Theo Fleury said he is one of only a handful of men on the continent who speak publicly about the sexual abuse they endured.

Mr. Fleury’s abuse as a young teen was so painful that it derailed his $50 million hockey career and led him down a path filled with drug and alcohol addictions and littered with failed relationships. That path very nearly ended in suicide. At the final moment, he pulled himself back from the brink.

“I tried absolutely everything on the planet to deal with my trauma, mental health, addictions, everything,” he said.

But it wasn’t until he shared his secrets that they began to release their hold on him, he said in an interview before speaking to a crowd of hundreds who gathered to hear his story at the Columbia Valley Centre on Tuesday, November 13th.

Over the nine years since his first book Playing With Fire was released, Mr. Fleury has seen his words set others free.

“I was so scared and so afraid because I didn’t know how all of you were going to react to what was in the book,” he said to the audience, but what happened next blew him away and gave him a sense of purpose.

Some have said that his story saved them from suicide. Others have simply looked him in the eye and said “me too.” Still others have confided their deepest secrets and took comfort in the steadiness of his gaze.

“When I shared my story for the first time in a very vulnerable way… it allowed (others) the permission to talk about what happened to them,” he said. “I’m not going to judge you. I’m just going to love you until you can love yourself.”

Trauma teaches its sufferers that they are unloveable and not good enough, he said, but no one has to believe those harmful lies. Instead they can rewire their brains by learning to love themselves.

“Self love is very simple,” he said, adding that “being uncomfortable is part of the process.”

For Mr. Fleury, self love means getting enough sleep, eating well, meditating, doing yoga, exercising and participating in traditional First Nations practices. As a Métis person, he also values drumming, smudging, powwows and sweat lodges, which are “all for healing.”

His first act of self love was having the courage to meet his own eyes in a mirror back in 2005. That’s when he recognized that he was on his own side and when he was able to walk away from drugs and alcohol.

“When I finally got rid of my secrets, I wasn’t sick anymore,” he said. “We weren’t put on this earth to suffer in silence… This is why we’re given voices.”

Mr. Fleury encouraged his audience to share their secrets with safe people, asked those trusted to listen to respond with empathy and invited the community to come together to support one another.

“Everybody in Invermere is part of the mental health team,” he said. “You all gotta be there for each other.”

After the crowd rose to applaud Mr. Fleury, many lined up to thank him in person as volunteers stood to the side, ready to provide additional support and lend their ears to anyone in need.

Mr. Fleury spoke in Invermere as part of National Addictions Awareness Week activities offered through a partnership between the Akisqnuk First Nation, the Shuswap Indian Band, the Columbia Valley Métis Association and the Columbia Basin Trust.