HOME GET INVOLVED DONATE CONTACT US CYMRAEG Click here to follow us on Facebook Click here to follow us on Twitter Click here to follow us on Twitter Click here to follow us on Twitter Click here to follow us on Twitter
Living Room Cardiff Love & Forgiveness Retreat
  An inspiration to others:
Doctors and Addiction; A Wife's Perspective

My name is Helen, I'm in my mid forties, married to Gwyn, a Doctor, and we have three school aged children. I have no medical training or background. I have known my husband for 25 years.

In October 2010 I thought that our family had hit rock bottom, then in the Summer of 2014  I realised that we were again caught in a downward spiral over which I had virtually no control and sadly little did I know that there was worse to come.

My husband is an alcoholic and addict, and has suffered for many years with mental health
issues.  He qualified as a Doctor in 1993 and in fact did not drink at that time.  He soon achieved his FRCS (consultant status) in A&E, however it became apparent that a career in A&E was not sustainable (current news stories highlight this clearly), and therefore decided to train as a GP (also currently in the news!). He is also qualified in Occupational Medicine and Palliative Medicine.  However, as a result of the high stress levels of being a GP and also being a perfectionist in his work, he has worked as a Locum and Out of Hours GP for the last 8 years in order that he could manage his work load more effectively.  My husband is highly regarded amongst colleagues and patients for his high standards of knowledge and care but sadly this is to his own detriment; simply inducing him to work harder. Use of alcohol helped him cope with the stress of his job and the pain of his mind; he never drank directly before or during work.

In October 2010 he felt unable to continue with life and drove to a remote mountain site where he consumed large amounts of vodka, he then decided to drive home and crashed his car into a tree and down a steep valley.  The emergency services were called and he was subsequently found guilty of drink driving and received an 18 month driving ban. He self referred to the GMC. An investigation followed involving numerous psychiatric assessments, a regime of blood and alcohol testing, attending monthly British Doctors and Dentists Group (BDDG) meetings and he was able to return to work under supervision.  This was a period of great strain as my husband was the self-employed and sole breadwinner for us, and, as he was unable to drive and we live in a rural area he would regularly cycle 20 miles to get to work or I would have to drive him - not easy when working out of hour shifts and children in school. However, we got through; my husband was abstinent from alcohol and was extremely conscientious in the way he led his life.  I had accompanied my husband to the majority of his assessments and believed that at last his mental health issues would be addressed and that life for us would improve.  However, shortly before my husband had his driving licence restored and GMC restrictions lifted I noticed a change, (what I now know to be the return of self-righteous indignation) and the more I considered the situation the more I realised that actually no one had truly examined the cause of the problem: surely you need to know the cause before you can treat the symptoms? So many professionals had been involved but, to my mind’s eye, everyone seemed to be concerned with following protocol.

The next major event happened in the summer of 2014.  In trying to deal with a crisis within the extended family 150 miles from our home, my husband decided to leave and drive home although he had drunk earlier in the day, a completely irrational behaviour. But then again he was in an irrational state (such is the danger of alcohol).  He had a car crash involving another vehicle, injuring two other people, had to be cut from his car, suffered serious injuries himself and spent 3 days in hospital. He was interviewed by the police and returned home on a Saturday morning.  This was now too serious for me and the children to cope with. I arranged for my husband to be admitted to a residential rehabilitation centre and he agreed to go, however he could not wait for this and drunk himself senseless on the Sunday morning.  This day will be forever etched in my mind and those of our children; ambulance arriving, my husband regaining consciousness in hospital and then absconding, a police search, and ending in his retention under the Mental Health Act Section 2.  Very unpleasant.

A week later my husband got to the rehab centre and stayed for two weeks.  He found it a hard regime but I am eternally thankful to the centre as they made my husband realise just how unmanageable his life had become. We then found The Living Room, Cardiff which has been a lifeline for both of us and our children.  It is a community based recovery centre based on peer support and the principles of the 12 Step Programme.  I regularly attend the Family Group Meeting and the children also attend, it is a place where you feel safe, you are not judged, you learn to understand your situation and that of others and where you both give and receive support.  My husband attended regular psychotherapy group meetings and one to one counselling, and also attended a retreat in November. He is now well on the road of recovery and determined that his and our lives have changed forever, there is no turning back.

On 12th December 2014 my husband received a 27 month custodial sentence as a result of charges brought against him for the car crash earlier in the year. The Judge thought that as a professional person he should have known better.  My husband knows that what he did was wrong and that he should be punished; he has shown great remorse for his actions and will always feel deep regret.  My husband is now in a prison system which is in meltdown and chaos.  Our children and I miss him dearly.

Well, you may say "this is all about your husband, what about you?"

I am learning a lot about myself through this painful and difficult situation.  I have had to question what is best for 3 children and myself and not just my husband. It is emotionally exhausting.
I believe in family.

I don't believe my husband is a bad or dangerous man, quite the opposite; he is gentle, kind, and caring, but he does have an illness.  He wants to get better and indeed now is getting better but this is a path on which we have had to find our own way, there has been no professional guidance or recognised medical input. As has recently been highlighted in the media, there is a lack of recognition and a fear of acknowledging mental health issues.
Unlike a physical ailment it is an invisible condition and therefore difficult for many to understand.

In summary, some early life difficulties and a very stressful job caring for others has meant that my husband did not have the necessary coping mechanisms instilled in him, and as a professional felt that he should not need to ask for help.  When he did look for help it was not easy to find, his illness wasn't fully understood and treatment was compromised by his status.  The Living Room, Cardiff has shown him what he needs to do. The solution is actually very simple, doesn't involve medication or masses of research, just humility, compassion, understanding and time.  The Living Room, Cardiff recovery model works: some may not grasp its concept straight away, because it is both a painful and foreign experience.

My husband is currently in prison 180 miles away from us. I am now a lone parent, reliant on state benefits; somehow I have a resilience which I believe was instilled in me through my upbringing which is line with many of the principles of the Living Room, Cardiff.

I am more than willing to discuss my situation further; both my husband and myself want some good to come of the suffering that we, as individuals and a family, are going through. I can be contacted via Wynford Ellis Owen at The Living Room, Cardiff.




Getting the help you need

Estyn Llaw Beat the Odds Cynnal Counselling Service Enfys Medics Counselling Service Excessive Gambling Wales