To the stranger who showed me how to bring peace to my pain

To: A familiar stranger

From: Theo Fleury (As told to Lauren Brill)

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To a familiar stranger,

A World Cup Junior champion, a Stanley Cup champion and an Olympic Gold medalist, by most people’s standards, despite challenges, I achieved success in life through my hockey career. But I don’t believe I found true success until I encountered you.

Theo wrote a book about his life called Playing WIth Fire. Courtesy: Theo Fleury

My book led our paths to cross. We met just that one time. I don’t know your name. And I only clearly remember two words from our conversation.

When I wrote my book, I didn’t expect people to read it. 400 people showed up to my first book signing. I was shocked. That’s 400 people who had my book.

I thought to myself, “Why are these people here?”

After I started signing books, I spotted you in line. You had my book clutched to your chest. Your face was buried in the floor and you walked really slowly.

For some reason, I felt your energy but didn’t know why you were there. So I followed you all the way on the line. When you got to the front, you put a book on the table, looked me in the eye and said those two words.

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That was when you said to me, “me too.”

I interpreted those words as, “It’s okay. I’m with you. I understand.”

It was at that moment I recognized the power of my honesty and my openness.

I was sexually abused by my hockey coach from ages 14-16.

Theo dreamed of becoming a professional. Courtesy: Fleury

As a teenager, I thought to myself, “Is this the price I have to pay to make it big?”

While I became a very good professional hockey player, scoring 455 goals in more than 1,000 games throughout 16 NHL seasons, in the backdrop – and sometimes in the forefront – of my career, I was surviving on drugs, sex, alcohol, and gambling. Those habits were unhealthy coping mechanisms to try and numb the pain from my trauma.

As a teenager, I thought to myself, “Is this the price I have to pay to make it big?”

Hockey taught me determination, dedication and devotion. When I met you, I began to use those traits to transform my trauma into my purpose, realizing that I wrote my book to not only share my story but to help others find their voice.

Your words gave me permission and motivation to continue telling my story. After our encounter, I became a motivational speaker. In the last ten years, I have shared my story more than 800 times.

Every time I speak, five, ten, fifteen, or twenty people will come up to me and say, “Thanks for telling your story. Whether you know it or not, you told my story too.”

Many of these people are in their 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, or even 80s, telling their stories for the very first time. All they needed was someone to listen and be present. Also, I have received thousands upon thousands of emails from people impacted by my truth.

I know I will never get over the abuse and you and everyone else I have met probably won’t either. The way I see it, being sexually abused is a living murder. I was dead but still alive. 16 years ago, I had a gun in my mouth, exhausted from living in emotional pain and suffering.

Theo Fleury is a motivational speaker. Courtesy: Theo Fleury

Since then, I found new tools in the toolbox to cope with my pain. While I will be in therapy for the rest of my life, I have realized I can still be happy and productive. Today, I enjoy life, as I am actually living. That is the best revenge and that’s the message that I am trying to convey.

Hopefully, through my honesty, more victims will come forward sooner, avoiding eight or nine chapters of people’s lives consisting of surviving on drugs, alcohol, sex and gambling. I realize openness can heal you and help heal others.

I believe that everybody has a plan for their lives. The day I met you was part of my plan and I was part of your plan.

While I don’t know how your life unfolded after our brief interaction, I can tell you the day we met, success no longer had anything to do with how many goals I scored but rather how many lives I can change.

You helped me find my peace and I hope I helped you find yours.

Theo Fleury
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