Like most of my friends I enjoyed a drink through my late teens and early twenties, usually at the weekend. I qualified as a psychiatric nurse at 22, and by 25 had moved from Belfast to London to study at the College of Law with the intention of becoming a barrister.
At the time I would have said that I worked hard and played hard, but with hindsight alcohol had started to cause me problems, and the truth was I was playing a bit too much. I abandoned my studies and took full time work in a private London hospital, telling myself that’s what I wanted.
Shift work provided the excuse that any day off was the weekend, and pretty soon work and the pub were my main activities. Alcohol was causing me problems that were getting progressively severe and frequent. At some point a line had been crossed and I hadn’t noticed. Alcohol-fuelled arguments and duvet days had progressed to aggressive behaviour, unreliability and relationship difficulties.
In my late 20s I crashed a car and was banned from driving. My occasional forgetfulness had become regular blackouts during which I lost many hours at a time. At times I suspected what everyone else now realised: I was an alcoholic. I kept making promises and trying harder after each new drama, and during one such reasonably sustained attempt I went back to law. At 31 I was called to the Bar of England and Wales.
Despite the academic success I continued drinking, and was pleased to find plenty of other heavy drinkers around the Inns of Court. I spent my free time in pubs while fellow students worked hard to gain pupillage. Then my partner died of cancer.
I used Mandy’s death as an excuse to drink as I liked, and there were plenty of kind souls who tolerated my behaviour in the circumstances. I was drinking most days by now and had returned to psychiatry full-time. I was banned from driving again and soon afterward was convicted of being drunk and disorderly. I was just managing to hold down a good job, and used this fact to delude myself that things weren’t too bad. I was an expert at believing my own lies.
By now I had asked for and then rejected the help of friends, counsellors and psychiatrists. My employers gave me a severance package, and I felt broken and hopeless: for the first time asked for help without reservation. People and organisations helped, and I realised lots of support was available.
Over the next couple of years I took a good look at myself: I stopped drinking and got honest. A new friend told me that opportunities would present themselves, but I didn’t really believe him and I was happy just to be sober. I began to have hope.
I’d moved to Scotland in my early recovery and I was doing the odd shift in local nursing homes alongside some painting and decorating. My life had become pretty simple, and I was enjoying books and walks and the odd bit of golf. I applied for a paralegal position with the Moray Council in Elgin and due to my qualifications they suggested pre- Diploma Training with the Law Society of Scotland as a route to becoming a Scottish solicitor.
It was a brilliant opportunity, but I had a dilemma. My past might be discovered which would surely prevent me from practicing. I took the risk and wrote to the Law Society. A hearing was arranged and I told the truth – the whole truth. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
The panel decided that I was a fit and proper person, and I was allowed to do the course. My colleagues and managers at the Moray Council were every bit as supportive as the Law Society, and I felt very lucky.
Now I’m a very grateful Senior Solicitor with the Moray Council and in better mental and physical shape than I was at 25. I’m never tempted to drink, I sleep well at night, my life is full, and I have more friends, hobbies and interests than I can keep up with. I value my recovery and continue to attend a support group.
I am grateful to the Law Society of Scotland and the Moray Council for giving me another chance. Organisations are really just groups of humans, and when one human is open and honest with another, it is my experience that good things usually happen.
I’m one of the lucky ones, I just have to be honest with myself, keep an open mind and stay away from the first drink.