'I started reaching for the Bible instead of reaching for the bottle'

Published 02 August 2014

Steph Macleod, 33, is a singer songwriter who lives near Edinburgh. Nine years ago he was an alcoholic and a drug addict and sleeping rough on the streets. He now has a wife and three children and is a born-again Christian. He shares his story of how he came to be free of addiction.

How did you get into alcohol and drugs?

I was a very talented classical guitarist. I went to music school and studied classical guitar at Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. My parents had split up when I was 15, and it was a horrible separation, I was really hurt by the things that had happened. I'm an only child and the comfort zone in my family was just torn to bits. I went out and started to party and started drinking and smoking, and before I knew it I was smoking hash, and then looking for the next high which was class A drugs like ecstasy or cocaine. By the time I went to music college I was drinking really heavily.

The first year was a blur because the banks throw all this money at you and you're liberated from parental rule. There was so much alcohol and womanising – so studying was way down on my list of priorities. I was drinking a bottle of vodka before I was going out, and I was just 19 years old. I couldn't do something unless I was drunk or using drugs. I ended up having to leave the course because I didn't fulfil its obligations.

Then I just lost the plot I punched a wall so hard that I broke the bones in my hand, so that was the end of my classical guitar career. I fell into a deeper hole of drink and drugs. I was just in fear all the time, fear about having to cope with studies, having no money, being an addict but not really knowing I was an addict.

What was the worst point of your addiction?

I went to Thailand, I lost my job because I was drinking all the time. I just locked myself in the house and was drinking three bottles of whisky a day. I was hospitalised and I lost a lot of weight. My mum came and took me home two days before the tsunami hit. She wouldn't let me drink. It was the first time I'd been without a drink for five years. The DTs and the withdrawals set in on the flight back. I started hallucinating. I thought I was dying. It looked like everyone was trying to hurt me. I spent the whole way on the plane crying under a blanket. When I was back I had to be psychiatrically evaluated, and they put me on strong anti-depressants and anti-psychotics. I couldn't even cope with the noise of a washing machine. I was just hiding under the bedclothes because of the paranoia. I was on enough drugs to sedate a horse. I tried my hardest to stay sober but I lasted six weeks and before I knew it I was drinking a bottle of cider in an alley. I got arrested. My mum and dad were beside themselves.

If I couldn't find a sofa or somewhere I'd have to sleep rough. It wasn't so bad in the summer but in the winter when it was below freezing it was horrible you're cold from the inside out. It doesn't matter if you're in the house for a week, your hands are always freezing. You throw a bit of alcohol and drug withdrawal into that and it's just a nightmare. I got to the point where I couldn't even keep the booze down. I was waking up in hospital every other day, because I'd have blacked out in an alley. I was throwing up bile every morning and my teeth had rotted away to nothing. I wanted things to change but I didn't know what to do. There was nothing positive in my life at all: just a lot of despair. I started asking the CPS for alcohol treatment. I tried AA. I tried Antabuse. I tried everything. There was a rehab on the borders that was £10,000 which is a bit unrealistic if you're homeless.

What happened to change your life?

On one of the doctors' noticeboards was a poster for the Bethany Christian Centre. I gave them a phone and it turns out it was a homeless hostel that also moonlights as a homeless treatment centre. I got interviewed about lunchtime. A week and a half later, they said I could move in, it was 13 February 2006. The hardest part was weaning off the booze to get there, they wouldn't have let me in if I'd been drunk. It was really tough. The first few days are the worst, but I managed to stick it. The first two weeks you're there, they let you chill out, and get your body back to some kind of working normal function.

The God stuff didn't really register until I met this minister who when he was younger his life was like mine. He spoke about how he'd found freedom in Christ and the strength to break chains that had been killing him, and the courage to break the chains he'd been in. I gave my life to Christ – I took a step of faith, I just prayed. I asked God for his forgiveness and said that I would follow Jesus – I would do it I would surrender everything in the hope that I'd be free.

I'm quite a sceptical guy, but when I prayed that night I felt a sense of peace wash over me. I'd never felt peace since the age of 15, I'd been trying to fill the void that had been broken, something to fill the stability I'd lost when my parents broke up. I was always left wanting. All the fear and the pain and the anger and paranoia and relentless fury, I didn't realise how heavy it was until it was lifted off my shoulders. I just prayed and asked for a life worth living, and the first thing God did was put peace in my heart. I was still homeless and had no contact with friends and family. I had a list of problems I couldn't shake a stick at. The guy who spoke to me that night, he said, even if you're not an addict you'd still have problems. But when you don't feel like you can do it, you've got to get on your knees and ask God to carry you through.

You've got no chance of facing fears unless you've got the strength. I started reaching for the Bible instead of reaching for the bottle. Words that had been written for thousands of years started to make sense to me and it was relevant to me.

When you come that close to death you really do appreciate a second chance at life. The main difference for me, when I found Jesus, Jesus showed me that I was worth more to him than I ever thought. When I was in the gutter and begging I never thought anything good could come out of me. But I did see it on a day to day basis with my wee girls, they cuddle me and kiss me and I can't put into words how that could make me feel. When you're in the cold and it's minus 8 you never think anything good would come out of me. God gave me the strength and the courage to do it, but he made me face my fears and overcome them because it's the only way I would be able to overcome it. He gave me hope when I thought there was none. The last 8 years have not all been 'happy happy joy joy', there have been tough times as well. But God has never let us down. He's so faithful. It doesn't matter how hard it gets, we seem to come through it and we still rejoice, the fact we're alive and got a family and a roof over our heads and a bed to sleep in, these are little things but it's a lot more than some people .

Addiction is such a self-destructive entity. It's a horrible, horrible thing. I got to see the very worst I could be. I was just desperately frantic.

Jesus reached out and loved me when everybody else just saw a down and out homeless man with a severe addiction. I wasn't at church. I wasn't reading the Bible. And yet he still answered my prayer when I prayed. Jesus taught me that I had much more to offer than I thought. It's true that in Christ I'm more than I ever thought I could be.

What are you doing now?

I travel around and share my testimony through songs and through speaking. I get invited to churches or festivals, conventions, even pubs and Christian union events. I also work with the Scottish prison service. I'm involved with raising money for homeless charities. I go into high schools and talk about the dangers and the responsibilities of drinking. The only way to overcome the drinking culture in Scotland and Britain is to educate people. I do that. It's not just Britain, it's Germany and Scandinavia and Africa. It's a real privilege. It's hard work with the travelling but it's great.

Steph has been playing at Keswick Unconventional, part of Keswick Convention dedicated to the creative arts. Watch more of his story below.

Keswick's mission is to unite with Christians around the world to commit to three big priorities for our lives and churches – hearing God's Word, becoming like God's Son, and fulfilling God's mission. For more information, visit www.keswickministries.org

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