September 20, 2018 2:08 am
Updated: September 20, 2018 9:13 am

Theo Fleury says addiction robbed him of 21 years of maturity. So today, he’s ‘only 29’

WATCH ABOVE: Previous coverage of Theo Fleury on Globalnews.ca

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Theo Fleury was born in 1968.

But ask him his age today, and he’ll tell you he’s 29 years old.

“They say the day you start drinking is actually the day you stop maturing, and then when you get sober, you start at that age and then move through that,” he told Global News Radio’s Charles Adler on Wednesday.

“I’m actually not 50, I’m only 29.”

Fleury spoke with Adler one day after he marked 13 years of sobriety, relating a lengthy journey through addiction that began when he was 16 years old.

That was the year that he found alcohol — after he had been sexually abused by junior hockey coach Graham James.

He would progress to substances such as cocaine and marijuana, eventually becoming an addict.

“The direct result of my being abused was that I became a raging, alcoholic lunatic,” Fleury related in his memoir Playing with Fire.

And it would wreak havoc for him during his 16-year NHL career.

He would become a successful player, winning a Stanley Cup with the Calgary Flames in 1989 and being named an NHL Second Team All-Star for the 1994-95 season.

He would win a gold medal for Canada at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.

He said he once had $50-million to his name.

Czech Republic goalie Dominik Hasek makes the save on Canada’s Theo Fleury during third period hockey competition at the XIX Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City, Utah, Monday Feb 18, 2002.

CP PHOTO/Tom Hanson

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But Fleury struggled off the ice, even as he excelled on it. His issues with drugs and alcohol reached their peak in 1999, when he played for the New York Rangers.

He would spend nights drinking and snorting cocaine, and use his infant son’s urine to cheat on drug tests, he told the New York Times in 2009.

He played his last game as an NHL player with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2003 — he was suspended in April of that year, three months after he became embroiled in a fight at a strip club in Columbus, Ohio.

READ MORE: Former NHLer Theo Fleury wants to sit down with abuser Graham James for documentary

Fleury reached a turning point in his life two years later.

“I was in a washroom in my house, and I knew that eventually I was going to die,” he told Adler.

“I already tried suicide, I couldn’t do that, and I knew that there was just a better way of doing this, and that’s called life.”

Fleury dropped to his knees and “had it out with God” in the washroom.

Former NHLer Theo Fleury stands in front of a child abuse monument in Toronto on May 14.

AP Photo

He “called him every name in the book that I could think of, made a couple up of my own, and at the end of the conversation, I just basically said, please, God, take away the obsession to drink and do drugs.”

He woke on the morning of Sept. 18, 2005 and looked at himself in the mirror — and he couldn’t remember the last time he did that.

“I sat there and I stared,” he said.

“Next thing I know, 30 minutes goes by and I went, holy cow, I said my prayers have been answered.”

Fleury hasn’t had a drug or a drink since that day, and spent the intervening years unpacking his trauma.

“What trauma teaches us is, first of all, it teaches us abandonment and neglect,” he told Adler.

“I’m not good enough, I’m not lovable, and the fourth thing is, do I even exist in the world?

“I did not feel that I deserved good things in my life.”

Fleury came to new realizations about himself, learning how to be patient, and how to listen to people.

He remains sad at how his NHL career ended — and while most thought it had to do with his addiction, he said it had more to do with his mental health.

“My mental health took me out of the game,” he said. “And now I’m trying to do something better to improve, you know, the quality of people’s lives who have experienced trauma and helping other people.”

READ MORE: Former NHLer Theo Fleury in Saskatoon raises awareness about child sex abuse

Fleury would mount something of an NHL comeback in September 2009, landing a tryout with the Calgary Flames, the team that drafted him.

In his first game back, he scored a goal in a shootout, eventually racking up four points before the team released him.

He announced his retirement soon after. His memoir was released the following month.

Since then he has found new life as an advocate for victims of sexual abuse, delivering speeches and taking part in charitable events.

His abuser James would plead guilty to sexually abusing hockey players, receiving a two-year sentence in 2012 that was later increased to five years.

James received full parole in 2016.

Fleury said earlier this year that he would like to sit down with James for a documentary that he’s filming.

“The fact that I can be in the same room as my abuser says a lot,” he said in July.

“I’m not a victim anymore.”

The Stanley Cup and gold medal-winning all-star may no longer have the millions he once enjoyed, but he believes “everything that happened to me was part of a bigger plan.”

“I probably wouldn’t have found the true purpose of my life if I still had the $50-million,” he said.

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