Advocate + Author + Speaker + Coach

I wished it was me who died. Instead, the woman I loved was gone, and I was probably going to prison for causing the crash that killed her. How could I even think about rebuilding when I was 25, and the life I’d planned was already over?

Crashing: I Love You. Forgive Me.

In this powerful, unforgettable memoir, Mark L. O’Brien examines the profound consequences of the moment that forever changed his life and cut short the life of the woman he loved. The morning after a birthday party she threw for him, Mark woke up in the hospital to learn that his girlfriend was dead, and he might be going to prison for causing the car crash that killed her.

With piercing insight and stark prose, Mark L. O’Brien leads us on a deeply personal, intimate, and emotional journey—grappling with loss, regret, and his fragmented memories of the night of the crash, questioning a new relationship fraught with immense shame and colored by his continued attachment to his lost love, and wondering whether questions about his guilt and the forgiveness of his girlfriend’s family would keep him out of prison. Along the way, he delivers an unflinching exploration of grief, mercy, and the fractured path from loss to meaning. The result is a staggering and inspiring tour de force.

As seen in The Washington Post and on Jada Pinkett Smith’s Emmy award-winning Red Table TalkMark L. O’Brien’s story will inspire readers with its powerful message of hope and its heart-wrenching illustration of the human spirit’s capacity to discover seeds of meaning in even the most painful experiences.


About

Mark L. O’Brien is a leading advocate and change-maker in trauma, substance use, mental health, and criminal justice. He is the founder and executive director of Trauma Informed, where he designs and leads programs to support trauma survivors and improve the way organizations respond to trauma; founding partner of Springlake Solutions LLC, where he provides strategic consulting to mission-driven organizations working in behavioral health and public safety; adjunct professor of political science at Towson University; assistant instructor at the University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Center; and a master’s level positive psychology practitioner and posttraumatic growth coach.

Mark previously served as Executive Vice President of Addiction Policy Forum where he led efforts to educate the public, policymakers, families, and patients about the disease of addiction and support those grieving a substance-related loss. He was Baltimore City’s Director of Opioid Overdose Prevention where he managed a high-profile overdose response cited as a model by President Barack Obama. And as the Director of Communications and a Senior Policy Associate at the Legal Action Center, Mark worked with advocates, members of Congress, and White House staff to reduce barriers for people with criminal records and expand access to addiction treatment for those in the criminal justice system. 

Video created and produced by Church of the Nativity.

The common thread through all Mark’s work has been his desire to help others rebuild their lives after loss, find seeds of meaning in their pain, and grow from trauma and adversity, while honoring the reality of hurt in all our lives. His passion for addressing trauma, improving behavioral health, and reforming the criminal legal system comes from his personal experience. 

Laura and Mark in an undated photo.

On February 9, 2008, after a birthday party she planned for him, Mark caused a drunk driving accident that resulted in the death of the woman he loved and planned to spend the rest of his life with.

Mark experienced intense grief, guilt, and trauma, and while Laura’s family forgave him, he was convicted of negligent manslaughter and sentenced to jail time. Using his incarceration as an opportunity to reflect on his mistakes and his desire to honor Laura’s memory, Mark dedicated himself to finding purpose in his pain and loss.

Mark and Maria

In the ensuring years, Mark became one of the nation’s top advocates for criminal justice and addiction policy reform. Seeing the damaging effects of trauma as well as its potential to be a catalyst for positive change, Mark founded Trauma Informed in 2019 to support survivors and improve the way society responds to trauma. Using his personal experience and expertise gained through his Masters in Applied Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania, Mark supports individuals and groups to thrive after adversity.

In the aftermath of Laura’s death, Mark met his wife, Maria, who had recently lost her father to cancer, and the two bonded over their mutual grief. They married in 2012 and now live in Lutherville, Maryland with their three exuberant children and a goofy pup named Otis. 




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Coaching

I coach people to find meaning and experience positive growth while living with the pain of trauma, grief, failure, and other forms of distress.

Trauma, grief, and serious adversity can leave you feeling powerless and pessimistic. But beneath the pain, research has shown they can also be the greatest catalyst for personal growth and meaning in life. 

When we experience high levels of distress, we may also find that, over time, we discover strengths we didn’t know we possessed, improve our relationships, feel a deeper appreciation of life, and live with greater meaning and purpose. 

Only you can decide what comes next in your life, but an expert guide can help you get there. Mark’s coaching strategies help people find strength, purpose, and a path forward after adversity by focusing on: 

  • Defining and attaching to your goals
  • Identifying and harnessing your strengths
  • Honoring what has been lost
  • Finding meaning and purpose
  • Restoring hope and optimism
  • Building connections
  • Cultivating resilience for the future 
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