Helping Veterans Tell Their Story and Jiu Jitsu

Drive On Podcast
Helping Veterans Tell Their Story and Jiu Jitsu

Lexi Casiday is a Navy veteran who is collecting poems, artwork, and short stories from post 9/11 OEF/OIF veterans. She plans to put those collections into a book, which will help support combat disabled vets.

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Scott DeLuzio    00:00:00    Thanks for tuning into the Drive On Podcast, where we're focused on giving hope and strength to the entire military community, whether you're a veteran active duty guard reserve, or family member, this podcast we'll share inspirational stories and resources that are useful to you. I'm your host, Scott DeLuzio. And now let's get on with the show. Everybody welcome back to the Drive On Podcast today. My guest is Lexi Cassidy. Lexi is a Navy veteran who is currently in the process of collecting poems, artwork, and short stories from post nine 11 OEF, OIF veterans, she and her team plans to put those collections into a book which will help support combat, disabled veterans. So welcome to the show. Lexie, why don't you tell us a little bit more about yourself and a little bit about your background.  

Lexi Casiday    00:00:51    Yeah, thank you for having me on. My name is Lexi Cassidy and I am a Navy veteran. Like you said, I had a pretty rough transition from the military to civilian life, I was kicked out for smoking pot, After two years of being in the Navy and I had nowhere to go. So I actually became homeless I was a drug addict and an alcoholic,  I suffered from post-traumatic stress pretty badly from some things that happened in the Navy and even before the Navy. so I ended up landing in rehab and getting clean and sober and starting college. But my journey had just begun. Then I had to, deal with the VA and the depression and all the symptoms from post-traumatic stress. That was about an eight-year journey that took me up and down a lot of Hills and valleys.  

Lexi Casiday    00:01:59    So just doing what the VA and, my own mental health and healing from trauma, was a lonely, long road. But it found a lot of people to help me along the way. And a lot of I call it creative access ways to heal myself. Through art therapy and writing, and later through exercise, I found CrossFit, and then I found your Jitsu, which is, my main tool now for staying healthy., so when I'm in my master's program for organizational leadership at Simpson university, and, I just want to find a way to help veterans and give back and help other people, darkness that, back to healing, I guess.  

Scott DeLuzio    00:02:53    Well, that's, that's pretty incredible, talking about your own journey, not, were you in that dark place that you're trying to help people come out of, you were in, in those places. but you've, you've come through okay. On the other end of that journey, where you've kind of cleaned up and you've, you've gotten back to school and you've, kind of taking charge of your life. I think that that's something very commendable that you're able to do something like that.  I know that there's probably other people out there who might even be listening, who, who might have been in a similar situation, whether they, they got kicked out of the military for, issues they were dealing with or, or if they just scared to buy and just were dealing with those, those issues in, on their own, and not really making having any of it get public.  

Scott DeLuzio    00:03:55   it's a hard thing to do. You've shown that it is possible to kind of overcome some of those challenges and, and come through on the other side of, okay. And not only that, but now you're, you're using some of that as sort of fuel to help out other veterans and, and continue to serve. So I think that that's, definitely, a very commendable thing that you're, you're doing here. so, let's jump into, this project that I briefly mentioned earlier, and, talk about what you're, you're trying to put together and, and where the idea for this came from and, and, and what it's all about.  

Lexi Casiday    00:04:41    Yeah.  The reason that, connected with you is that I am publishing a book called Your call is very important to us. And the title of the book is, sort of a dig at the VA system and how, when we call him, need their help, they tell us that, and then they put us on hold with flute music, for hours., so it's just kind of a joke between veterans, but the premise of the book is to sort of take us off hold the OEF OIF of veterans., I can't open it to all veterans, or it would be sort of too convoluted, but for the, for my era of veterans, just to take us off hold and give us a loudspeaker to speak our stories through art and poetry and short stories. So I'm putting this kind of anthology together in a coffee-style book.  

Lexi Casiday    00:05:39    And the proceeds from the book are going to, we defy foundation, which gives combat disabled vets, scholarships to, to train jiu-jitsu for a year. And how that CA the reason that I want to give the proceeds to that foundation is that, my jiu-jitsu professor Alan Shibarum created the foundation, he started it with joy Balzac and probably butchered his name, but, I trained with, professor and he is an outstanding person, and just gives back to helping other veterans heal from PTSD. And so it's a place that I can raise money for that I have,, full integrity, knowing that all the money is going to help vets and jujitsu has helped me as a veteran with post-traumatic stress, I'm combat-related, but a lot of the symptoms and the healing process is the same, no matter where your trauma is from. So I just want other vets to find your Jitsu and to find that healing journey, and then I am an artist and an author. I'm not an author, I'm not published, but I've been using writing for a long time, in my healing journey. So I just wanted to sort of, also create awareness for veteran authors and veteran artists, and put this book together as kind of all the things that have helped me in my journey. So  

Scott DeLuzio    00:07:10    I mean, that, that's, I think an excellent way to help out other people is through this foundation and, what, what they're doing, but I'd like to talk a little bit about jujitsu specifically. I know you said that it's helped you, and, and what the process is like through, we defy, a foundation and, and how they use jiu-jitsu to help out. But the better, I know there's a lot of, veterans who do, train in, in jiu-jitsu, but, personally I haven't, so I guess I'd like to learn a little bit more about what it's all about and what the healing process is like, and, what you hope to provide for these, these veterans through the foundation.  

Lexi Casiday    00:07:58    Yeah, so I'm,  we defy ambassador and that is just a volunteer, so what we do is we have a team of veteran athletes and we reach out to them once a month and just have a conversation while other training is going on. So that's my kind of place in the voluntary sector there. But, if you are, I believe it's 80% or above disabled veterans, you can apply for a jiu-jitsu scholarship. And we have, I think it's over 350 gyms throughout the country, so you don't have to live in Texas where, where I am to have a jiu-jitsu scholarship, so you can apply for the scholarship and they will pay for you to train out, or we defy Jim for a year and they'll send you keys and give you, a mentor for the year.  

Lexi Casiday    00:08:56    And, I can't speak to how it's helping other vets. I can just tell my story, but for me, I'm not a, we defy athlete, but I'm a veteran who trains it to, and the way that it's helped me is through, the last symptom for post-traumatic stress that I can't seem to kick. Isn't my anxiety. So I have severe social anxiety, and it's basically helped me kick anxiety's ass. So that has been my biggest thing. And then just having that comradery back, having, other veterans and civilians that are there on the maps with you to support you and check on you, if you don't come for a while and just understand like we're all on this journey together, we're all people who can face a challenge and overcome it, and just, it helps, it helps me to gain confidence I have a history of domestic violence. and so she did, she gave me back that confidence and, just a feeling of being able to keep myself safe. So that's what it's done for me.  

Scott DeLuzio    00:10:10    I mean, that, that's great too, because I think your ability to overcome that, hurdle of that, that one last thing that you, you seem like you were having trouble with, and using jiu-jitsu to, to kind of overcome that, that hurdle and, and make you feel safe and, kind of comfortable in, in various situations and surroundings.  it, I think it's, it just goes to speak to how powerful this can be, and so,, again, we were talking a little bit before the recording started for this episode, but we're just talking about some of the types of people that we have on the show and the people who have overcome their own challenges, whatever they may be. One type of guests that I like to have on the show, but also, the people who provide services.  

Scott DeLuzio    00:11:09    And so we defy providing this training, service for the veterans who are struggling with one thing or another, I think it's just an incredible, way for, for veterans to overcome things like, that, that social anxiety that you're talking about and other things too, I'm sure there's, even people with, more physical disabilities, that are, able to train and overcome some of the limitations that maybe they thought that they had, prior to,, doing the jujitsu on their own, I think that probably would help them as well. I would imagine. 

Lexi Casiday    00:11:58    Yes, there are plenty of adaptive athletes that are doing jujitsu with no limbs, and just overcoming way more difficult challenges than I had to face. So, and just having those people on your team, like what peanut them, if they could do this, then I can definitely do this. Like that's such, so uplifting and so encouraging  

Scott DeLuzio    00:12:22    It is, it is. And, and when you see people like that, who, like you said, are missing limbs and they're, they're still able to, to go out there and, and do all of these things. , this is, it looks like a pretty difficult thing to do and go out there, Going against some of these other people who look like they're, they're pretty great in and of themselves, but then, then you have this person who is missing an arm or a leg or something, and they're going out there and they're, they're getting after it. And t's like, okay, well, if that person can do it, then what's my excuse?

Lexi Casiday    00:13:06    What does Jocko say? Your excuses are lies.  

Scott DeLuzio    00:13:10    Yeah, they are. I mean, they really are. And, and I, I've used that kind of mindset throughout my time in the military, even before I joined the military.  You know, I, and I've talked about this a little bit on the podcast before, but, you know, when I first joined the military, it was back in like 2005. And I heard these reports on the news that the military was struggling to meet their recruiting numbers. And, you know, I was the type of person who, after 9/11, I was so pissed off at everything that just happened, I was ready to put everything in my life on hold and, and, you know, join the military. I ended up not doing it right, right then and there. But, then in 2005, I said, okay, where, where are all these people who, who are supposed to supposedly, you know, looking out to defend our country and all this stuff.  

Scott DeLuzio    00:14:02    And, and I said, well, I am those people. I, that's me like that. That's me to a T and I still haven't done anything. All I've done is come up with excuses, not to do it. And, you know, so, so here I am and, I've still not done anything, so I might as well just, just do something about it. And so that's, that's when I eventually joined the military. So, but yeah, it's, that's exactly it, you know, your, your excuses are, you know, they're, what's the saying, excuses are like assholes, everyone's got one of them, they all stink, you know? So, so, yeah, I mean, if, if that's something that, you know, seems interesting to someone or, you know, they think it might, might help them, you know, give it, give it a try, you know, you're, you're not gonna lose anything, especially if, you know, you fit in this category where you can get a scholarship to, to train, you know, for a year, you know, give it a shot and see what happens. Right.  

Lexi Casiday    00:15:01    Become obsessed.  

Scott DeLuzio    00:15:05    Yeah. And that's the other thing too, is the people that I talk to who, and maybe this is one of the reasons why I haven't gotten into it, but the people I've talked to who've gotten involved with jujitsu are, it's almost an obsession. Like you said, it's, it's, it's crazy to see it. And, and when they are so obsessed about something, you know, it's great because they're, they're passionate about it and they're really into it. But you know, to me, it's almost like, okay, if I, if I get into this now, I'm going to be obsessed too. And I, like, I don't know if I want to, you know, jump down that rabbit hole, but, but, but it's good to have that passion and have something to look forward to and, and, and have that something in your life like that.  

Lexi Casiday    00:15:50    Well, that's really the positive side of addiction. So I hear people say, I have an addictive personality, or I don't know if it's a personality trait, but it is definitely part of who I am. So whatever I'm into, I'm addicted to. So that has kind of given me a positive way to replace my drugs and alcohol because you can't just get rid of something that you need every day, and then you just have this void, you have to fill it with something. So finding something positive to be addicted to, I don't think is such a bad thing. 

Scott DeLuzio    00:16:25    Oh, it, and it's not, you know when you have something that is good for you physically, some sort of exercise or, you're learning actually learning a skill to wa while you're doing this, not only just, isn't a physical exercise kind of thing, but you're also learning some of the techniques and things like that, which are, have practical applications to outside of, you know, just training., and, you know, so it, I think overall it's a, it's a good thing. And if you get obsessed with, you know, fitness and health, whether it's jujitsu or running, or, you know, some other, you know, the thing that you get into,  I, I think that's just gonna be a good thing overall for, for you, you know, in, in a, could help replace those, those other things that are not so healthy for you. And, you know, eventually, you know, you, you might replace those altogether and, you know, that's a good thing in my book.  

Lexi Casiday    00:17:26    Yeah.  

Scott DeLuzio    00:17:28    Yeah. So going back to this spot that you're, you're working on, and I love the title by the way, your, your call is very important, who I said, I think that's, it's incredibly creative and, you know, I don't know if you saw it, but I was definitely smiling when you first mentioned that, because that's exactly what you hear,  you know, on the other end sometimes when, when you're calling for an appointment. But back to the book, you're looking for submissions from OEF, OIF veterans. So Afghanistan, Iraq, you know, era veterans what type of things are you hoping to get from people who are submitting, into this, this book?  

Lexi Casiday    00:18:12    so if you are an ID, an artist, you can send me any of your artwork. It doesn't have to be related to the military. I just want you to be an OEF OIF. You're a veteran. And, that's really the only parameters for that. So it doesn't have to be something that you are creating specifically for the book, but it can be as well., I've gotten most of the artwork that I've gotten has been geared towards military things, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it has to fit into that box and also if you are an artist or a veteran author, I am trying to raise awareness to get your books sold or your, to get you hired for commissioned pieces. So I'm getting a website together, with links to wherever I can find some people to buy your books or buy your art.  

Lexi Casiday    00:19:09    So it's also creating awareness for, just the talent that is out there that, veteran artists have had a hard time making a living. So, I want them to be able to get their names out there and get their amazing talent known. And if you are an author, I've had a lot of authors send me poetry. Most of it has been war poetry, but it doesn't have to be, just send me if you send me a submission, that's going in my book unless it will get you arrested, or I have to report you for it., so just, that's really the only thing you need to be careful for. And then if, if you're not a poet or an author or an artist, but you have a story that you want to tell, like, we all have a story, even if we just made it through boot camp.  

Lexi Casiday    00:19:59    I know you have a funny story to share, so write it down, get it to me. And if you are not, a lot of people have been telling me I'm not a good writer, right? I, or my story isn't important enough, or I didn't deploy. Those are all excuses. And I still want your story in my book. So just get something down for me, like start going through your memories of what made you laugh while you were in the military. And I guarantee somebody else's going to laugh too. They read that in the book., and then you don't have to have had, you don't have to have had a deployment to be in the book. I want to cover all aspects of military service. So that includes Pogues and people who never deployed. And, if you served in the story is important enough to be in the book.  

Scott DeLuzio    00:20:51    I love that, that message too, that if you served your, your messages and is it important, and, and not, not just important enough to be in the book, but in important, just in general, it's a, it's an important thing.,  I like to make sure that people recognize that, you know, even the people who haven't deployed, you know, I've, I've talked to several people who, who haven't deployed anywhere and, and they, they say that you know, oh, well, I haven't deployed. So, you know, I, I, I don't even really consider myself a veteran because I haven't seen combat or whatever, but, you know, you still, you know, raise your right hand, you still sign, sign the papers, and you still served your country and you did what your country asked of you. And, and I think that there's, that's something very honorable, in and of itself.  

Scott DeLuzio    00:21:38, you know, and, and so, you know, you should, should be proud of that. And there are things that you, you did, even if it's just in training, you know, basic training or whatever that, you know, do make good stories. And, and it's, I think a very important thing to get those stories out there. you know, when you, when you think back to earlier generations of veterans who, you know, maybe served in world war two, or even earlier, you know, where publishing was not as readily available as it is now, it wasn't, it wasn't as easy to do. you know, you, nobody really had, u, you know, the ability to submit everything that they had experienced to a publisher. And, now you have self-publishing options available. And so like anybody could, could do it., and, and I think that these stories are important to be told, you know, is it going to be a, you know, overnight bestseller?  

Scott DeLuzio    00:22:41    I, you know, you know, New York Times bestseller list, I don't know, but, but it's still important to have those stories out there. And, and when you look at those stories, as a whole, which I think, kind of is the nice thing about your book is you're going to have a whole series of collections of short stories and things like that, where, where you'll get to see a wide variety of different work coming from, from different veterans in different perspectives. And, you know, some, some who have deployed some who haven't, and it's going to be a nice thing to have all of that together in one place. So, we can kind of give a better, big picture view of, of what was going on during this time period in our country and for the veterans who served during that time period.  

Lexi Casiday    00:23:33    Yeah. And I, I really want to, kind of tell the stories of people that may have not had a seat at the table in history, in the military. So women who are going to combat now a minority, people in high ranks, the gay community, all these people that kind of their stories have been hidden throughout history, but there is such an important part of the military story., I would really like those veterans to come out and share their stories. And, so I'm looking for those demographics as well. So I want this to be an all-inclusive book and everyone to have a seat at the table., and so not just like what we think about when we turn on a war movie or our favorite hero, but people that may be more in the shadows are more thinking, well, I, I didn't do much, but if you were the first African-American woman to go to combat, you are very important and your story needs to be told.  

Scott DeLuzio    00:24:33    Yeah, there are definitely some, some trails that got placed along the way throughout, you know, our, our country's history and, and the, the different people who have, you know, blaze those trails. I think that their stories are especially interesting to hear, you know, and, you know, I, I really hope that this, this story or these stories, I should say, you know, get out there to a wide audience. And I really do hope that people will be encouraged to submit their stories to do you take to get them included in this and even artwork and things like that because artwork can tell a story as well. You know, you, you mentioned before that, you know, some people maybe are not the best writers. And, I'll just say, I, I think so my English teachers from high school are probably pretty shocked that I wrote a book. So, you know, if, if I could do it and so could you, so let's, let's put it that way, but, but even if you're not, you know, you might have some other talents, some, some artistic talents, and you might be able to contribute some artwork as well, too, to the book and I think that that would be, that would be great is, you know, to, to get that included, because that's stuff tells a story too,  

Lexi Casiday    00:25:54    To not just paintings that can be art. So I have a veteran who makes bracelets out of pear cord, and he's just sending me a picture of those bracelets, and that is his contribution. So, be creative in what you send to me, it doesn't have to just look like a painting or, I've had veterans that do sculpture work. They're sending me submissions of their sculptures. it can really be anything, but however you want to express yourself.  

Scott DeLuzio    00:26:25    That's excellent too. you know, I actually didn't even think of that, but that's, you know, all of that is different forms of artwork, right. You know, the sculptures and, and,, there's probably woodworking and metalwork and, and other things that, that people can put together.  and, and all of that, it's another form of expression in a way of telling, telling a story. And so those are all, I think, great ways of doing that. So, but that's excellent, where can people go to submit their, their writing or their artwork or whatever, should they reach out to you first? Or is there a place that they can go to, to submit this stuff?  

Lexi Casiday    00:27:11, so I'm taking all the submissions through my email and that's Alexis [email protected]. Then I can send you that. So they don't have to remember it from here.  

Scott DeLuzio    00:27:23    Yeah, no, and I'll, I'll have a link to that in the show notes as well. So, anyone who's interested in submitting it,  I'll have that there, so you can, can reach out to, to you and, and get that stuff submitted. but I, I really do encourage people to think about their story and what they've experienced., you know, especially if you have any sort of, you know, challenges that you're struggling with, you know, mental health-related issues, or, you know, some, some physical disabilities or things like that. There's a story behind all of that. And, you know, those stories, I think, need to be told. So that way we can understand better, like what it was that we really were asking that our, our country's, you know, service members to do when, when we decided to send them either to war or, you know, have them serve our country in one way or another,  you know, what is it that we're actually asking them to do? So that way, you know, if there were mistakes being made, you know, we can hopefully correct those and not have that happen again, you know, and, and sometimes it's not a mistake that, you know, things happen, but, you know, sometimes stuff just sucks and, and, you know, life happens and, and, you know, we, we need to understand what it is, what it means to be,, you know, in the military and, and,, you know, those, all those stories put together really help paint a bigger picture.  

Lexi Casiday    00:29:05    So it reminded me of the story that I love about, when things need to change and that, there's a private that is told to guard this bench. And so he's guarding the bench and then he gets off duty and somebody else guards the bench. And then it just becomes tradition that somebody is always standing guard at this bench. And then eventually somebody,, the first private that ever was told to guard the bench came back to visit. And he's an old man. And he said, why are you still guarding this bench? I was just supposed to stand there until the pain tried.  

Scott DeLuzio    00:29:43    And it became a tradition. No one knew why it was just, that's the way it's always been done. And so let's just keep doing it. Why not? Yeah, no one asked for  

Lexi Casiday    00:29:51    Don't let anyone sit here and God, this bench.  

Scott DeLuzio    00:29:54    And so if that private had written a story and said, I had to stand there and guard this bench because it was, you know, what, paint on it, they would have known not to continue guarding the bench unless it got painted again, That's, that's funny, but, but shame on that private for not telling the person who relieved him, why he was standing there in the garden  

Lexi Casiday    00:30:22    Can be done.  

Scott DeLuzio    00:30:23    Yeah. Right. That's funny. Yeah. I've heard something like that before. And, and it's, it's very true. We do that. Sometimes we get caught in these traditions and you know, why, why aren't you doing that thing? Well, it's the way it's always been done. So I'm doing it this way. And, and so, you know, even, even simple stuff like that is, is funny, but also has a lesson attached with it. And, and so, you know, anyone who has stories, I like that, you know, I'm sure that those could be passed along as well, you know, through, through this book or even their own writings as well. So, so I think it, I think this is a great resource., I think it's a great way for people who maybe don't feel like they have an entire book in them.  

Scott DeLuzio    00:31:10    you know, but they might have a short story about something interesting that happened to them, a great way for them to be able to share their story. And I really applaud your efforts. Cause I, I know, as an author myself, that writing a book is not an easy feat and I applaud you for putting this together and getting these stories and these submissions, you know, assembled and put together. And I, I think it, the end result is going to be absolutely wonderful. And we'll have to have you back on the show when, when the book is available and we can talk about that and, you know, hopefully, get more eyes on it and get more people buying the book, once when it does come out. So, it's been a pleasure speaking with you today. I really appreciate you taking the time to come on, and chat about this., again, your email address will be in the show notes and that's where we want submissions to go through. So I'll put that there. And, anything else that you wanted to add before we wrap this one up?  

Lexi Casiday    00:32:19, I just want to say that if somebody is listening and they are in that dark place, that we feel like they, I can't ever get out of this hole and there's nothing left for me. Like I, so through that eight-year journey between, getting clean and sober and being a mentally healthy person again, I spent a lot of time in depression and, I've tried to kill myself three times, been hospitalized twice, relapsed at least five times, and just been in a place that I didn't want to live anymore. So the things that got me out of it would take a lot more time to tell., but I am so glad that I lived through those times and that I kept going and that I didn't take my life, on the days that I didn't want to live anymore.  

Lexi Casiday    00:33:18    And there were a lot of years, sometimes it does. It's not just like you have to endure this for one day and then you can do anything kind of, cliches, just hold on there, that little kitten on the poster, like those things don't help. Like there, there are going to be really, really hard years and painful years and really crappy years. And they can stretch out into mine for an eight-year timeframe., but just the fact that I kept climbing and went and got help when I needed it because there were times that I wouldn't have been able to live through the night if I didn't go to the hospital. And that's just very real. I, I wouldn't have, I, I wouldn't be here right now and I'm just glad that I am, because today I have my own apartment. I have my dog and my cat.  

Lexi Casiday    00:34:16 I'm on my way to my master's degree. I feel happy waking up in the morning and having my coffee and I feel happy going to bed at night. And I feel excited to have adventures ahead of me and a purpose and a team through jujitsu. And, I look forward to being able to go and exercise at the gym. Like these are things that maybe people take for granted that are not going through mental health troubles. And I don't take them for granted because there's been days that I couldn't even get out of bed. So if all you can do today is set up and get out of bed and take off your pajamas and take a shower guy. I'm so proud of you. And tomorrow, maybe you can do one more thing than that., so don't think that you need to write a book or start jiu-jitsu or anything for your mental health to get back on track, just pick one thing today that you can do., it doesn't have to be huge. And, somebody else is going to see your story one day and they're going to want to survive because you did. And so that's what I would like to add.  

Scott DeLuzio    00:35:26    That is incredibly powerful. What you, what you said there. And, I really do hope that people who are listening, take that to heart and realize that, you know, sometimes things are going to be a struggle, but, but life is worth living and, and keep on working at it because, because it, it is definitely worthwhile. So, thank you again for sharing that and sharing, you know, everything that you're doing now. I, I think, I think this is going to, you know, help out a lot of people, not just, you know, monetarily through, you know, the book and, and helping out the foundation. But, I think, I think getting these stories out there and sharing little bits of inspiration, the way you just did, will really help out people as well. So thank you again, and thanks for joining me, on this show. Thank you for having me.  

Scott DeLuzio    00:36:27    Thanks for listening to the Drive On Podcast. If you want to check out more episodes or learn more about the show, you can visit our website We're also on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube to DriveOnPodcast.

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