January 21, 2020

Theo Fleury shares his life story at Conestoga

By DREW LOGAN

“You’re only as sick as your secrets” is the message former NHL hockey player Theo Fleury sent to Conestoga students on Nov. 24.

In an attempt to raise mental health awareness – and to warn others about the consequences of ignoring your emotions – Fleury talked about how he coped with pain through the use of alcohol and drugs after experiencing years of sexual abuse as a teenager.

Fleury was invited to Health and Wellness Week,  a weeklong event that started Nov. 21.

Fleury, a NHL Stanley Cup champion, shared his story of a troubled home life and years of sexual abuse, followed by his coping by abusing drugs.

“It doesn’t matter what it (the disease) is. Your disease never becomes better. It will become progressively worse,” said Fleury to the packed Sanctuary.

Fleury was raised to play hockey beginning in kindergarten. Ever since the day a classmate walking him home offered him the chance to practise he was hooked.

Fleury’s father was an alcoholic and his mother a prescription pill addict.

He was 14 when he became a part of a bantam draft for the Western Hockey League’s Winnipeg Warriors. And that was when Graham James, a hockey coach at the time, convinced Fleury’s parents to let their son leave his hometown of Russell, Man., and train in Brandon, Man.

It was there James sexually molested Fleury 150 times over three years. James pleaded guilty to 350 sexual assaults against two players on January 2, 1997.

After he was molested Fleury experienced a roller coaster of emotions – most of which he buried deep within his abuse of cocaine and alcohol. Despite his problems, on the outside he seemed like a guy who had it all. He kept his secrets deep within himself.

“Every time I closed my eyes I ended up in that dark room where I was molested. For 25 years I never slept – with or without the use of alcohol and drugs.”

Eventually Fleury was in and out of counselling for addictions. But his real saviour was his 16-year-old son at the time, who called Fleury in 2004 and made him realize what he was doing to himself and to others who loved him.

This convinced Fleury to come home to his family, and helped him stop his suicidal tendencies.

At one point Fleury came close to committing suicide.

“As I held the gun in my mouth, I realized I’ve never given up a day in my life. I asked myself, why am I giving up now?” and he threw the gun away.

“I looked at myself in the mirror and I didn’t see myself the same, finally. I knew the miracle had come.”

And since that day he hasn’t touched a single drug, and doesn’t plan to.

Fleury ended his lecture by warning the students not to hide their emotions, especially men who tend to think they have a certain “toughness” status to uphold.

“It takes a true man to show emotions,” he said.

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