My chains fell off …

Donald MacLeod
01 December, 2008 5 min read

My chains fell off …

The amazing story of Donald and Margaret MacLeod who met and married after they were each delivered from alcoholism through faith in Jesus Christ.


I was brought up in the small island of Scalpay, in the Western Isles, by Christian parents. I left home to study marine engineering and eventually joined the Merchant Navy. As I was promoted through the ranks to become senior engineer officer, I turned more and more to drink to ease the burden of responsibility.

Becoming negligent, I could no longer get work with responsible companies. I had to work for firms that were not fussy about who they employed and only needed my certificate as a chief engineer. But in the end even they wouldn’t employ me. I was a chronic alcoholic and drink was my god.

I heard there was work in Lowestoft on trawlers, so I hitched a lift on a lorry from Billingsgate. I had good qualifications and got a job. In this dangerous work I was saved from harm several times.

Once we were in a hurricane that became so severe that the ‘skipper’ called us up to the bridge to say we would not make it. Terrified, I prayed to the Lord to help us. The weather abated, we got the net on board and returned safely to Lowestoft. But instead of thanking God for saving us we all got drunk.


While ashore I got drunk and was hit by a car. I was in intensive care for over a week. They thought I would die, and sent for my parents. It breaks my heart to think how my godly father must have felt. I am sure that through his prayers for me I survived once again. God was speaking to me but I wouldn’t listen.

One day in a London dock pub I heard that a foreign company needed a chief engineer. I applied for the job and got it. The money was great, and I soon found out why – it was for gunrunning to Angola. I was sworn to secrecy.

In fact I didn’t care who the cargo killed – the money was more important. The captain and I were never sober during the voyage. I returned to London where I soon drank all the money away.

Another time God saved my life when I was in Lagos, Nigeria, teaching skippers how to use hydraulic machinery. I had to go to sea with them as they used the machinery for fishing.

On the way back the vessel hit a rock at full speed. We were all drunk, panic ensued and the vessel sank within ten minutes. I couldn’t swim, but thank God the African sailors swam like fishes. They got me to a rock where we stayed until rescued in the morning.


I made my way back to London – sleeping on the streets and drinking anything I could find. I was too ashamed to return home. I remember one night sleeping on a park bench when the boots I was wearing were stolen. They might easily have stolen my life but I know now that God was watching over me.

I hitched a lift to Grimsby to find a job but ended up sleeping rough again. But thank God it was his plan to get me to Grimsby. One Sunday morning I was roaming the streets when a man from the Seaman’s Mission invited me to go with him to a service. As it was cold and the pubs didn’t open until noon, I agreed.

Inside, I saw people who were happy as they praised the Lord. I was at rock bottom and prayed to God to come into my life. I walked out of that hall a new man, ‘born again’. The yearning for alcohol had been replaced by a yearning for Christ – the one ‘who loved me and gave himself for me’ (Galatians 2:20).

As I look back and thank God for the miracle he performed in my life, I remember the times when he saved me from harm and kept me safe until I was converted. Once I dreaded the thought of coming near to God, knowing I was guilty and fearing his anger. But now I praise and thank him for his patient dealings with me until I received his salvation.

I was fortunate in being brought up by Christian parents, and to have them and many other Christians praying for me. Their prayers have now been answered.

This testimony first appeared in The Witness, the magazine of the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing).


I was born into a warm, loving Christian home and when I was young I asked the Lord Jesus to come into my heart and be my Saviour. But by the age of fifteen I was running around with young people who were drinking and smoking and this was the start of a downward spiral – what Christians call ‘backsliding’.

I eventually began nursing training. I kidded myself that I wanted to help others, but to be truthful I wanted to get away from home and have more freedom.

I married at eighteen. It was an unhappy marriage, the only good thing being the birth of my two sons. My husband was working on the oilrigs and I drank to deal with loneliness. When he came off the rig we would go out drinking – he could control it but I couldn’t.

One night when we had been drinking and arguing. I took an overdose of pills and was rushed to hospital suffering from both the overdose and depression. That was the end of my marriage. My ex-husband took the boys. I was not fit to look after myself, never mind two boys of twelve and fourteen.

Attempted suicide

I eventually left hospital, went home to an empty house and tried to get my life together. I resumed drinking, sometimes a bottle of Bacardi a day, and lager as well. I blamed depression for my sorry state but it was really the drink. Addiction to drink is so strong that you blame anything else for your problems.

Strangely, when my ex-husband left, I thought, ‘Good, I can return to the Lord now’. But I didn’t. The drink prevented that. Things got so bad that I took an overdose of anti-depressants and tried to slit the arteries in my arms.

The Lord was looking after me that night. I remember nothing, but before lapsing into unconsciousness I phoned my mother. She called the police who broke down the door and got me to hospital.

They didn’t think I would survive the night. I remember waking up and hearing a nurse say, ‘You are very lucky; somebody up there really likes you’.

God steps in

I still wasn’t ready to seek help from the Lord. I had a lot more drinking to do – you can’t reason with alcoholics. I had lost my children, my home and almost my sanity but I still had my old pal the drink.

I carried on binge drinking and the only job I could get was in a fish factory. I used to work all week and spend the weekend drunk in the pub.

It all came to a head one New Year. I had been drinking non-stop for three weeks and  couldn’t get off it, until the Lord in his goodness and mercy stepped in. I woke up one morning and staggered through to the kitchen – there were empty bottles everywhere.

I looked around me and suddenly ‘saw’ myself sitting in the gutter under the bridges in Glasgow drinking cheap wine. I stood there with the tears streaming down my face and looked upwards and whispered, ‘Please, dear Lord, help me’. That was the turning point. I phoned for help.

I started to read the Bible and prayed for nearly a year asking God to help me to come back to him. It was hard going, but the Bible says, ‘When you seek me with all your heart then you will find me’.

The Lord provided a council house for me in Fraserburgh, and the first Sunday I was able to, I attended the Baptist church there. The first hymn was, ‘A wonderful Saviour is Jesus my Lord’. During that hymn I was fully restored to fellowship with God. When we sang, ‘He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock and covers me there with his love’, I felt the love of God wash over me and cleanse me in every part.

The next day I skipped all the way down to the fish factory (which I hated) and for the next few weeks kept singing Charles Wesley’s hymn, ‘My chains fell off and I was free, I rose, went forth and followed thee’.

This testimony first appeared in The Witness, the magazine of the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing).

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