Overwhelmed by Shame: Dr. David McCartney

Shame plays a significant role in addiction. It is also a barrier to recovery. One can alleviate the feelings of shame by taking the drug and/or drink that led to the development of shame in the first place. Here’s a film of David McCartney, Founder of LEAP (Lothian and Edinburgh Abstinence Programme), talking about his drinking problem and his personal experiences of shame.

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.

Bio: David McCartney is an addiction doctor with a background in inner-city GP practice. In 2006, after having recovered from his own addiction, he achieved a Masters degree in Alcohol and Drug Studies and went on to found the Lothians & Edinburgh Abstinence Programme (LEAP)—a residential rehab in Lothian, Scotland, delivered by the NHS and partners. He was part of a group which revised the UK’s ‘Orange Book’ national guidelines and has published several academic papers. For the last decade he has been part of advisory groups on drugs policy to the Scottish Government and currently chairs the Residential Rehabilitation Development Working Group for them.