Theo Fleury found himself in a New Mexico desert with a loaded gun in his mouth. He had two options, live or die. It was in that moment that his inner voice spoke to him, he had never given up in his life before, why would he now. It was in that moment that he found the courage to seek help and change his life for the better.
Fleury’s life had always been hard. A mother battling drug addiction, a sexually abusive coach, addictions to drugs, alcohol, sex and gambling. To Fleury, they were gifts.
“Because I look at my parents, I look at Graham James, I look at the lowest points of his life, I look at them as gifts now. Because without those gifts, I still have that face. With those gifts I have this face now.”
Fleury’s first book, Playing with Fire, centers around his upbringing, hockey career and sexual abuse. It was a best seller and was a nominee for top non-fiction selling book of 2010 by the Canadian Booksellers Association, selling 80,000 copies in six weeks.
One of his favourite stories is from one of the first book signings he did for Playing with Fire. He talks about a man waiting in line. The man is clutching a book tight to his chest, face buried in the floor. Fleury followed the man as he made his way to the front of the line. When the man made it to the table, he put the book down, looked Fleury right in the eye and said “Me too.”
In his latest book, Conversations with a Rattlesnake, Theo Fleury and Kim Barthel have a conversation loaded with personal insights and cutting-edge information about healing from trauma and abuse. The two have spent the last 36 days, travelling to 36 different cities to talk about his experiences, with Niagara being his last stop.
The two originally met at a conference in Winnipeg where Barthel spoke about why people behave the way they do after trauma. When she was finished speaking, Fleury told her that she had changed his life and that they needed to work together. It was here that Fleury invited her back to his home in Calgary and spent the next 72 hours speaking at his kitchen table.
It was this lengthy conversation that would lead to Fleury’s healing and understanding and the desire to help others understand. Through speaking with Barthel, Fleury realized that there wasn’t anything in his life he could have changed to make it any different. Understanding this helped to shed the shame and resentment that plagued his life. This is where the title of the book comes from.
“The thing about snakes is that they typically represent some kind of inner demons,” Barthel said.
“But also snakes shed their skin, so you can move on and be a different person.”
The book was written to make change in the world, to give others hope. Within the pages, Kim Barthel explains how early childhood attachment and addiction ties into the reasoning behind our behaviours and the science of how our brains work. She also breaks down scientific and psychological research to help eliminate damaging shame that often accompanies trauma and abuse.
While taking questions from the audience, Fleury was asked if he missed playing hockey, he replied with a simple “No.” He further explained that helping others understand themselves and begin the healing process was his dopamine fix now.
“Mentally I am now probably in the best place I’ve been in my life.”