Documenting My Addiction Recovery Journey In My New Book “From Junkie To Judge”

By Mary Beth O’Connor

[TW: mention of rape, self-harm, child abuse and drug abuse]

Within a week of being born, I was dropped off at a convent for six months. Even after I was moved into her home, my mother focused on her own needs and desires. And she liked to hit me with the nearest hard object. When I was nine, she married my stepfather, who kicked me in the stomach for spilling milk, beat me when I didn’t clean a plate to his satisfaction, and molested me when I was twelve. I developed techniques to reduce the abuse but could not eliminate it. 

With one glug of Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill wine, my world changed. I felt euphoric and relaxed, a lovely state my brain encouraged me to reproduce. So, I got drunk frequently, then added weed, then pills, then acid. At 16, I found my drug of choice, methamphetamine. With the initial snort, I experienced true joy for the first time, but this bliss was short-lived. 

Within a year, when this high wasn’t sufficient, I shot up. I lost so much weight you could count the bones in my back. I picked at my face and gave myself a staph infection. I hallucinated people in shadows. Many times, I overdosed to the point that my heart pounded so fast I barely could breathe. 

I spent the next 15 years in this severe meth addiction, although I did better in college, until I was gang raped by three men and then moved in with a violent boyfriend. For the ten years after I graduated from UC Berkeley, I worked my way down the corporate ladder, destroyed relationships, and shattered my physical and emotional well-being

I believed this was the best life available to me because of the intense pain from all of the trauma. I thought that, if I stopped using drugs, my brain would snap, and I’d be committed to a mental institution or I would commit suicide.

At age 32, I somehow gathered the strength to go to rehab. On my first day, staff informed me the only path to recovery was the 12-step approach of Alcoholics Anonymous. When I explained that I was an atheist who didn’t believe in a higher power, the response was “comply or relapse.” When I balked at the notion that I was powerless, I was ordered to stop questioning the program and advised “your best thinking got you here.” I was stunned.

I knew I couldn’t do what they demanded but also that I had two decades of poor decision-making behind me. Could I trust my own judgment? Could I reject the experts just days after stopping meth?

I decided to keep my mind open, look for the teachings I thought would help me, and ignore everything else. I actively participated in classes and grabbed many helpful ideas. I read through all the 12-step materials, from which I gleaned a number of concepts I could apply.

When I returned home, I went to the library to research alternatives and found several, so I attended their meetings and read their books. I continued to synthesize what I categorized as “suggestions,” and use those that fit my worldview, such as taking charge of my recovery, using my intellect to develop a plan, and asking for help as needed. I admitted my mistakes, continuously tried to improve, and incorporated new information.

As I succeeded and built a robust recovery foundation, I gained confidence in my ability to guide myself forward. This process taught me to perform an analysis: who am I, where am I, where do I want to go, and how do I think I can get there. Also, I learned to repeat this method regularly, as I accomplished my initial goals and was ready for new challenges. This repetition built my competence to set objectives, develop a plan, and carry it out. I practiced patience because improvement was incremental and step-by-step. I realized I could apply this system to all areas of my life, such as trauma recovery, relationships, and professional decisions.

If I had accredited the premise that I could not recover without a higher power, I would have given up. Luckily, instead, being forced to find my own path transformed me. As I climbed out of meth hell, I began to believe I wasn’t just the lunatic I had become in active addiction.

Although I sometimes felt defeated and overwhelmed by the losses, my trajectory encouraged me to remain on the recovery path. I proved my meth-free brain could make rational decisions and gained confidence in my ability to guide myself forward. I applied my intelligence and analytical skills, made mostly good choices, and persisted despite obstacles or missteps.

I achieved ambitions beyond the wildest imagination of my druggie self. I am happily married and a reliable aunt and sister and friend. I went to law school, became an attorney, and then a judge. I also contribute to my community. I am a board member for LifeRing Secular Recovery and She Recovers Foundation, a memoirist, an essayist, and recovery speaker. 

All this – and the gift of enjoying the journey – is a result of working hard for the infrastructure that so far has provided 28 years of sobriety.

And it is all because I did it my way.

Mary Beth O’Connor has been sober since 1994 and has been in recovery from abuse, trauma, and anxiety. Six years into her recovery, Mary Beth attended Berkeley Law, became a lawyer and ultimately a federal judge. Mary Beth is now a director for She Recovers Foundation and for LifeRing Secular Recovery.  Her book, ‘From Junkie to Judge: One Woman’s Triumph over Trauma and Addiction’ is available to order from booksellers everywhere. You can follow Mary Beth on Twitter.

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