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Mary Beth O’Connor

From Junkie to Judge: One Woman’s Triumph Over Trauma and Addiction

May 4, 2023
4 PM PDT | 5 PM MDT | 6 PM CDT | 7 PM EDT

When I was appointed a federal judge in 2014, I reflected back on my story. I had an extensive history of abuse and neglect, including child physical and sexual abuse, two multi-assailant rapes, and an abusive boyfriend. I also had a 20 year history of drug use, which began at age 12, continued until 32, and included over 10 years of shooting methamphetamine. Since I’d attained sobriety in 1994, I’d worked hard on recovery from my substance use disorder and my trauma. I thought that perhaps my junkie to judge story could be of value. My primary goals included reducing stigma, giving hope to those suffering and their friends/family, and standing up as an example of attaining recovery using secular methods. I also thought that learning to write a good memoir would be an intellectual challenge.

I started taking notes, then organized these ideas into chapters. I also began reading a lot of memoir, taking writing classes, including via NAMW, attending writing conferences, and participating in a critique group. Of course, as a full-time judge, I spent the time available to me for a hobby. Still, I was persistent and finished my book in 2021. I then found an agent, which took 4 months, and signed with HCI (Health Communications, Inc.) a few months later. During this time, I also developed a role for myself as an advocate, writer, and speaker for multiple paths to recovery and a wide variety of addiction/recovery topics.

My memoir is divided into three sections. My glamorous and narcissistic mother’s abandonment and neglect, followed by my stepfather’s physical and sexual abuse, which led to childhood addiction. The chaos and agony that resulted from shooting meth, and an acceleration in my descent after a gang rape and abusive boyfriend. And the first three years of recovery from my addiction and from the trauma, including building my own secular recovery plan.

How does inescapable childhood pain lead to addiction?
How can someone so addicted ever climb back out?
How wondrous is the human capacity for resilience?

How can we find our way back to our true and best self, despite deep and complex layers of trauma and agony? How does recovery work on trauma or addiction strengthen us to take on all the challenges of life? How do we balance considering the techniques that worked for others with trusting that we can do the analysis to make decisions about what will work for us?


  • How to frame your story within a narrative arc.
  • How to immerse the reader in traumatic events but then provide breaks that allow her to catch her breath.
  • How to distinguish your story from other memoirs in your genre.
  • How to build a writer resume.
  • How to build a non-traditional platform.

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Mary Beth has been clean and sober since 1994. She also is in recovery from abuse, trauma, self-harm, ptsd, and anxiety. Her history and her recovery are chronicled in her memoir From Junkie to Judge: One Woman’s Triumph Over Trauma and Addiction. She’s had essays in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, and Recovery Today.

Mary Beth is a Director, Secretary, and Founding Investor for She Recovers Foundation, and a Director for LifeRing Secular Recovery. She regularly speaks on behalf of these organizations and about multiple and secular paths to recovery. This includes conferences, podcasts, radio, television, and recovery houses. She develops relationships with other organizations, such as Women for Sobriety. And Mary Beth trains attorneys and medical professionals about substance use disorder and recovery.

Professionally, 6 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, from which position she retired early in 2020.

Website: junkietojudge.com
Twitter: @MaryBethO_
Book: https://a.co/d/6QFkRJP

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