Thursday 21 November 2019

'Rehab saved me from a life on the streets... it can help Ant too, but only if he does it for the right reasons'

New beginning: Timothy Shiels
New beginning: Timothy Shiels

Leona O'Neill

Following his recent arrest for drink-driving, Geordie TV presenter Ant McPartlin announced he was entering rehab to get his life back on track.

It's the second time the Saturday Night Takeaway star has checked into rehab. Last summer he sought help for an addiction to painkillers.

But a man who was in rehab five times within seven years and who became homeless and tried to take his own life before eventually getting clean and turning his life around, says the treatment will only work if the broadcaster is "doing it for the right reasons".

Father-of-four Timothy Shiels, from Omagh in Co Tyrone, in entered rehab in 1998 when he was 23 years old. At his lowest ebb, the now 42-year-old was spending £400 (€456) a day on drugs.

He stole from his parents and sold drugs to feed his addiction. He ended up with a criminal record and expelled by a group of people from his home city of Derry.

"I had basically exhausted all avenues at that point in my life," he says. "I had nobody. I had exhausted my entire circle of friends and my family and I really had nowhere else to go.

"I had no friends who would offer me a couch anymore. Contacting family and asking for help just wasn't an option because I had totally burnt those bridges.

"I was taking drugs. I was drinking. I was basically taking everything I could get my hands on. If I could self-medicate with anything, I would have taken it."

Timothy's substance abuse began when he was young and eventually resulted in him being threatened, exiled from home and ending up in rehab.

"I started off taking drugs in school," he says. "I was a recreational drug user, thinking that I would have fun and that's it. The fun escalated to complete despair. It didn't take very long for addiction to get a grip on me.

"What I didn't realise was that I had a load of issues going on inside of me that I was completely unaware of in terms of my identity and my self-esteem. I was shy and I thought, 'If I'm going to be confident and have friends, I needed to continue taking drugs and drinking'.

"I got into bother with a group of people who put a threat on my life and I had to leave my home town. That really was the straw that broke the camel's back at the time. I ended up in Newry in the Cuan Mhuire rehab centre.

"I was an addict at this stage. When I went in, it was a place of safety and rest. It felt like when I walked in there that it was the end of the madness.

"That's what it felt like at the time, but unfortunately it wasn't the end of the madness for me.

"I was in an eight-bed room and we were all going through detox at the time. We were all medicated to help us through the process.

"Nobody was allowed in to visit us and we weren't allowed out. There were no prison doors or anything, but we were in a space where we didn't have access to anyone else.

"After that I went to a rehab centre in Kildare for 13 weeks, and I stayed for six months more to act as a volunteer."

Timothy left rehab thinking he had been cured of his addiction, but things quickly spiralled out of control and he found himself homeless and suicidal on the streets of Dublin.

"After I left, I thought I was cured," he says. "I thought once I had the rehab I could be a recreational drug user again. That was not the case.

"I found myself homeless on the streets of Dublin as an addict again. I was at the lowest point that any human being could go. I had absolutely nothing, it was awful."

While living rough, Timothy met nun Sister Consilio, the woman behind the Ireland-wide Cuan Mhuire rehab centres. She took him under her wing and nursed him back to health, turning his life around.

It worked because -finally - he had hope. And the same can happen for Ant.

"On the streets of Dublin, I met Sister Consilio," Timothy says. "She is a nun who set up Cuan Mhuire rehab centres. She walked the streets of the city and talked to people like me. She loved me and put me back on the straight and narrow.

"It was a point in my life where I had tried rehab before. I had failed miserably and was massively suicidal because I figured that rehab had never worked for me before and would never work for me at all, so what was the point?

"She took me to rehab in Dublin, and I stayed there for nine months.

"What she was able to do was instil a sense of hope in me by asking the right questions at the right time.

"She got me to imagine what my life could be like, to restore the relationship with my family, that normality was possible, that I could have a wife and children. She was pretty epic. She saved my life."

Timothy managed to turn his life around.

He got involved in the Cornerstone Church 12 years ago and has been completely sober and clean since. And the dream that Sister Consilio told him about came true.

He is married to Jennie, with whom he has four children - twins Sian and Oisin (18), Aoife (14) and seven-year-old Cadhla.

The family live in Omagh, where Tim is the hugely popular pastor in the Omagh Community Church.

He says rehab will only work if you are doing it for the right reasons. "I believe it worked because I had reached a point in my life where I wanted to get well, where I believed it was possible," he adds.

"We can go into rehab for a lot of reasons. I know people who have gone in to lessen their jail sentences or to try and get a family member back or restore a relationship.

"I think we have got to do it for no other reason than for ourselves. Everything else becomes a by-product of us being healthy. I was ready to do it for me. I had hope.

"In rehab I was given the tools to build a life. I know what I have in my hands now and I know the potential that exists with that, and that has set me up for a life beyond limits.

"Life is good now. If Ant leaves all his rubbish behind, it could be the same for him too."

If you have been affected by any issues raised in this article, please contact The Samaritans free helpline on 116 123 or by  email to

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