Former NHLer, author shares how trauma impacted him

Born in Oxbow, this not very big man was an NHL Stanley Cup champion.

Ten years ago Theo Fleury published a book named Playing with Fire: The Highest Highs and the Lowest Lows. This best-selling autobiography was telling his story of sexual abuse. Later it led to him becoming an expert in the field of relational trauma as he realized that helping others to deal with trauma and heal was much more important for him than anything before.

article continues below

Fleury spoke to a crowd of about 300 people on Thursday at a luncheon celebrating Envision Counselling and Support Centre’s 25 years in the southeast. Envision’s silver anniversary luncheon was held at the Power Dodge Curling Centre in Estevan. He also led a trauma workshop on Wednesday in Weyburn.

Envision’s executive director Christa Daku opened the event.

“As you know the impacts of trauma can impact families and communities for many generations to come. A special thank you to Theo, for joining us yesterday (for the trauma professional workshop in Weyburn) and giving us a two-day celebration, and honouring us with your presence, your healing journey experience and your encouragement to continue to do what we wholeheartedly believe in in these communities,” said Daku.

As the organization continues to forge ahead it was important to celebrate the impacts they’ve had on the communities in southeast Saskatchewan, where throughout past 25 years probably every person either received help and support from the Envision or knows at least one person whose life was affected by this non-profit organization.

Envision’s assistant executive director Lynda Rideout also spoke about the role the community was playing in the organization’s work through years.

“The support that we receive here in the southeast is phenomenal, and I would like to extend our heartfelt appreciation to the families and friends that support our Envision staff… Your support and ongoing encouragement make it so much easier for us to do the important work that we do day after day,” said Rideout.

Fleury took guests on an emotional trip, uncovering his personal story and experience of abuse, addictions and healing. As he was talking about trauma, forgiveness and hope, guests sat in silence and some had tears in their eyes. And then Fleury made the audience laugh, as he entwined some jokes making his speech very informal and touching.

He also shared his moment of truth when he realized the impact his book had on people.

“I showed up in the biggest Indigo Chapters store in all of Canada, three-stories-high in downtown Toronto on Yonge Street … I walked through the front towards the book store and there are 400 people standing on with my book. And I’m like, ‘What the hell are all these people doing here?’ This is strange. I’m not Wayne Gretzky; I’m not Mario Lemieux. I’m a decent, good hockey player, but I’m not those guys. Why are there 400 people at this book signing?” shared Fleury.

“I start signing books. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted this guy in line. And he’s got my book tucked against his chest. His face was buried, looking forward. He was walking very slow. I was like, ‘Hm, I wonder what’s up with that guy.’ So I follow him all way in the line, he got to the front of the line, put the book on the table, looked me in the eye and said, ‘Me too.’”

Since then Fleury has dedicated his life to working in the field of trauma, mental health and addiction, all of which he personally experienced and was able to overcome. Through his own life he learned that forgiveness was one of the key points in the healing process, since, according to his words, only forgiveness can set an abused person free from a traumatic experience.

Fleury also noted that healing has to happen physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Standing on the stage he was talking about being raped numerous times by his junior hockey coach Graham James. Not only he was healed, but he also became a true healer.

As he was guiding the crowd through his life path of trauma, healing and recovery, a lot of people reflected on their own past. The silence that grew in the building as he was talking, according to Fleury, was a sign that a safe space was created in the audience. He used his own vulnerability to achieve that, and that’s what’s needed to get the magic of healing to happen.

His passion for helping others and his approach to healing through creating safe spaces, listening and giving people hope strongly resonated with Envision’s dedication to communities they serve, and a lot of his activities in this field are compliant with Envision's work.

“I would say that Envision is the epitome of vulnerability and home space. That’s why they’ve been around for 25 years. It’s because they change people’s lives, give people hope, because trauma, mental health and addiction is the biggest epidemic on the planet. I have not run into anything bigger than this,” said Fleury.

He is on the road 250 days a year, and all he sees is pain and suffering, which he believes are unnecessary if we learn forgiveness.