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Picking up the pieces; Addiction and Mental Health

'If I would have been able to find that peace and that support earlier on, maybe I would have saved all those years of suffering,' said Brady Leavold in a presentation at Nipissing University in North Bay

NORTH BAY - No one, least of all Brady Leavold, could have predicted how his life would spiral out of control on that fateful day at a summer concert, when he broke self-imposed boundaries, by choosing to have his first experience with drugs.

Now 35,  he had his first suicidal ideations at 16 and started drinking at the age of 17.

The product of a broken home and abuse by a family member at a very young age, Leavold’s life has been one hurdle after another.

Hockey played an important role in his life.

At one point NHL teams came calling, but it wasn’t enough to prevent the elite athlete from going on to live a life that took him on a journey of drug abuse, rehab, and counseling, to living on the streets, and in prison.

He lost it all.  

Every day is still a struggle, but with hard work and a strong support system, Leavold is coming up to three years clean.

He is now sharing his personal story, warts and all, hoping to make a difference.  

Thursday evening, was part of the Lakers Break the Ice event, mental health speaker series, where  Leavold joined forces with Dr. Rob Graham to put a spotlight on mental health and addiction.

He shared the raw details of his story with Nipissing University students in North Bay and the broader community.

The speaker series “Courageous Conversations & the Mandate to be Great,” focuses on opening up and starting that important dialogue.                                                              

“Tonight was about getting people out and hearing a challenging conversation, and I hope it leaves people with a little bit of a different perspective, and more than anything I hope the conversation continues long after tonight,” said Leavold at the end of the evening as people milled about in small groups chatting about what they had just heard.

“I think that mental health and addiction hits very close to home for a lot of us. I think in the past not enough people have felt comfortable enough to talk about their issues, whether they’re going through it themselves or know someone else who is going through it. Really what I hope is that people feel that they’re not alone and it is okay to ask for help.”

Keeping things bottled up is one of his many regrets. Looking back he would have done things differently.

“I would have told people what was going on. I would have told people what I was going through as a kid, when I was abused and having hard times. I would have talked about things and maybe sought help in a way where I wasn’t in fear of being judged or people finding out. As you see here tonight, everybody found out about the abuse and I’m now in a place where I’m talking about it. But if I would have been able to find that peace and find that support earlier on, maybe it would have saved all those years of suffering.”

Leavold acknowledges that mental health issues can’t be swept under the rug.

“From my own story and talking to people who have lost loved ones, to suicide or overdose, family members are often wishing they could have done more,  they would have done more. That is sort of the common thread,” said Leavold.

“We can all do more as people, we just need to be better, and people need to help people. It is us just being kinder and more open-minded and supporting one another in our local ice rinks, our schools, our communities, whatever that might look like.”

Don’t ignore the red flags.

“People, places, and things. It doesn’t take much. If you really know somebody and you’re a parent and you notice something, don’t wait until it is too late. It is okay to ask the hard questions, it is our job as parents, I’m a dad now too, to guide and ask the hard questions and not always be a friend. Sometimes if you have a hunch and you don’t act on it, it could end in tragedy, so I think it is just being proactive. If you think you’re picking up on any signs or you’re noticing anything different, pay attention and talk about it with somebody. There are more people going through this than you would ever believe.”

Leavold went on to say there is a fine line between being a friend and being an enabler.

“Real friends don’t let friends partake in behaviours like drinking and drugs for prolonged periods. Real friends stand up and say ‘No, that’s not right, something is not right here.’ And that’s where people need to feel more comfortable talking about this.”

Leavold says his life today is “fantastic.”

“I struggle every day but that is just the reality of where I’m at. I’m going to have to manage this every day of my life. I need to stay on top of it. But my life is pretty damn good right now.”

In addition to his speaking engagements, Leavold is the founder and CEO of Puck Support, and he is back on the ice, this time as a coach.

“I’m coaching from NHL players down to young boys and girls and it has been phenomenal. I actually have parents coming up to me saying they want me to coach their kids, they want me to share my life experience and be that mentor. There’s so much more than just hockey, it is the life experience.”

That mentorship has made its way to rinks in North Bay with players of various age levels who have heard his story, and are starting to share. He called it is a very humbling position to be in.

“I went through a lot of hell but it has gotten me to a place now where I can use what I’ve gone through to make the world a better place. That is what I try to do every single day,” Leavold shared.

“I’m very grateful to be in that position, and I’ve been able to make a small impact. The people up here are tremendous. This is where I first ever coached and put my skates on after nine years here at Memorial Gardens about three years ago. I came up from Muskoka and I love North Bay. It is like a third home for me.”

Dr. Rob Graham, author of Mandate to be Great; The 5 Traits of Techno-Resilient People and Organizations presented a three-step approach to becoming more resilient, bringing the two sides of the story together.

“My job is adding the resiliency piece. How did Brady overcome rather than being overcome?  People are leaving here wondering ‘How do I become more resilient and how do I overcome rather than being overcome?,’” Graham pointed out.

“Brady spoke about how early in his career he was so negatively impacted and brought down by others”

Graham told the crowd that when you hang with turkeys,  you won’t be able to fly.

“One of the steps to resiliency is certainly surrounding yourself with people that have the desire to inspire and have the desire to be inspired.”

Dr. Denyse Lafrance Horning, is a marketing Professor in the School of Business at Nipissing University.

 “We only see what we see in the classroom, but I think through events like this and some of the assignments we’ve integrated into this course it gives students an outlet to talk about it,” said Lafrance Horning.

“This event has taken on a life of its own and there are so many benefits that are coming through. Originally our target was students but then we realized it is not just about students, it is not just about the hockey community, mental health touches everybody.”

The university offers a campus outreach program for students who are struggling.

“Through our student development and services team, we offer incredible support to our students. It is about helping them realize that the team is there because I think a lot of times they don’t know where to turn. “

The evening was a primer to the Lakers Break the Ice on Mental Health event on Saturday, November 12, continuing to raise awareness and support for people dealing with mental health issues.  

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