I’ve always loved visiting Dr. David McCartney, Founder of LEAP (Lothians and Edinburgh Abstinence Programme), and catching up with him, his work colleagues, and his patients. He is a really nice person and has always inspired me. I am proud to say he is a good friend.
I’ve only known David since his recovery. There were darker days for him during his earlier addiction. Here, in two films from our Recovery Voices archive, he describes the development of his drinking problem after he left medical school. I know there are many people out there who would relate to his description of some of the features of his addiction. The one that people may not have thought about is the issue of his identity as a GP.
When he finished medical school, David wanted to make a difference and work where the greatest problems were evident. He joined an inner-city GP practice. The job was extremely stressing as the need (medical and social) was so overwhelming.
In retrospect, David felt he was naive and had not learnt to create distinct boundaries. He started to go to work earlier and earlier to be able to deal with all that needed doing in the practice. With the benefit of hindsight, he can now see he was not equipped to deal with all the tragedy he saw.
David felt sympathetic towards people with drug and alcohol problems, but was out of his depth in dealing with these problems. He had received only one relevant lecture in the whole of his medical degree–on alcohol-induced liver disease.
David started to drink more and more to alleviate his increasing anxiety. He eventually realised that his drinking levels were not that different to the people who were coming to see him for their alcohol problems. However, he rationalised that he could not have a problem as he came to work in a suit… and he was a doctor!
As David’s drinking increased, his interests and hobbies started to disappear. Eventually, he was only interested in activities that involved alcohol in some way. More and more the people he interacted with were either drinkers, or people he knew would not criticise his drinking.
His personal honesty eroded as he lied as to why he could not go into work. A mountain of shame grew, and his self-esteem diminished greatly, as he was living against all his personal values. He was a man who desperately needed to ask for, and access, help. Instead, he hid behind the thin veneer of being a doctor.
One major epiphany occurred when David was asked by a woman if he would talk to her brother, one of his patients, about his serious drinking problem. David discovered he was drinking almost the same amount as the man each day.
On the way home, he stopped to buy a bottle of whisky at one of the many places he bought his alcohol. Whilst waiting to pay, he turned around and saw the patient’s sister standing behind him. She wasn’t to know that David would drink most of the bottle that night… but he did. His response to his feelings of shame was to drink. However, this event was part of the process which would eventually lead to him asking for help.