George Mckenzie

Overcoming his pride and phoning Forcesline transformed former soldier George's life.

George Mckenzie

Overcoming his pride and phoning Forcesline transformed former soldier George's life.

George Mckenzie served five-years in The Corps of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers but left after he was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. He had accrued a small amount of debt while serving and habitually drank, spending significant sums on nights out. It was when he left the forces that his situation worsened.

“I spent more and more money. I met a previous partner and we bought a car together– she left in it and I was left with the debt.

“I continued to drink to mask the stress and as the debt increased the drinking did too. Things began to spiral. My mood became lower, I owed more and more and didn’t know how to handle it.

“I was living with my grandparents, and I had a job, but I owed more than I earnt each month. I buried my head in the sand and tried to forget about it, until it crept up on me.

“One day, bailiffs showed up at my grandparents’ house demanding money. It put them under so much stress that I was asked to leave.

“I moved to a house of multiple occupancy. It was a single room, and I shared a bathroom with five others. I had a wardrobe and table and no where to move. I rarely went out, couldn’t bring myself to clean and I would barely eat. I just sat and drank."

It took me a long time to pick up the phone and ask for help.

Concerned about money, George wasn’t keeping up with rent payments. He was facing eviction and homelessness. Fortunately, his grandparents gave him the number for Forcesline, SSAFA’s confidential helpline, to call for help.

“It took me a long time to pick up the phone and ask for help. I remember sitting for hours wondering if I could or should do it. Pride was my barrier. Being an ex-soldier, I didn’t want to admit I needed help. It was terrifying.

“Eventually I dialled the number.

“Picking up the phone was something completely new. I was asking people I had never met for help with something deeply personal. But once I started speaking to the person on the line, it became comfortable. They were very welcoming and non-judgemental. They knew how to speak to someone like me, with all my complications and my military background. The questions were tough to answer at times, but I knew it was necessary to get help.

“Before I knew it, they had the details they needed from me and told me someone would be in contact promptly to help. That’s when I first heard from Derek, my caseworker."

I didn’t realise my behaviour and the way I was living was not normal.

Derek contacted George and arranged to visit him at the HMO where he was living.

“I was close to cancelling the meeting a couple of times because I was proud and found it hard to ask for help. I didn’t realise my behaviour and the way I was living was not normal.

“I had tried and failed to help myself so it was difficult to believe someone from the outside could walk in and change things. Thankfully I went through with the meeting and got masses of help.

“When Derek came, he formulated a plan of how he could help me and what I can do to help myself.”

Derek and SSAFA helped George get back on his feet. They secured £970 in funding to pay his rent arrears, £50 in food vouchers as he hadn’t eaten properly in weeks and £10 credit for his phone to stay in touch with the charity and ring people he owed money to. Derek also took George to the foodbank, and arranged for him receive financial advice from Step Change Debt Charity, to get out of the ‘blackhole’ he was in.

“What initially felt like an impossible task quite quickly became achievable, thanks to SSAFA and the others who helped me.

“Speaking to Derek gave me the boost I needed. I realised the way I was living my life was not okay and it was time to turn it around to build a future. I got a job and was able to afford to move out of the HMO into a nice flat, as well as pay back my debts in manageable chunks."

SSAFA was my wake-up call. But it was also my support system.

Since being supported by SSAFA, George has given up alcohol, met his partner Imy and became engaged. They moved into a three-bedroom house and have recently welcomed a daughter Lily.

“18 months ago, things were at the worst they have ever been. If it wasn’t for Derek and for SSAFA I wouldn’t have what I have now.

“I look back and realise that I really did need help. It’s upsetting to know that I was once in that place, and how my actions hurt people I love. But now I am concentrating on the future and will keep building on where I am today.

“I can reflect now and feel proud. That time was dark and low, but I had the willpower to change my life and pushed to keep going. I am excited to have my own family and I would never have been a father where I was that time ago.

“SSAFA was my wake-up call. But it was also my support system. Speaking to SSAFA and changing my life was the hardest thing I have ever done, but there is nothing I am prouder of.

“I now feel I have achieved what I can to be a good father.”

Derek Hope, George’s caseworker, said: “I am really proud of George. He has really worked hard to get out of the hole he was in. SSAFA helped him and gave him a push, and now George is on his own two feet. I think there is a lot to look forward to in his future.

“If George hadn’t picked up the phone and asked for help things would have got worse. He would have been homeless. Suddenly he would have been on the streets, and still drinking. Luckily George got himself together and away he’s gone.”