Olympic Gold Medalist and Stanley Cup Champion Theo Fleury Talks Trauma, Addiction, and Resiliency – HPP 96

Theo Fleury

Trauma causes pain that many people seek to alleviate by turning to substances. Many high achieving people have experienced trauma and addiction while somehow maintaining an extremely high level of performance in their chosen field.

In today’s episode, we are fortunate to have former Olympic gold medalist, Stanley cup champion, speaker and author, Theo Fleury. Join us as we dive into his gripping personal story of trauma, addiction, and resiliency.

Show Notes:

Experiencing trauma in childhood – 03:06
“I was escaping a very troubled home environment where both my parents experienced childhood trauma in their life. And then that manifests itself into addiction as a coping mechanism. And so basically, for the first 15 years of my life, I watched my parent’s trauma, fighting with each other non-stop every day, all day long”

How trauma played an important part in my career – 09:31
“I played with a tremendous amount of anger and rage from my childhood experience. And not only that, those of us who are traumatized, we have a thing inside of us called hypervigilance, and that hypervigilance served me so well on the ice”

Mental illness and addiction – 12:54
“I had a bruised vestibular nerve just above my ear which caused me to have vertigo, and all that stuff. And so my anxiety really kicked up at that point. And that’s when the mental illness really showed up. And then when I got to New York, I was having panic attacks before the game. I was falling into depression quite easily. And so, by the time I got to Chicago, it was no longer manageable. My addiction was no longer manageable”

My spiritual journey – 18:48
“So fast forward a couple years later, I’m in a washroom on my hands and knees. And I’m drunk, I’m high. I’m crying. I’m done. Okay, I’m done. And I’m on my knees. And then I remember this conversation I had with Jack. So I said, okay, I’m gonna give this God thing a try. So I went up one side of God, and went down the other side of God, I called them every name in the book that I can think of, and made up a bunch of my own”

A positive relationship with trauma – 24:55
“I love my trauma. I love it. To me, trauma equals resiliency. Trauma is adversity, and that adversity in trauma equals resilience. And my resilience is the only reason why I’m still alive today. Because like I said, I didn’t want to die. And it was a catalyst”

Trauma, mental health and addiction – 27:18
“There’s some underlying thing that brings you into those two spaces. And it’s trauma, right? And the fact that we have not made that connection is probably the reason why we’re in the state that we’re in right now. I was guilty of it, too. I didn’t recognize that trauma was going to be my biggest challenge that I faced in my whole entire life”

The enablers – 32:20
“Well, what I’ve come to realize is, the person who’s emailing me is the enabler. They’re the enablers. And what are addicts and alcoholics really good at? We collect enablers, we collect them because the more enablers we have, the longer our behavior can last”

Full Episode Transcript

SPEAKERS: Theo Fleury, Keith Kurlander, Dr. Will Van Derveer

Theo Fleury  00:00

When I stepped in the rank, I knew who I was when I left the rink, no idea who I was. I was pretty shy, but I had a big ego. So I was an egomaniac with an inferiority complex.


Keith Kurlander  00:16

Thank you for joining us for the higher practice podcast. I’m Keith Kurlander with Dr. Will Van Derveer. And this is the podcast where we explore what it takes to achieve optimal mental health. Hey there, welcome back. We’ve got a great episode ahead today. We’re really fortunate to have Theo Fleury as our guest, if you’re a hockey fan, you’ll know who this is. Theo is one of the great hockey players to ever live, he took home a gold medal for Canada, he won the Stanley Cup. He’s also one of the highest career goals in hockey, I think he said he’s 64th in terms of how many career goals he had in hockey. He’s an incredible guy. And we had such a good talk with him here. So we get to dive in with him about how did he actually get to be an amazing hockey player like this, what made him be able to excel in this way. But that’s kind of the icing on the cake for him about his story, because what he’s gonna really talk about here is mental health healing he’s had to do in his life. He’s a major advocate around resiliency and trauma and having the conversation bringing it to light. He’ll talk a bit about his trauma, and how that led to a lot of addictive behaviors in his life. And what really turned around to be a very amazing spiritual journey, and how he’s really giving back now. So excited to get into it with him. Let’s get into the show. Theo, welcome


Dr. Will Van Derveer  01:49

to the show.


Theo Fleury  01:51

Thanks for having me.


Dr. Will Van Derveer  01:52

It’s such a pleasure to get to spend some time with you have been such a huge fan back in the late 90s, early 2000s of you as a hockey player and had no idea that there was this whole journey that you’ve been on at that time. And so for those of you who don’t know you, I think it’s important. Probably a lot of people on this podcast listening already know who you are. But this is a guy who scored over 1000 points and NHL won the Stanley Cup won a gold medal twice, I think, is that right with Canada,


Theo Fleury  02:23

just once, once in the world, Jr. It was called the Canada cup back then, which is now the World Cup of Hockey. So I won that and then topped that all off with the gold medal in 2002. So yeah, pretty awesome stuff.


Dr. Will Van Derveer  02:38

Pretty awesome stuff to say the least. And one thing that we’re really interested in hearing about is when you are playing at that level for so many years. I mean, we’re talking about a long career. I mean, this was 1015, long time,


Theo Fleury  02:54

any year sleep 15 years. So


Dr. Will Van Derveer  02:56

yeah, 15 years. What is your sense now of how you were able to play at that level with all the things that you were dealing with in your life?


Theo Fleury  03:05

Well, I subscribe to the Malcolm Gladwell theory of 10,000 hours. So I started playing hockey when I was five. And then I left home at 15 to pursue my career in professional hockey, wherever that took me. And in those 10 years, I spent every waking moment at the arena, practicing just the basic skating, shooting and passing right over and over and over and over again. And basically what I did, and I had no idea I was doing this at the time, was escaping a very troubled home environment, right where both my parents experienced childhood trauma in their life. And then that manifests itself into addiction as a coping mechanism. And so basically, for the first 15 years of my life, I watched my parents trauma, fighting with each other non stop every day all day long. And my mom was a prescription pill addict, my dad was an alcoholic. And so when I was at the rink, I didn’t have to be at home. Right? And so my mom often told me, she said, I’m just gonna move your bed down to the rink, because that’s where you are. And she never had to worry about me, right? Nobody had to worry about me because they knew where I was all the time. And basically, if you think about our sport, it’s a very reactionary sport. And the guys that overthink the game, don’t have very long careers. Okay, because in our sport, the puck moves faster than you can think. And so, in those 10,000 hours, I basically trained myself to react and we would often have nights at the arena. Because there was no Xbox and no cell phones or nothing, we’d have 50 people show up to play shinny. And it was 25 on 25. Like, there were no shifts, like everybody was on the ice. And so I learned how to play in small spaces, which is really what the game is all about, if you can manage yourself in those small areas and those small spaces, and that’s what really made me great was all that training. And when I stepped on the ice, like I didn’t have to think, honestly, I did not have to think about nothing, I just let my natural ability and talent and all that hard work I put in was just natural. So hockey was very easy. For me. It really was, because I thought the game was on a different level. They call it hockey IQ, I guess nowadays, but it just was natural. And the game was easy. And so people look at all the off-ice stuff, and are baffled that I was able to have the career that I had. But when I explained it to them this way, you know, it makes sense,


Dr. Will Van Derveer  06:09

makes a lot of sense. A real refuge for you. Yeah, it


Theo Fleury  06:14

saved my life. Really, it really did. And the addiction did too. And the anger did all those things. This guy said, Everybody said, you’re never going to play in the National Hockey League, right? Because you’re too small, you’re too late, you’re to this, you do that. When I look in the mirror, I don’t see somebody who’s five foot six, you know, I see somebody who is incredibly determined and is willing to work harder than anybody else. And I wasn’t afraid to get my nose dirty. And so all of those characteristics made up this little guy that wasn’t supposed to play. And ultimately, I had to turn all the non believers into believers, and I got a great story to share with you. So there were 415 guys selected before me in the draft. Okay, because the first year of eligibility, I didn’t get drafted, and there were 12 rounds. The following year, I got picked in the eighth round. So basically 20 rounds of the draft went by and the Calgary Flames had this scout who had come to Moose Jaw. And if you don’t remove muestras, in the middle of buts nowhere in Saskatchewan, where it’s pretty much minus 60 with the Windchill from November till March. But the scout from the flames kept coming to Moose Jaw to watch me play. And every night he would write on a piece of paper. This guy was the best player on the ice. And it was like 50 times he wrote this down on a piece of paper. So the draft was in Detroit. And this Ian McKenzie guy who’s the scout kept bugging our general manager Cliff Fletcher, you got to drop this guy like he’s gonna go. And if we don’t get them, we’re gonna be sorry. And so they went up, they dropped me and the Assistant General Manager guy named Al McNeil had this beautiful Montblanc pen. And he threw it across the table. And he said, we drafted another jockey is what he said. And so when I went to my first training camp, nobody in the organization believed that I could play except for that one guy that sort of went to bat for me. And by the time I had left to go back to junior that year, the whole entire organization believed that I could play. And you know, what I always tell kids all the time is it doesn’t matter what number you get picked. It’s where you finish. And right now, I think I sit 64th in all time scoring in the history of the NHL. So 415 guys are picked ahead of me, but it’s where I finished and that’s what’s most important, right? I just wanted an opportunity. I just wanted the chance. And the flames gave me that chance. And I always obviously made the most of it.


Keith Kurlander  09:21

Nice. Yeah, that’s powerful story there. And can you say a little bit about how your challenges helped you along the way? You said a couple comments that I think we’re really important. You said like my, the addiction even was important. You mentioned and I’m just curious if you could kind of paint the picture here of how these challenges and traumas kind of informed you to still shine in some. I mean, you shines in the NHL, you are right there shining at the top of the NHL. So I’m wondering, there’s some way you were relating to your challenges, obviously, that didn’t crush you and keep you out of the NHL. So can you say a little bit about That?


Theo Fleury  10:00

Yeah, that’s such a loaded question, because I could go in 50 different directions and give you 50 different answers to the question. But I played with a tremendous amount of anger and rage from my childhood experience. And not only those of us who are traumatized, we have a thing inside of us called hyper vigilance. Right? And that hypervigilance served me so well on the ice. And also, I quickly sort of discovered that 98% of the guys that I was playing against were all bluffers. Okay, because I could see it. In their eyes, I could feel their energy. And when somebody is afraid of you, you can pretty much do whatever you want to them, take the money on the ice and do whatever you want to them. So not only was I a highly skilled, talented guy, but I was really cerebral, brilliant, and smart. And all of that adversity, in my early childhood, built a tremendous amount of resilience in me, where I knew that no matter what they threw at me, I would figure it out, I would figure out a way to be successful. Like I hate the word addiction. Like I hate it, I think we should absolutely abolish it from every textbook or whatever. Because there’s so much shame attached to having an addiction. And really, what is it? What is addiction? Well, it’s emotional pain management, that’s what addiction is. And it’s the greatest coping mechanism for trauma survivors at the beginning of their battle or struggle with mental illness or addiction. It’s a way to suppress and numb out from the reality of what’s going on in the world. And so when I stepped in the rank, I knew who I was, okay, when I left the rink, no idea who I was, I was pretty shy. But I had a big ego. So I was an egomaniac with an inferiority complex. I was a people pleaser, I was a fixer. I was an enabler, all of these things. And so that didn’t serve me very well away from the rink. But at the rink, I knew exactly who I was. And through the process of healing and recovery and therapy, I’ve been able to make sense of the off ice behavior and why I did the things that I did.


Keith Kurlander  12:43

When did you start knowing? I mean, did you know your whole life? Like I’ve got some shit to deal with? Or was it like something started happening while you were playing hockey and you wanted to start recognizing some of the feelings and behaviors you were having? Were actually based on a lot of pain from the past? Like, how did that start happening? Well,


Theo Fleury  13:03

My mental illness showed up in Colorado, when I got traded from Calgary was one of the most crushing days of my life. Because I have some abandonment issues. I have some not good enough issues and all that, and I felt really betrayed. But on the other side of the coin, I was really excited because I was going from a situation that wasn’t ideal to a situation where I fully doubt that every time I’ve had an opportunity to win, I’ve been able to take full advantage of that and get the job done. And a couple months before I got training, I got cross checked right here. And I had a bruise with this similar nerve just above my ear, and which caused me to have vertigo, and all that stuff. And so then my anxiety really kicked up at that point. And that’s when the mental illness really showed up. And then when I got to New York, I was having panic attacks before the game, I was falling into depression quite easily. And so, by the time I got to Chicago, it was no longer manageable. My addiction was no longer manageable. My mental health was no longer manageable. And a lot of people are under the impression that it was my addiction that took me out of the game. And that is completely false. It was my mental illness disguised as an addiction that took me out of the game. And so I look back on those three or four years. I was so out of control, because where do I go for help? Who do I ask for help? I remember one night we were playing in New York, and I was getting ready for a face off and I looked at the clock and the clock went black and I just absolutely passed out. On the ice, and went into the trainer’s room, and the doctor was there, and I couldn’t even explain to him what happened. And so what does he do? He prescribed me Clonazepam. And here we go, here we go. And when I was in Chicago, they put me on so much Paxil that I was having body shocks during the games. And because we are trained to trust doctors, I wasn’t going to question what was going on, right. And so drinking and doing antipsychotic medication is not a good formula. And so, I blocked out in a bar one night and got into a scuffle with nine or 10 bouncers, and I was out of control, I was completely out of control. And that’s where I started the therapeutic process in New York, I went to my first treatment center, I started talking to different therapists and all that. And so looking back after the 2002 Olympics, I should have just walked away from the game, because I had accomplished pretty much everything I wanted to accomplish. And I was done.


Dr. Will Van Derveer  16:11

I’m really curious about this, because the connection between trauma and emotional management tools, like substances in the world of so-called addiction treatment, is a relatively new kind of development and new awareness. And I’m wondering, in those early days, when you went to a treatment center, where you told Look, what a lot of people are told, like in 12 steps, for example, like, Look, you’re an addict, you’re always going to be an addict. This is a biological condition. Did anybody talk about trauma that time with you, or we sort of like a quick peek?


Theo Fleury  16:45

Yeah. And basically, now that I’ve been in the space down for 15 years, and being an advocate and activist, the 30 day treatment model doesn’t work. Because what they do is they take away all your coping mechanisms, fill you a belly full of a, and then they send you back out onto the street. And so five minutes after you get out of treatment, what happens you get triggered? And what do you do? You go back to what you know, right? Yeah,


Dr. Will Van Derveer  17:17



Theo Fleury  17:18

you know how to do that


Dr. Will Van Derveer  17:19

Right now, go get the tools that you know how to use. Yeah,


Theo Fleury  17:22

but I can tell you that some of the tools that I have in my toolbox today, I acquired in every treatment center. And I subscribe to the fact that relapse is part of recovery. There’s very few people, I believe that actually get it the very first time because there has to be a spiritual transformation that has to happen in order for you to gain the strength and the knowledge to be able to stop one, one day at a time. Right? Like it’s a process, but because there’s so much shame attached to the affliction, that I’m really good at beating the shit out of myself, right. And so every time I failed, I felt like I felt more shame than when I was getting sexually abused. Because I knew what the sexual abuse was. Right? Right. I didn’t know what the addiction part was, like, I didn’t know how to stop. I didn’t know how to quit. But I kept going into the rooms. And I kept listening, I kept coming back, like they say, and then all of a sudden it happened. You know, it just happened.


Dr. Will Van Derveer  18:38

Can you tell us a little more about that and how that spiritual kind of transition happened for you.


Theo Fleury  18:44

I always had a concept of something greater than myself, because I was an altar boy in the Catholic Church and my mom was a Jehovah Witness. So I always knew that there was something greater out there. But I didn’t subscribe to the white bearded guy in the sky. couldn’t grasp on to that concept and didn’t really understand that. But I remember, I remember this very well too, this is a great story. So I was living in Santa Fe, New Mexico, because I went to a place called the Life Healing Center in Santa Fe, where we actually in this treatment center started to look at my trauma. So I was doing EMDR therapy. I was doing all of this sort of state of the art, new kind of holistic therapy. And I felt an unbelievable spiritual connection to this place. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Santa Fe, but it is an incredibly spiritual place. They had great recovery there. I ended up buying a house there and living there, because I knew if I didn’t get it, I was probably gonna die. And so I used to go to this men’s group on Wednesday nights in Santa Fe and it was in this guy’s backyard. Like just this beautiful place, and it was all men sharing, being vulnerable and sharing their stories. So I was outside after the meeting having a smoke. And there was this old biker guy who used to go to these 12 step meetings. And he was a very handsome guy. We had a lot of beautiful long white hair. He was tan, and he had this permanent whiskey voice. So he came outside. And he said to me, “ How are you doing? And I said, Well, I said, I’m just fucking white knuckling it and just barely hanging on and, and then he says, you know, how you doing with your higher power stuff? And I said, it’s not happening. And then he said something to me, I’ll never forget. He said, Do you realize in this program that you get to pick your own God? And I was like, What are you talking about? He said, Yeah, he said, you get to pick your own God. And I was like, wow, I never really thought of that concept before. So fast forward. Couple years later, I’m in a washroom on my hands and knees. And I’m drunk, I’m high. Crying, I’m done. Okay, I’m done. And I’m on my knees. And then I remember this conversation I had with jack. So I said, Okay, I’m gonna give this God thing a try. So I went up one side of God, and went down the other side of God, I called them every name in the book that I can think of, and made up a bunch of my own. And then I said, I said, God, I realize you only give me as much as I can handle, I said, I am full, you cannot put one more thing on my plate. And then at the end of the conversation, I said, Please, please, God, take away the obsession to drink and do drugs. And then I went to bed. And the next morning, I woke up, and I was walking to the washroom, and I had to walk by this big mirror, on the way to the washroom. And as I was sort of wiping the sleep out of my eyes, I glanced in the mirror, and I stopped dead in my tracks. And I can’t honestly tell you the last time I looked at myself in the mirror, because I was so full of shame, guilt. So I started staring at myself in the mirror. And then almost suddenly, as I started to do that, something inside of me, my chemistry or whatever, changed. And then 40 minutes later, I was like, holy, my prayers have been answered. And that was September 18 2005. And I haven’t had a drink or drugs since. But I still have the ISM. And I had to get rid of the ISM. I had to look at the trauma, I had to make sense of the trauma, I had to step into compassion, empathy, for myself, forgiveness, all of those things. And so that therapeutic process has been ongoing and will be ongoing for the rest of my life, because I’m in therapy for the rest of my life. And I’m okay with that. Because every time I put myself in a therapeutic environment, I get better. I have more understanding, I have more self care, self love, you know, all those things. And so ultimately, what is spirituality? To me, spirituality is all about relationships. that’s ultimately what it is, right? Why do we go to church every Sunday? Because it’s a community, right? Why do we go to the arenas, because it’s a church, its community. The one relationship I neglected the most was the one I had with myself. Because after my abuser left my life, what happened, I took over the abuse, and I abuse myself is what happened. And I had to stop all of that. And then take a look at it, and go, this is not who you are. You’re way better than this. You’re way better than what you’re showing the world. And I didn’t want to die. Like I truly wanted to live, I did not want to die. And I think that was the catalyst that has sort of brought me to this awesome place that I live in today. There’s no more chaos. There’s no more drama. I live a pretty simple existence, where I don’t care about money. I don’t care about things. I care about relationships. And people ask me, What do I do for a living? I tell them, I collect people. That’s what I do. That’s my job. And that’s my purpose. And I stepped right into my purpose. And it’s been one of the greatest things that I’ve ever done. And people always ask me, you know, what’s your greatest accomplishment in life? And I say, my sobriety, and they’re shocked, because I come with all of this, all these achievements. And it’s something as simple as I’m sober. And that’s because without my sobriety, I got nothing. Alcohol and drugs are like a solvent. When I put it in my body, things start to disappear. Wives, kids, jobs, homes, cars, everything disappears. When I put this in my body, right, yeah,


Keith Kurlander  24:55

right. Gosh, you’ve had such a journey, right. You’ve been through Very colorful and dynamic life and how are you relating to the traumas now in terms of like when you think about what you’ve been through? And when you think about just what other people have been through, like, how do you frame trauma in your head? And do you have a positive relationship to trauma? Do you have like, would have been better if it didn’t happen? Like, what do you think about it?


Theo Fleury  25:19

I love my job. I love it. To me, trauma equals resiliency, diversity is trauma, trauma is diversity, and that diversity and trauma, equal resilience. And my resilience is the only reason why I’m still alive today. Because like I said, I didn’t want to die. And it was a catalyst. And trauma is the greatest riddle that hasn’t been solved on the planet. We have a systemic, unresolved trauma issue on the planet. And COVID-19 is the most traumatic event. That’s happened since World War Two, pretty much everybody on the planet has trauma, while they just added another layer of trauma. On top of that, what comes with COVID is more trauma, because we’re isolated, communities have been taken out, they’re trying to take God out of the equation, they’re just adding more trauma on top of the trauma. And we grew up in the suck it up era. And now we’re seeing the results of the suck it up era, we’re at the highest amount of awareness on the planet that mental illness is as big as they say it is we have the highest suicide rates in the history of our planet. And guess what, nobody wants to talk about Trump, right? Because when I stand on stage, and I say to my audience, I was raped 150 times by my coach, you know what happens to my audience, every single head hits the floor, and they pass the shame on to me, I have no more shame. I’ve done my work. That’s why I’m able to say it. And there is no place for that type of communication. And that’s the reason why we are in the state that we are in right now is because we haven’t created a safe, vulnerable place for people to talk about trauma.


Keith Kurlander  27:18

I mean, it’s so well said what you’re saying. And I totally agree. I mean, I think we’re really at sort of a tipping point, we’re seeing the results, that there’s no permission. Culturally, there’s not a container, there’s not a way to talk about the challenge and suffering of the human condition we call trauma now, in the modern age, we’ve, we now have a framework, wrap it in something to talk about it. And we’re seeing the results of where we’re, how that stigmatization of one whole side of reality is not really allowed to be talked about openly, and the shame attached to it. There’s a lot of issues. And so I just love how you’re saying it. And I think you’re right, we need to start talking about


Theo Fleury  28:01

  1. How many psychiatrists and psychologists haven’t yet connected trauma to mental health and addiction blows my mind and blows my mind that they haven’t made the connection? trauma, mental health and addiction live in the same house? Right. But what’s the catalyst? Like you don’t wake up one morning and have mental illness, you don’t wake up one morning and have addiction issues. There’s some underlying thing that brings you into those two spaces. And it’s a trauma. And the fact that we have not made that connection is probably the reason why we’re in the state that we’re in right now. Yeah, I was guilty of it, too. I didn’t recognize that trauma was going to be my biggest challenge that I faced in my whole entire life. And the fact that I look at my trauma as a gift, I’ve done 800 speeches in the last 15 years and people still have a real tough time connecting that piece to why they have mental illness or why they have addiction issues or why they have relationship problems. They haven’t connected that trauma piece, and traumas subtle. It doesn’t have to be as extreme as mine. If your parents got divorced, that’s trauma. If you’re bullied in school, that’s trauma. If you get diagnosed with cancer, that’s trauma, like traumas really subtle. And what trauma does is it leaves us in emotional pain and suffering. And then we produce way too much cortisol, which then phases our nervous system, and then we’re really in big trouble.


Dr. Will Van Derveer  29:39

And then as you spoke so eloquently about you go, you use your intelligence and your resourcefulness to go find the coping strategy, whether it’s 10,000 hours on the eyes from age five to 15, or whether it’s going into work addiction, or going into relationship addiction or self says whatever the coping strategy at your fingertips, you’re going to go make use of that. At that stage, you need treatment for the pain when you’re going to go do it. And


Theo Fleury  30:11

then one thing that I’ve discovered is you cannot overthink this as a very highly intelligent guy. I tried to overthink it. And oh my God, what a fun ride that was, you know, ultimately, when my title is what I do, I call myself an expert in relational trauma, because all of our trauma happens in relationships. And how am I going to heal? I’m going to heal in a relationship, I need an external brain to come in and help me because my brain doesn’t work. Great. When it comes to that piece, right? It’s a lifetime thing. Like, I think big pharma, who basically own mental health, Big Pharma owns mental health, while they own pretty much everything. And what they sort of have taught us is that there’s a magic pill that I can take, well, guess what, I’ve tried them all, they don’t work. And the reason why they don’t work, I’m going to go somewhere, this is when I put something in its synthetic form. In my body, my body goes with this. It doesn’t recognize it. And so what happens is, we ultimately get a sludge of this synthetic version of whatever it is, and it gets filtered through our liver, through our kidneys and through our intestines. And now we’re feeling side effects from this thing. And so I’m an Aboriginal person, I’m an indigenous person. And I’ve had the great honor and privilege of speaking in 420, of the 630 Aboriginal communities in Canada. And what happened was, they gave me back my life spiritually. Because I started, I always say, I took the cotton out of my ears, and I put it in my mouth. And I started to listen. And I started to listen to the elders, to the spiritual leaders, to the medicine men, and fully submerge myself into the Aboriginal culture and the Aboriginal spirituality.


Keith Kurlander  32:20

What would you tell the person right now who is really in the confusion, and the puzzle, and the chaos of the mental illness states we can get into, and they don’t know where to go? And what’s next? And how to even guide themselves toward a step of the healing journey. Like in that moment where things are just so confusing. And so overwhelming? What would you tell that person?


Theo Fleury  32:49

Do you want help? Because if you don’t want help, again, the most common email I get is I have a son, I have a daughter or a niece, I have a nephew or a granddaughter who’s going down the wrong path. And I don’t know what to do. Well, what I’ve come to the realization is, the person who’s emailing me is the enabler. They’re the enablers. And what addicts and alcoholics are really good at is collecting enablers, because the more enablers we have, the longer our behavior can last. But eventually, we make the enablers sick. And then they have to go take care of themselves. So I know that the person who’s emailing me is the enabler. So I quickly email them back and I say, does this person you’re talking about actually want help? And I would say nine times out of 10, they’ve emailed me back and say, no, then I say the only thing you can do is go look after yourself, set healthy boundaries. So that person doesn’t make you sick. And anybody who’s ever watched the show intervention, it plays out on the screen exactly the way that I’m explaining it now. So they do an intervention. And all the enablers are in the room and they put out their boundaries. And the addict goes, What do you mean? What do you mean, you’re not gonna pay for my rent and pay for my drugs and buy my booze anymore? And they get freaked out? They have two choices. They can either go to treatment, or they can go out into the world and fend for themselves. And the ones that choose to fend for themselves, you know what happens to them? They either get into therapy or they die. And I tell the enablers, that is not your responsibility if they do die. And so what would I say to somebody who’s struggling? We need your story of recovery. I need your story of recovery. That’s what I need from you. I need your story. I need hope. I need inspiration and If I can do it, anybody on the planet can do it. Because I couldn’t stay sober for five minutes, I was in so much pain, and emotional pain I couldn’t see it. You know, we’re all great at wearing lipstick, when we walk out our front door, we all are really great at hiding the emotional pain and suffering. Unless you go to a bar and you see 20 or 30 people in the bar who can’t even talk and fallen down and whatever those people are in pain, they’re suffering, they’re medicating the emotional pain that’s left behind from the traumatic experience, the best thing you can say to somebody is, you know what, you may not be able to see this. And the last person that sees their life going down the tubes, and down the drain is the person you’re looking at in the mirror. And what I tell the enablers is you say to them, you know, I love you, and I care about you. And I see that you’re going down the wrong path and going down the wrong road. And I can’t watch it anymore. But when you are ready for the help, I will be here every step of the way, to help you achieve what you need to achieve.


Dr. Will Van Derveer  36:16



Theo Fleury  36:17

you know, 16 years ago, I had a fully loaded pistol in my mouth ready to pull the trigger? Because every single enabler had left me. And you know, I was faced with the ultimate choice. Was it going to live? Or was it going to die? Well, I couldn’t pull the trigger. So I’m like, okay, you want to live? Well, I have no, I have no idea how to live life on life’s terms. All I know how to do is cope. That’s it. And so there started the process of, I can’t live in this amount of pain anymore. So I better take a look at the right I better take a look at it better understand it better figure it out. Because what’s the ultimate goal: peace, joy, happiness and serenity? That’s the ultimate goal in recovery. That’s the goal.


Dr. Will Van Derveer  37:03

I wonder if we could talk a little bit about what you’re doing now as we get close to the end of our time together. And I think it’d be really inspiring to talk about needing inspiration and hope. I think where you’ve gotten to in your life is incredibly inspiring and helpful for folks. So tell us a little bit about what you’re doing now.


Theo Fleury  37:24

Geez, I’m doing pretty much everything in space. So I’m a speaker. I’m an author. I write books. I do documentaries. I’m a musician. I’m a singer and songwriter. I have a course online called trauma transformation course. We have 200 members. And tonight, we do two times a month, group therapy sessions online. And we talk about trauma to trauma groups. I’m also the sobriety coach as well, I have four or five clients that I take care of. What’s interesting is I’ve done every kind of therapy known to mankind, I love therapy, I’m addicted to therapy. And I do it for myself, but I do it for other purposes too. Like, if something works, I’m talking about it, right, I’m talking about I’m sharing, I’m talking about, you know, go try this or go try that. But ultimately, the most effective kind of therapy that I know. And the cheapest kind of therapy I know is group therapy. Because it doesn’t cost anything. You know, my secret sauce. And the reason why I had a lot of success in this space is because I am vulnerable. And what does vulnerability do? It creates safety. And then once you have safety in the room, that’s when the magic of healing happens.


Dr. Will Van Derveer  38:53

Well feel it’s been such a deep pleasure to get to hang out with you and rap with you about your journey and the spiritual pearls. Really, I mean, I would say if you’re okay with that, just like the downloads, the gifts are incredibly inspiring and helpful. I just want to thank you for your time, anytime God


Theo Fleury  39:15

had a plan for me. And the only time the plan goes sideways is when I can take over and try this on my own, you know, September 18 2005, you know, I hit my knees in that washroom and I surrendered. And I just said you take over because it’s not what I’m doing. It’s not working, and that help was there. But ultimately, if you can pick yourself up, dust yourself off and find the courage and the strength to share your trauma story with us. You can be a real asset to the cause.


Keith Kurlander  39:54

We end with a question that dovetails nicely off what you’re saying which is: With every guest, we asked this question. So if there’s a billboard that every human would see once in their lifetime, had four to seven sentences on like a paragraph. Yeah. What would you want every human to just hear from you once in their lifetime?


Theo Fleury  40:14

Don’t quit before the miracle. Don’t quit before the miracle of a miracle. I’m a living, walking, breathing miracle. Recovery is not easy, but it gets easier. And the software, everybody, sometimes the pain is too great to overcome. And some of us just don’t have the will to continue. And that’s okay. That’s okay, too. I know. I’ve been to that. You know, the ultimate place. Like I said, God had a bigger plan for me. Maybe God has a different plan for different people.


Keith Kurlander  40:48

Thanks so much for sharing your story. Theo and being on the show. It was so good to meet you and connect and have you under shop. Thanks to God. We look forward to connecting with you again on the next episode of The hire practice podcast where we explore what it takes to achieve optimal mental health.

Theo Fleury

Theo Fleury is perhaps best known for his time on the ice. But off the rink, his life once carried the markings of a troubled childhood, abuse and coping with emotional pain through addictive and self-destructive behaviours.

Today, Theo defines himself as a victor over trauma and addiction, and a facilitator to those still trying to find their way. His best-selling books, Playing with Fire and Conversations with a Rattlesnake, encourage open sharing and provide practical tools that people seeking help can personally use. These tools are also useful to those who want to lead a productive conversation, called “Real Conversations”, with anybody else experiencing trauma.

Theo has been awarded the Canadian Humanitarian Award and the Queen’s Jubilee Medallion. He is a Siksika Nation Honorary Chief and recipient of the Aboriginal Indspire Award. He also holds two honorary doctorates – one in Science from the University of Guelph-Humber for outstanding contributions to the mental health of Canadians, and another in Laws from Brandon University for his work in combating child abuse and promoting healing and recovery.

Today, Theo is a healthy, motivational and successful agent of change. He is committed to daily transformation through personal growth, mindfulness and new action, and his compassionate spirit allows others to feel safe and whole by experiencing his vulnerability.

To learn more about Theo Fleury: