At age 48, Calgary businessman George Gosbee seemed to be on top of the world.
He had built up two investment banks from scratch, he had a wife and three kids, and even owned a piece of the Arizona Coyotes NHL hockey team.
But in November of last year, Gosbee took his own life.
And now his widow, Karen Gosbee, is speaking out about her late husband’s struggles with mental health and a dependence on alcohol and pills.
Karen appeared on the Calgary Eyeopener on Friday. Below is a condensed version of that conversation.
Q: I can’t imagine what you’ve been through over the last while … why did you decide to come in and talk about this today?
A: I want to be an advocate, to minimize the shame and stigma through my own story, managing my family, and my husband’s mental health and substance use.
Q: When did you become aware there was a problem?
A: I knew there was a problem right from the beginning. I was very familiar with that type of behaviour because I was raised with alcoholism and suicide ideations. So as soon as I married into it, it was familiar to me. And it was normal for me, although it was abnormal.
Q: How long had alcohol been playing a destructive role in his life?
A: He had binge drinking episodes, which one would think were normal just for a student and a young person. They happened frequently, and as he got older, they never ceased, they never slowed down, they just continued to get more and more and then eventually his drinking turned into a daily occurrence.
Q: How did his drinking issue manifest itself in his career and his family life?
A: I can only speak from the family life.… They say alcoholism is the breakdown of relationships, and it was definitely starting to break down his relationship with family members. Certainly our marriage was struggling, and he was more of an absentee parent, not able to show up and be completely present.
Q: Were you able to talk to him about this, openly?
A: Yes, we did talk quite openly about it. And it was something that was there and I was trying to hyper-manage his life. We were aware of the situation and we wanted to do everything we could to curb the situation, but it ultimately was up to him.
Q: Did he acknowledge the fact that he had a drinking problem?
A: He knew he had a drinking problem.
Q: Was he doing anything to solve that problem?
A: He was. The nature of mental health is they’ll start and stop treatment. He would get motivated and he would quit drinking for a while, then he would begin again. Or he would get therapy, then he would stop. It’s called a low tolerance. It’s almost like an ADHD approach to therapy, where they start and stop.
Q: You knew him better than anyone else. How was he able to do that while at the same time have that public persona of so much success, not just the wealth, but actual success. How was he able to juggle that?
A: That was what he was all about, perception was everything. He was a highly intelligent man, and he knew that if there was reason to doubt him, the success wouldn’t be as easy to obtain. That was really the nature of him, he could cultivate that energy and he was quite good at selling. Basically, he sold himself, even though his essence wasn’t good.
Q: Was the pressure to keep up that public persona in any way part of why he had issues with alcohol and the pills, in your mind?
A: I don’t think it’s so much a public persona as it is your own personal pressure. With George, he got into the cycle of building himself up, then he would undermine it with his destructive behaviours. It became his way of functioning, it became his way of managing, and it got to a point where he didn’t know any way else.
Q: I don’t know how to ask this other than to be blunt. What happened in the end?
A: With mental health and addiction, the continuum is it just gets progressively worse. What I’m able to do now when I go back is, although he removed alcohol and had attempts of rehabilitating himself, he hadn’t done everything in his power to change the neuropathways in his mind and stop the addictive behaviours. There was still things he was doing, and if you want to get better, you have to do everything.
Q: You’re here because you know his story, as tragic as it is, isn’t singular, there are other people out there right now listening, going through the same thing. Not only what he went through, but going through what you went though, being that person who is trying to deal with someone in this situation.
What have you learned that you can tell people?
A: That’s the primary reason why I’m here, because we were just sitting, letting life happen to us, and we were watching this person self-destruct. It wasn’t until I started to look after myself, where I realized that I was having an impact and a very positive impact on myself, for one thing, but my children, and I could mentor healthy behaviours for my children. And it was also having an impact on George at that point.
It was pivotal when I started to look after myself in the fact that he himself went for treatment and it really did change things. I think if there was a chance for him to really harness that and get healthy, it would have been at that point when I started to look after myself. I got healthier and the children started to do that as well. He would have wanted to jump on board.
Q: Does that weigh on you, do you think about the chances missed?
A: Of course it does. I have to keep moving forward and I have to keep being strong for the children. We know we did everything we can and we just have to hold that in a positive light and remember all the good things and the great person he was.