Theo Fleury’s struggle with drug and alcohol abuse led to the downfall of an outstanding career and in ‘Conversation with a Rattlesnake,’ a book co-authored by occupational therapist Kim Barthel, Fleury dives into what led him to react the way he did.
By Andrew McCormack The Calgary Flames are out of the post-season, and it’s been 26 years now since they won their lone Stanley Cup in 1988-89 with rookie Theo Fleury on the roster. The 46-year-old native of Oxbow, Sask., who always dreamt of playing in the NHL, is now on a mission to improve mental health through promoting an understanding of the effects of trauma. The November 2014 release of Conversations with a Rattlesnake – coauthored by occupational therapist Kim Barthel – is the second book by Fleury, following 2010’s Playing with Fire. He chose entertainment writer Kirstie McLellan Day to tell readers about his tough home life as a child, the sexual abuse his junior hockey coach, Graham James, subjected him to as a teenager, his drug and alcohol addiction, and being on the brink of committing suicide.
“(McLellan Dae) is a very famous Hollywood reporter and there is so much shock value in (Playing with Fire) that she didn’t understand what was behind the disease of alcoholism and drug addiction,” Fleury said. “Conversations with a Rattlesnake doesn’t sensationalize the top layer, it goes through all these layers so I can fully understand why, in Playing with Fire, I reacted the way I did.” Conversations with a Rattlesnake, named after the snake’s ability to shed its skin and reinvent itself, is essentially a transcript of two-and-a-half years’ worth of dialogue between Fleury and Barthel. It explains how his mother’s depression and father’s “raging alcoholism” he experienced growing up shaped how he would react to trauma later in life. Barthel details how Fleury’s early relationships hardwired his brain to react to things in certain ways. She also shows there is room to rewire the brain, like a rattler changes its complexion. Fleury hopes conversation begets healing. If so, the thousands of people he says have come up to him since 2010 saying, “hey, this happened to me too,” must be the start of something.