The hockey rink has always been Theo Fleury’s happy place, he said.
But now that the former NHLer, Stanley Cup champion and Olympic gold medallist has retired from the game, he feels his place is off the ice, talking about serious issues.
Fleury has become a sort of spokesman for issues surrounding childhood sex abuse and he is in Nanaimo this week to lead a workshop today (Nov. 8) at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre called Breaking Free Through Healing Conversation: Moving Beyond Sexual Abuse and Trauma.
“We don’t have enough conversations. We don’t have enough openness,” Fleury said. “Because any time you have shame attached to what we’re talking about, it’s very difficult for people to come forward and talk about their experiences.”
He said media coverage of sex abuse exploits and re-victimizes.
“It’s really not about that,” Fleury said. “It’s about helping your fellow person feel comfortable enough to come to you and tell you their deepest, darkest secrets. And when you show no judgment or when you say ‘thanks for sharing,’ that starts their healing process.”
Fleury revealed his sex abuse in his best-selling 2009 autobiography, Playing With Fire, then followed up by filing a complaint that led to charges against former minor hockey coach Graham James.
“Nobody else is [a spokesman], so it might as well be me,” Fleury said. “I didn’t know how the world was going to react to what was in the book. Guess what? Nobody ran away, nobody criticized, nobody ridiculed.”
While promoting Playing With Fire he had a chance to talk to many other sexual abuse victims, sometimes several at one book signing. Afterward, he connected with therapist Kim Barthel and came up with the idea of hosting workshops to continue to try to make a difference.
“We came to the conclusion it was about helping one person at a time and it was about having healthy conversations,” he said.