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With a mother who always chose herself over her children’s well-being, Mary Beth O’Connor’s early childhood was an unsettling mess. Left at a convent and then later with family, O’Connor eventually moves in with her mother and her new husband, a man O’Connor once watched punch her mother. It wasn’t long before her stepfather turned on her, kicking her for spilling milk and beating her when chores weren’t done to perfection. As O’Connor matured, the violence escalated to sexual molestation. With her first sip of Boone’s Farm wine at age twelve, she discovered she was able to numb herself to these painful abuses. With this new coping strategy, she got drunk as often as possible, adding pot, then pills, and then acid to the mix. At 16, she found her drug of choice—methamphetamine—and shot meth at 17.
It is not these details, or the resulting gut-wrenching traumas she suffered into adulthood, but the perseverance with which O’Connor climbed out of addiction that sets this story apart. Though prescriptive recovery strategies did not work and, as an atheist, she refused to turn her will and life over to a higher power, she was able to combine ideas from multiple programs on her path to what is now nearly thirty sober years.
O’Connor’s unflappable honesty gives readers permission to follow their own instincts on their paths to recovery or in understanding the paths of others. It is this, and her ability to rise to professional success as a federal judge and serve as a supportive member of the recovery community, that make this book an important and powerful blueprint for personal change.
Mary Beth O’Connor is a director, secretary, and founding investor for She Recovers Foundation and a director for LifeRing Secular Recovery. She is a speaker and advocate for substance use and trauma recovery. A graduate of Berkeley Law School, in 2014 she was appointed a federal administrative law judge and retired in 2020. She has been sober since 1994.