Theoren Fleury is in elite company among former National Hockey League players. He won a Stanley Cup, an Olympic gold medal and surpassed the 1,000-point plateau.
He has since co-authored two books and addressed audiences at numerous speaking engagements across Canada. His first novel, Playing with Fire, discusses the shock of his childhood trauma of being abused by his junior hockey coach, and the ensuing emotional pain. The second — Conversations with a Rattlesnake — contains personal insights and information about healing.
He co-wrote the second with Victoria-based therapist Kim Barthel, whom he met a few years ago at a conference in Winnipeg on the subject of resiliency. Both were keynote speakers at the event.
“I was absolutely blown away at the information she was providing the audience,” Fleury said. “I went over and started this conversation, and we haven’t stopped talking. That was three years ago. She is probably the world leader in talking about childhood trauma.”
Fleury and Barthel will engage in a ‘healing conversation’ with an audience at the Sid Williams Theatre in Courtenay on Saturday, Nov. 28.
“We basically wrote this book to help people model this conversation around how to overcome trauma in your childhood years, your most influential years,” Fleury said. “Once you start the conversation, it’s really not that difficult.”
He’s known for his “brutal honesty” — which Fleury feels is a necessary ingredient when dealing with our past.
“I think it’s finding a safe person where you can start to have this conversation. Somebody who’s not going to judge you. It’s about relationship. And the first relationship you have to have is with yourself.”
The conversation includes learned behaviour, which requires compassion and understanding, as opposed to finger pointing.
“We don’t want to ever look at ourselves, that’s why we point the finger,” Fleury said. “’In your eyes I see myself as…’ That’s compassion. Understanding we are all flawed, and it’s our experiences that have made us that way. It’s the only way we’re going to deal with the cycle of trauma.”
He describes trauma as “the human experience of everybody” to which no one is immune.
“The reason why we have a world-wide epidemic of mental health issues is because of trauma. Trauma is the start, and that’s why we have all kinds of addictions…anything that takes us out of feeling what our true feelings are.”
In recent years, Fleury’s schedule has been filled with radio and television appearances, book signings and healing forums. He says the latter have been well received.
“They are life-changing events for the people that are in the audience. It’s a whole day of conversation with the audience, moving in and out of different topics. Every conference that we do takes on its own life. Sometimes it’s about grief, sometimes it’s about anger. We let the audience take it where it wants to go.”
On Wednesday, he and Barthel were scheduled to speak to inmates at a prison in Prince Albert, Sask. It was to be their fourth prison visit.
“It is probably the best thing that we do,” Fleury said. “They’re the key to all this, to solving this problem.”
Along with the forums, they are also co-hosting an Internet radio show, and launching an app (CWAR) to stay connected with others interested in healing and collective support. Fleury and Barthel are also involved in the Breaking Free Foundation (BFF), which provides treatment and support to trauma survivors. Those without financial resources can apply for a grant. If approved, their therapy will be paid for.
The non-profit BFF grew out of the Victor Walk — a grassroots way to raise further awareness and get people talking about childhood trauma.
“We pick a province every year,” Fleury said. “Last year we walked from Edmonton to Calgary.”
When time permits, Fleury still laces on the skates. He was to arrive home Thursday night.
On Friday morning, he plans to hit the ice and play all day in a Hockey Helps The Homeless tournament in Calgary.
Conversations With a Rattlesnake is an all-day presentation, Nov. 28 at the Sid Williams Theatre ( 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with a one-hour lunch break at 12:30 p.m.). It is being co-presented by the Wachiay Friendship Centre and Campbell River and District Association for Community Living.