From Junkie to Judge – with Mary Beth O’Connor


My guest this week is an extraordinary woman – she was drinking alcohol at the age of 12 and shooting up with meth at the age of 17.  Not only did she get clean, but she went on to qualify as a lawyer and eventually she was appointed a federal judge!

In this Episode

  • Mary Beth has a traumatic childhood which included an abusive stepfather
  • She felt instant relief when she picked up her first alcoholic drink at the age of 12
  • While still at school she was smoking pot, taking pills and acid and by 17 was shooting up meth
  • Despite this hectic drug use, she managed to get accepted into college
  • She was at college and working part-time when everything fell apart – due to the combination of a life-threatening rape and an abusive boyfriend
  • Mary Beth used meth for the next decade, not getting clean until the age of 32
  • During this decade she was working her way “down” the corporate ladder as she puts it
  • Due to her drug use, she was working in jobs way below her ability
  • She hit rock bottom when she lost yet another job and couldn’t raise the energy to put together her resume to get another one
  • Her partying days were long gone and most of her drug use took place when she was alone….at the kitchen table
  • She had tried some therapy, but, as she puts it, “the drugs had put a wall between me and myself” so therapy was ineffective
  • Her partner was also threatening to leave her so she decided to go to rehab
  • The rehab was based on the 12 steps and was not a good fit for Mary Beth – she was an atheist and certainly wouldn’t agree that she was powerless
  • Whenever she raised her objections to any of the 12 steps she was closed down and told that this was the only way she could recover
  • As a result, she kept quiet and became very selective in the ideas that she took on board
  • She became a master of the reframe, so instead of Step One which is ‘I am powerless over my addiction’ she would agree that she was powerless to moderate
  • So many of us spend years stuck in the “moderation trap” – so accepting that we are powerless to moderate will save a lot of heartaches, it’s a major step forward!
  • I referred to the podcast interview I did with British journalist Sam Delaney who built his own hybrid recovery model. That podcast was episode 153 
  • Exactly what Mary Beth did…and in fact what she recommends to others
  • I loved what she said about recovery being hard but it gets easier… whereas active addiction is much harder and can last forever!
  • We agreed that this journey is about progress, not perfection and that very few people get it right from day one – Mary Beth certainly had a couple of slip-ups during the early months
  • Of course, the secret is to keep trying, to remember that there is no such thing as failure, only feedback
  • Mark up your Sober Stretches and never question the decision. If you’d like a copy of our Annual Tracker just email and we’ll send you one
  • Early sobriety was an emotional rollercoaster for Mary Beth and it was a couple of years before she felt stable
  • She had trauma to deal with, severe anxiety and PTSD
  • If 2 years seems a long time then remember the rule that it takes a month of recovery for every year that we drank – for more on that go to Tribe Sober episode 61 – there you’ll find my interview with rehab doctor Dr Dawn
  • In spite of the long road to recovery, Mary Beth began to get her career back on track within a few months
  • She started with a part-time admin job, then a higher level full-time admin role and then a supervisory role
  • At six and a half years sober she was accepted back into Berkeley Law School
  • She went on to work as a lawyer in a big law firm and in 2014 was appointed a Judge
  • She took early retirement in 2020 and these days she gives her time to advocate in the recovery space
  • As she says we need to be patient – everybody expects the recovery to be faster than it is but we need to remember that just as addiction rewires our brains in a negative way, so too do the positive habits we build in recovery build new pathways
  • Mary Beth’s book is called ‘From Junkie to Judge’ and is available on Amazon. The book is a memoir which includes guidelines and some advice for families
  • Please follow Mary Beth on TW – I’ll put her handle in the show notes but its @MaryBethO_
  • Her TW feed is excellent and packed with useful info.

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The 11 Year Fact

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