Former NHLer and motivational speaker Theo Fleury spoke to a sold-out room (350 people) full of Saultities from all walks of life at the Marconi Club on Thursday evening as part of the John Howard Society’s 50th anniversary.
Suzanne Lajambe, Executive Director for the John Howard Society, said Fleury’s visit was planned two years ago after seeing him speak at a conference in Toronto. This event was part of their pay-it-forward ventures they’ve had throughout the year for their 50th anniversary. She explained that the $45 ticket cost went towards the dinner and John Howard Society emblemed mugs, and the society itself paid for the cost of Fleury’s speaking engagement with funds they raised to allow them to give back to the community in ways such as this.
“He is a gift of hope for our community as well as for those that are suffering from addiction and mental health, because he gives them the message that they can do it because he did it,” she said.
She continued, saying that his message of hope and inspiration mirrors the values of the John Howards Society – “everyone, if they want to change, can change.”
Fluery, who was sexually assaulted when he was young, told SaultOnline it took a lot of strength to tell his story, but he knew he was ready to start doing so when he wrote his first book in 2009. He said that through telling his story, he started his healing process and also found his purpose in life – helping others.
“I always thought I was just going to be a hockey player and sort of fade off into the sunset,” he explained. “But trauma, mental health and addiction is the biggest epidemic we have on the planet, and I’m very honoured every day to represent the healing process and the healing journey that it takes to get some sort of resemblance of your life back and make sense of it all and then share that experience with other people.”
He said helping others, through his speeches and workshops, has also healed him in ways therapy never could.
“When I’m in a room with people who’ve experienced trauma, I learn a lot more than i could ever teach those people, and that’s why I do this, because it’s incredibly important,” he said. “Something that I thought was uncommon is actually the human experience. And that’s what I’ve basically discovered in my 10 years of research and being all over Canada and everywhere else in between, is that there’s a lot of pain and suffering in the world. And if I can alleviate that by sharing my own story, then I’ll go anywhere.”
Fleury also spoke to 40 inmates and 20 staff at the Algoma District Treatment and Remand Centre earlier in the day.
“I spoke to a bunch of those people and a lot of them don’t know how they ended up there, right? Because they haven’t really taken a look at their trauma history and the things that they went through in their life, which makes us angry and resentful and combative. So it was an awesome morning, to be in a room with a bunch of people that were looking at some healing stuff and healing opportunities.”
Fleury said he hopes people get hope and inspiration from his speeches. He commended the John Howard Society for bringing the topic of sexual abuse to light.
“The value of community when it comes to dealing with this, I think is the way out of this – when courageous societies, such as the John Howards Society – invite a guy like me, who was sexually abused. It takes a lot of courage as an organization to do that, to bring the topic of sexual abuse into the spotlight where it needs to be,” he said.
Lajambe said she thinks having Fleury speak to the community will encourage positivity and inspiration. She said she thinks it’s important to continue to provide the community with gifts of hope.
“There’s a lot of people that believe that we’re suffering and that we are in a position where we aren’t able to make changes,” she said. “But it’s really important that they believe that people like Theo, if he can do it, and the people that are coming here to see him will realize that we’ve all had trauma in our lives, and he gives us all the belief that if we can deal with it and we can forgive, we can all do better in our lives.”