeled ‘least likely to succeed.’ Mary Beth’s story counters that assumption in the most inspiring way. Her tale of trauma, loss, and ultimate victory over addiction is a testament to the strength of empowerment approaches to recovery like Women for Sobriety. If you are struggling with the idea that there is only one way to get sober, you need to read this book!”
Adrienne Miller, Women for Sobriety president and CEO
“Judge O’Connor casts an unflinching gaze over the past to explore the factors that contributed to her demise into drugs, abusive relationships and self-harm, and the resources that helped her build an empowered life. Harrowing and hopeful, her story assures readers that recovery is possible.”
Jean McCarthy, podcast host of The Bubble Hour, author of the Unpickled series
“A riveting memoir about a harrowing childhood and the deep abyss of drug addiction—followed by an inspiring story of recovery and a practical guide to building an individual recovery plan—no higher power required.”
Mary M. French, administrative law judge, retired
“Recovery, like Rome, is a destination with many roads. There is an abundance of stories where recovery is laid at the feet of some notion of God. But only a small minority of addicted persons actually walk that pathway. Much larger numbers find recovery elsewhere. Mary Beth O’Connor’s memoir begins to fill the information gap about recovery for people who, like many younger Americans today, check 'none of the above' when it comes to religious affiliation. Starting in her teens, Mary Beth did about all the drugs you can do. She could have been a poster child for the victims of dysfunctional family life. Yet eventually she pulled out of it. She tried 12-steps and found it wanting. She took charge of her own recovery. She achieved not only abstinence but big-R Recovery, overcoming her inner demons, and demonstrating the competence, intelligence, reliability, and social skills necessary for professional advancement. This is an inspirational story of survival and renewal.”
Martin Nicolaus, founder, LifeRing Secular Recovery, author of Empower Your Sober Self and Recovery by Choice
“From Junkie to Judge is an essential addition to addiction and recovery literature. Mary Beth’s remarkable and gripping story smashes stereotypes about professionals and drug use. An avowed atheist, she also gives hope to those who've been told recovery requires faith.”
Lisa F. Smith, author of Girl Walks Out of a Bar: A Memoir and co-host of Recovery Rocks podcast
“What a wonderful example of the possibilities that are inside us all! This is a deeply relatable story of childhood pain that is transformed through the trials of addiction and recovery. This compelling account of triumph over adversity speaks to the challenges we all face and the hope of what is possible once we do the work of healing the past. As a person in long term recovery, I found From Junkie to Judge to be a valuable resource for those considering a life free of addictions.”
Arlina Allen, One Day at a Time podcast host
“From Junkie to Judge is a story of hard-won grace, and a remarkable tenacity to persevere. Mary Beth narrates an extraordinary journey of transcendence and advocacy. We are so fortunate to have her record, and this guide to recovery—and recovering well—that finds witness in her overcoming adversity, becoming oneself, and blazing the trail for others to follow.”
John Evans, author of Young Widower: A Memoir and Stanford University lecturer
“Very rarely do you find a person who has the courage to be so honest about not only their particular experience but the human experience. Judge O'Connor exhibits that courage in spades in her memoir. She takes you in detail through her struggle and her subsequent recovery from addiction and trauma. It is an unbelievable example of the indomitable will to not give up. As a person in long-term recovery and an addiction clinician, it was great to read something that details just how real addiction is, how hard getting sober can be and wonderful tools to help all of those in the fight. To anyone reading this who is struggling—you are worth it and deserving of all the beautiful things the world has to offer you.”
AJ Diaz, LMSW, CASAC-T, co-founder of You Are Accountable