Visiting UK Recovery Friends: Part 10 (Dr. David McCartney & LEAP)

After visiting Ian and Irene MacDonald, I headed back to my usual base when I am visiting the UK, the Beech House Hotel in Reading. It’s a wonderful family-run hotel that I have been staying in for over a decade whilst I visit my three youngest children. The next morning, I delivered my hire car back to the main office, and then headed to Heathrow airport to catch a flight to Edinburgh.

I was soon on my way to my favourite UK city where I would be meeting some of my favourite people, the staff and patients at Lothians and Edinburgh Abstinence Programme (LEAP), led by my close friend Dr David McCartney. I first visited LEAP in 2007, at a time when my eldest daughter Annalie was a medical student at the university. For some years, even after I moved to Australia, I would spend the day talking with staff and patients. My discussions with David and his Clinical Lead Eddy Conroy were enjoyable, thought-provoking, and inspiring.

I loved my time at LEAP, particularly accompanying one of the staff to group sessions. The following short discussion occurred in group during one visit. One of the clients hesitatingly said, ‘Professor Clark, we were…’

‘Sorry to interrupt, but please call me, David. There is no need for the professor bit.’

‘Prof… I mean David. We’ve been wondering why you come to our group sessions. Is it because you have a drug or alcohol problem?’

‘Well, I certainly don’t have a drug problem. I drink alcohol, but not excessively. The reason I come to group sessions is because I rarely ever meet such brave people, people like yourselves trying to overcome adversities you have faced and are still facing. And then some recovering people go on to help others. In fact, I see you helping each other in your discussions in group. I have learnt a lot from attending group sessions. And it’s much more fun being with you guys than with a bunch of university academics.’

When I arrived at Edinburgh airport in the afternoon of Monday, 26 September 2022, I was able to use a tram into the city for the first time. I was staying in an Airbnb just under Salisbury Crags and didn’t waste any time in getting out and about. I had made sure I had time to explore Edinburgh again, for the first time in years, before I spent a day at LEAP.

After an initial exploration and visit to one of my favourite bookshops, Blackwells, I headed to my favourite Indian restaurant, Mother India, where I had an excellent meal. I got a shock there though! As I was eating, I spotted a person enter who I am 98% sure was the person who caused me a great deal of trouble when I ran the Wired In To Recovery online community. I kept my head down and continued to eat my delicious meal.

I then headed to The Oxford Bar where I hoped to run into one of my favourite authors, Ian Rankin, who I knew drank at this pub. Although I stayed around a while, drinking very slowly in the back room while reading Scottish writer Darren McGarvey’s new book The Social Distance Between Us: How Remote Politics Wrecked Britain, I didn’t see Ian. When I later joined people in the main bar, I was told that I had missed him by a few hours. A local who had seen him earlier said he was likely to be in at 15.00 the following day.

I woke the following day to a brilliant blue sky above Salisbury Crags. I wasted no time in getting out, first climbing up to Arthur’s Seat and then walking along Salisbury Crags and down into Holyrood Park. I spent hours wandering the streets of Edinburgh and visiting the National Museum of Scotland. Boy, did I move at pace. But I loved every moment. I arrived at The Oxford Bar bang on 15.00… and stayed some time, again drinking very slowly, without meeting Ian Rankin. What a bummer!

The next morning, I had a long, enjoyable walk to LEAP, which is located in the Astley Ainslie Hospital grounds. I cannot begin to tell you how much I enjoyed myself during my day at LEAP. The day was also so inspirational!

The first thing I discovered was that almost all the staff I had met during my visits years before were still working with David. That says something very special about LEAP as a workplace. The attrition rate for staff in the addiction field is generally very high—burnout is very common. Not here at LEAP! I initially spent my time talking with David and Ian Scott, a senior member of staff.

Brian then took me to a group session. As we sat down and conversation started amongst the patients, I found myself heading towards a really calm space in my head. Staff member Brian then made a comment and as I looked at him, my mind flashed back to past sessions when he and I attended group sessions at LEAP. It was a weird sensation. I was so emotionally involved and deeply moved as people conversed during the session. It’s hard to express how I felt, but I can say that I really enjoyed the experience. I felt I had come home again.

I later attended a brilliant lecture on assertiveness for the patients by Eddy Conroy. Eddy is a brilliant speaker and had everyone, including me, totally engaged. Even though he was wearing a mask due to Covid, I could see once again Eddy’s resemblance to that great Scottish actor Robert Carlyle.

I had enjoyable individual discussions with Nicola Keicher, the LEAP Peer Support Coordinator, and Addictions Therapist Jo Webster. I was thrilled to hear that LEAP has received funding for six ‘peer bridgers’ for their peer bridging project (to improve access to rehab, achieve higher completion rates, and best outcomes). I then attended a Life Stories session with the patients, which again was both enjoyable and inspirational. I thanked all patients for having me during the day. I later sent a message to LEAP which Eddy read out to the patients:

‘I really enjoyed my time with you all and I want you to know that you are such an inspiration to me. Your courage in undertaking your journey is amazing. And, as I said to you yesterday, you are lucky enough to be in a very special place, with people who will aid you on your journey. Please remember, that healing / recovery comes from you, but it’s important that you stay connected with other people. As I said when I used to run my organisation Wired In years ago – I alone can do it, but I can’t do it alone. I wish you all the very best.’

What a day at LEAP! As David McCartney later said, ‘It sounds like it hit some emotional notes and spoke to you.’ It certainly did that. I felt privileged to have spent time in such an amazing recovery community!

The photograph above is of David and I taken during my visit on 9 January 2011.