A Genesis of Hope: Dr. David McCartney

I hold Dr. David McCartney in my highest regard. He not only overcame his serious alcohol problem, but also set up Lothians and Edinburgh Abstinence Programme (LEAP), a programme that offers structured treatment based in the community using a blend of evidence-based interventions. The patient group in treatment operates as a therapeutic community. I used to love visiting LEAP in my Wired In days, interacting with staff and patients as described in my last blog post.

David is very knowledgeable about addiction and recovery, and posts content to the Recovery Review blog, as part of a community of recovery-oriented experts who write about recovery and related matters. In April 2021, he appeared in a podcast about his addiction and recovery.

‘Switching from doctor to patient was not an easy transition for me. My first attempt at recovery was medically assisted, but only got me so far. What I needed was something more profound: hope, healing and connection to other recovering people. In this podcast for the National Wellbeing Hub, Dr Claire Fyvie interviews me about my own experience of addiction and recovery – warts, wonder and all.’

I’ve recently been listening to that podcast again and have transcribed what David had to say. I’ll be posting parts of that podcast on this website. Here are the first quotes which focus on an interesting phrase, ‘a genesis of hope’. David describes factors that helped him in a residential treatment setting and then in the outside world up to the current time.

‘Well, I think that the most fundamental thing was meeting other people in recovery. That was something that I hadn’t done before, and that brought hope. And hope had been missing for such a long time. So it was the genesis of hope, which is an odd kind to say coming from a person with a medical and scientific background. You know, hope is not something you can bottle or prescribe, but it is absolutely essential.

So, I met dozens and dozens of people in treatment and in mutual aid meetings who were in recovery, some of them in long-term recovery. I was also taken to the Doctors and Dentists Group. There’s about 17 or 18 of them across the United Kingdom. 

I was in some trouble with the General Medical Council. I had legal issues, financial issues,  relationship issues, employment issues, all very significant. I mean I’ve never been in such a difficult position, in such a deep and dark hole.

And I met other people who had been in those positions and who were now back in work and in recovery, with all the problems behind them. And better off for having worked through the problems. So that kind of sense of hope and shared experience, and also the willingness of other people to support me, to be there for me and to call me, that was absolutely phenomenal….

… What happened for that precise moment where hope started to flow again, I remember really, really clearly because it made such a big impact on me. I was sitting in a mutual aid meeting, it was the Doctors and Dentists Group, and one of the members was talking about his experiences. He was a GP like me and he had drunk in a similar way to me and he had the same kind of consequences as me and he felt the same as me. He was a few years into his recovery and I identified and connected with him to the degree that I suddenly thought, “Oh my God, if he can do it, maybe I can do it.”

I probably must have felt a mustard seed worth of hope. It was the first time I felt anything like that. I’d already tried for the best part of two years going down the medical route to try and find some sort of sobriety and this guy’s experience spoke to me in such a way that it created hope. 

So I suppose it’s about the power of lived experience and the power of anecdote. I’m really aware in my role at work that I’m a professional and I’m a doctor, but we have a whole peer support programme that our patients are involved with, so they get to meet people who’ve been through treatment and who are further along in their recovery, who share their experiences openly.

And that’s all about the genesis of hope. It’s about showing them this is what’s possible if you just keep putting one foot in front of the other. And in terms of therapeutic progress, I guess that’s really it in a nutshell: the genesis of hope is to do with connections to other people with lived experience.’ 

And by the way, David’s podcast is well-worth listening to in full. Enjoy!