'The murder of a child's soul': Greg Gilhooly confronts sexual abuse in new book

Greg Gilhooly suffered abuse at the hands of his hockey coach, Graham James. Decades later, he's poured the pain he says that's never left him into his book, I am Nobody.
Greg Gilhooly has suffered years of repercussions from sexual abuse by Graham James. Now he's speaking out about his past and shares how to help people who suffered abuse find their voice. (Greystone Books/Greg Smith)

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It was supposed to be Greg Gilhooly's chance to finally confront his abuser. In 2012, Graham James was in court to be sentenced for abusing two teenage boys. He had also been charged with the abuse of Gilhooly, but those charges were dropped.

At the courthouse, Gilhooly wanted to face James, he hadn't seen him since he left for University and the abuse ended in 1982.

"This was going to be my chance to look him in the eye and let him know that he hadn't beat me. That I had survived. I had lived."

But as James was led through the hallway, Gilhooly had to look away.

"Just seeing him again walking toward me, it was as if I was back in the room being abused by him again. It wasn't one of my better moments."

There have been many bad moments for Gilhooly since he met James when he was a promising hockey player. James became his mentor, helping guide Gilhooly in his training and preparing for his future.

Greg Gilhooly at age 13, when he says he loved the game of hockey. (Submitted by Greystone Books)
Child sexual abuse is nothing less than the murder of a child's soul and it should be treated as nothing less in society.- Greg Gilhooly
After he finally moved away, Gilhooly started sabotaging himself in other ways. He struggled with substance abuse and eating disorders. He set himself up to fail in his hockey career by not wearing the right equipment and refusing to wear contacts that he needed to see properly. 
Greg Gilhooly is a Princeton graduate, University of Toronto graduate, and played as a goaltender for Varsity Blues in 1988. (Submitted by Greystone Books)

All the while, he made it through Princeton and law school in Toronto.

Gilhooly recalls his lowest moment in life when he spent a night on a bridge, contemplating suicide.

"I just got tired of being tired of living, and I was either going to fall off the bridge or I wasn't," he told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti of that dark time. 

What saved him, he said, was something more powerful than the lurking willingness he had inside to carry on — it was the fear of failure.  

"I was too afraid to take the step and fall off the bridge and survive. I was too afraid that I wasn't going to be successful," he said.

"I believed that I was going to fail at suicide like I'd failed at everything else in my life."

Struggling to play the game 

Gilhooly became a successful corporate lawyer but inside he said it was a struggle to "play the game" and hold himself together.

"But I had to tear that away the moment I got out of the social setting ... I found it harder and harder and harder to put up that mask." 

Gilhooly told Tremonti his life was based on finding ways to hide from dealing with his past. 

High school graduation, 1981. Greg Gilhooly says he loved playing hockey, but he loved school even more. (Submitted by Greystone Books)

"I never wanted to confront who I was. I still to this day have a difficult time with mirrors," adding that gaining weight was another way he could run away from society. 

"No one looks at you. No one wants to deal with you. It's the best way to kill yourself without ever killing yourself."

Gilhooly realized the only way to survive was to come forward and face what he had been avoiding all his life.

"To revisit the past is in many ways more difficult than it is to go through the past when the sexual abuse was happening. I could let my mind wander into any number of different places and hide from the abuse," he explained.

"When I was going to tell a therapist what had happened to me. I had to step back in to that moment and describe what had happened to me or try to explain who I was back then and what was going on. And that's not a pleasant space to find yourself in."

Greg Gilhooly's case against Graham James was set aside through a plea agreement. Now, he shares the words he never said in court with our Reg Sherren. 7:43

A serious crime

It's been almost four decades since Gilhooly experienced sexual abuse and believes that while we're getting better at understanding abuse, there's still so much more work to be done.

"Child sexual abuse is nothing less than the murder of a child's soul and it should be treated as nothing less in society."

Gilhooly wants to see the justice system put more emphasis on the victim when considering sentences.

"At some point, we have to send stronger messages within our legal system so that victims will understand that what's happened to them is real and it is serious," he said.

"If the legal system doesn't reflect the severity of the crime, it's difficult for a victim to understand that he or she may not be responsible."

James was sentenced to two years in jail in 2012 for the abuse of Theo Fleury and Todd Holt. That was raised to five years on appeal. He was released on full parole in September 2016.  

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this page, where you can also share this article across email, Facebook, Twitter and other platforms.

This segment was produced by The Current's Liz Hoath.