I'm honored to share this interview with my Texas State University colleague Dr. Cassandra LeClair. She's an author, professor, communication consultant, and motivational speaker.
Dr. LeClair's story is powerful. For many years as a child, Cassandra was the victim of sexual abuse. For decades, she never told a soul. She shares the heartbreaking story of her abuse in her book Being Whole: Healing from Trauma and Reclaiming My Voice.
Cassandra's mission is to educate individuals about how to have effective and healthy communication to enhance their relationships. She works to help others gain understanding of their communication practices to improve their connections with friends and family members, in the workplace, and beyond.
In April 2018, Dr. Cassandra LeClair survived a car crash that not only broad-sided her daily existence, it sent her careening back to childhood trauma. The car crash was the just the catalyst - the beginning of her journey to reclaim her voice. Dr. LeClair spent her days teaching others to communicate effectively and share their stories all while keeping a devastating secret that prevented her from feeling truly whole and living an authentic existence.
Check out Being Whole with Dr. Cassandra LeClair on your favorite podcast player.
You can buy Cassandra's book, Being Whole: Healing from Trauma and Reclaiming My Voice, here.
Welcome to Stories of Change and Creativity. I'm Judy Oskam, a university professor, Gallup Strengths Coach and Tiny Habits Certified Coach. On this podcast, we feature interviews who inspire, motivate and educate. Cassandra LeClair has been on a lifelong journey to find herself her whole self. Dr. LeClair is a communication studies professor at Texas State University. Her story is powerful. For many years as a child, Cassandra was the victim of sexual abuse and for decades, she never told a soul. She shares the heartbreaking story of her abuse in her book Being Whole: Healing from Trauma and Reclaiming My Voice. LeClaire talks about the importance of addressing trauma and crisis. She calls the book, a fractured memoir. It's really her survival story. Now she's on a mission to help others find their voice. Like she found her own. I think you'll find this interesting fo r, for our listeners. Um , I 've been following, C assandra's career for a number of years, and she's got such an important story to tell and let's so rt o f s tart there because, u m , I bought your book. I bought the audio bo ok a nd, u h , C assandra, u h , j ust released Being Whole: Healing from Trauma and Reclaiming My Voice. Um, wh ere do we start? Sta rt wi t h th a t? B ec ause yo u said this is a story you never really pla nned to tell mm-hmm <affirmative>Cassandra LeClair:
Yeah, no, you know, that's, I didn't, I didn't ever plan to tell this story and I never planned to write this book. So, you know, I can tell you a story about how it all came to be, I guess, is the best place to start. You know, one of the reasons, you know, you mentioned that I'm a communication studies professor at Texas State. And one of the reasons I think I was so drawn to the communication studies field and the idea of identity and personality, and speaking about your truths, just because I never felt I was able to use my voice myself. So I learned and discovered how to help other people, because it was something that I struggled with. So was kind of like where my career began, but what the struggle really was for me is something that I didn't think about or didn't address. And so my book actually is a result of a car accident. So I was going about my life and I thought I was doing pretty great. I'd had all sorts of different struggles and things like that, but I felt like I was in a solid place. And then my family was hit by a drunk driver. And even though the accident itself, wasn't, you know, you see traumatic accidents, this wasn't that we walked away with minor physical injuries. What it did to me inside is something that, I mean only now several years removed from it, I'm beginning to really understand and think about what that felt like overall. So it took me back to this kind of place of, of unresolved trauma. And it forced me into this kind of flight or flight position where I was either going to be forced to deal with some past trauma or I was gonna spiral into a very bad place. So what that accident was, was it was the catalyst for some really deep healing I had to do. And so what I did is I went back to my childhood and I really went back in a rest , these memories , um, I'm a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, and I never told anyone, I didn't talk about it. And in fact, I got so skilled at hiding it and pretending I was fine, that I convinced myself I was fine and that any hardship or difficulty I had without throughout my entire life, there is no way I would've evened connected it to those events because I was so secure that that didn't matter. And that wasn't part of me anymore. So what happened with all of this, with the book? How I wrote a book is I went through some pretty deep trauma healing. I kind of shut my life down while I tried to figure out what was going on with me, because I didn't feel safe enough to talk about it. Didn't tell my friends, I didn't tell my family. I turned off my social media. I still came to work, talked to my students, talked to my kids, and then I just tried to heal and tried to figure out what was going on and how I could work through some of the things that I was experiencing. And soJudy Oskam :
Talk about your, because the car wreck was not the story. No, not at was like you said, the catalyst catalyst. I think it's fascinating. How does that happen? I mean, why? I mean, why do you think you got so skilled at hiding childhood sexual abuse and listening to your story, and I'm so glad that you, you recorded the audio book , you have a great voice and presence , um, as a communication scholar, but it was so touching to hear that and to hear the story from your, you actually did find your voice.Cassandra LeClair:
I did, you know, and how that, how that happened is yeah. The accident, wasn't the, you know, it, wasn't the way thing that's ever happened to me, but it was my breaking point. And that's the thing that I think is so important to think about, you know, when we're looking at other people's lives and kind of judging, you know, oh, I don't know why that upset them so much. Or why did this, why was that the thing you don't know where somebody else's breaking point is you don't understand all the cumulative effects or the things that have led them to that point. Right. And so might be sometimes it is small things that trigger us or set us back to a different space. And so for me, what happened is I started, you know, as I was going through trauma therapy and, you know, as a researcher and as a professor, I have access to so much too, and I know how to research. So I was in the library constantly, you know, reading everything. I could understanding more about trauma. I got certified in trauma, different trauma classes, cuz then it was, you know, became a quest. Right. And so what happened is I got, you know, kind of done, even though you're never done healing, but I got to a place where I was like, feeling like I had moved through some things and I went back and read my journals. And as I was reading my journals, I was like, oh, oh, okay. I see some things here, cuz again, I'm a trained researcher. I'm trained to look for patterns and data. Right. And so I saw the patterns, I coded my journals. I , I used myself as a research project essentially. And I coded my journals and the name of the chapters are just the themes that I came up with from reading my own journals. And I sat back and I looked at it and I was like, okay, yeah, here's a theme of people pleasing. Here's a theme of me wanting achievements and then achievements feeling empty. And why, because I'm chasing achievements to make feel good about myself cuz I don't feel good about myself. Here's the theme I of me, you know, not standing up for myself because of a fear of authority, here's the theme, you know, whatever it was. Right. And I got done Judy and I saw those themes and I wrote it out and I didn't have a choice anymore of whether or not it was gonna be a book because I read those things. And I knew very clearly that I am not the only person who experiences this. I am not exactly . And , and I had, and then it was like a, almost a sick push, like, okay, now this is a book, I guess I'm writing a book, I'm publishing a book. I don't know how to do that, but I'm gonna do it now. I wanna give a TEDx talk about it. So I'm gonna do that. And everything has just been, because I have felt compelled to really talk out these things and not, not from an abuse perspective, but from a perspective of we're all working to heal from different things. And if we can step back and kind of see our patterns and recognize our triggers and really then work to communicate from a place of honoring that and, and understanding that then we can open up such beautiful spaces with other people. And so that's really my, my whole mission and goal is like, I want that. I want other people to feel what I get to feel now. Right . Cause I didn't feel it. And I thought it was possible for other people, but I did not think it was possible for myselfJudy Oskam :
Well and what a , what a good process for everyone listening, who is doing journaling to understand, to how to codify that and theme it and then to go back and retool and learn. And you're a natural learner and educator, that's part of your DNA and part of your strengths as well. But I , I think that's important to look at from a , what I loved about the book is I loved to how you put at the end of every chapter messages for moving forward. Mm-hmm <affirmative> and I loved because I always like a takeaway and I always like to, to read a story and think, okay. And I love how you added that as an element for readers and listeners as well. Mm-hmm <affirmative> so why did you think that was important kind of, kind of goes with your whole theme about sharing the information, right.Cassandra LeClair:
Yeah. And so many of those things it's really special to me because a lot of those things are just little pieces of lectures. The things that'll tell my students or messages that I needed to hear from myself, you know? So it , when I was writing my book and I was looking at my notes and looking at different things, it's like, this is what I needed to hear today. As I was writing my book, I was teaching. And so my students actually, they knew about it. They were my biggest cheerleaders. And so some of the things and I teach of course about relationships and feelings and emotion expression . And so it's natural. The , the, you know, these things collide and they kind of are always part of what I'm, what I'm discovering. So I had these pieces at the end of the book and I knew, or at the end of each chapter, and I knew I wanted them to go there, but I didn't have any idea. I was like, I don't know how they fit. So it was actually a friend of mine who said, I think that these, you should call them messages from a moving forward. And I was like, yes. Yep . That's what that is. Cuz that's what so much of this is to me is like, how do we get through it? How do we move through things? You know, with honoring our feelings and our experiences within really working to move through them instead of being stuck. And we need those messages of hope and healing to move through things, you know?Judy Oskam :
Yeah. And you know, without the car wreck and that tragic event , uh , I just, I think you have been so brave to go out and talk about all of this. I think a lot of us are so worried. We're so vulnerable and feeling we don't wanna put ourselves out there. How did you get to that point where you finally, you know, you know, the title of this podcast is Stories of Change and Creativity and you kind of merge both of those areas, but how did you embrace change in that way in order to own your story and tell that story?Cassandra LeClair:
You know, it was something that I wasn't really prepared for in my classes. I've always been really open and honest, but a lot of the never this, you know, never, I had never talked about this, but about different things or I always use a lot of examples and, you know, talk through different things in that way. Um, and I'm always really interested in personal growth and development. So that's kind of always, as you said, been part of my personality, but I honestly, I just thought I had so much anxiety. I thought I had so much depression. I, I thought I had so many other things. And I remember being in , um, in office talking with somebody and saying I'm tired of healing things halfway . I wanna be whole. And that's kind of where the theme of my book came from is that I just felt like I was constantly stuck or I felt like I was supposed to be happier . I would be frustrated or I wouldn't understand. And then why I would do something and I would feel empty. And so for me it was really like, I think if , even if it hadn't been the accident who knows what the next thing would've been right. If I look at the course of my life, honestly, I think there were several times where I was supposed to wake up a little bit and I didn't, you know, there were several other little stressors or several crises or several things that kind of were probably poking at me or different things. And so yeah, I had to be in that accident to get me to wake up a little bit mm-hmm <affirmative> and unfortunately that's, that is what can happen for a lot of people is that there can be just this situation that prompts you or pushes you into healing. And I didn't feel like I had a choice, you know, it was so hard and I didn't even, but I really just felt like I have to fix this or I'm my , I don't know how to go forward becauseJudy Oskam :
I , and you , you were having physical challenge. <affirmative> just as well. Right? Physical, emotional, mental.Cassandra LeClair:
Absolutely. And, and now, and , and that's the thing, the key thing for me about my healing and really addressing, you know, I, I really understand now the ways that if we don't address some of these things with trauma and crisis, they do manifest themselves in different ways and they just keep coming up up. And that's where, so the , on the cover of my book, it's K Suji pottery, and that's pottery that after it's broken, it's put back together with gold because the idea is that you can be stronger than you were before, you know, so really, really embodying that and embracing that and using that change and that healing as a source of power and strength and knowing that like, okay, this is hard. It's hard every single day. And it , I think about my abuse every day and it hurts in different ways every day . Still, even though I'm here and I can talk about it calmly, you know, there still are things, but I know that by facing that now, and by really being able to step back by learning how to calm my nervous system, I can understand then you know how it has impacted me. And it makes the change so much less scary because I can feel more in control of it too, if that makes sense.Judy Oskam :
Well, and now I'm so glad that you're teaching and offering courses in this area, because for people listening, going through trauma, mm-hmm , <affirmative> what are, what can they do sometimes you don't know where to go. You don't know what to do, and you don't really wanna tell your family or your friends mm-hmm <affirmative> . So, I mean, seeking out courses and educational opportunities, obviously now, you know, you have a podcast as well, correct? Correct. Talk about that a little bit because I a great great avenue. The podcastCassandra LeClair:
Is also called being whole and it's, I , I like to joke that it's a marketer's worst nightmare because they're like, you know, Cassandra, who's your target audience. And like everyone <laugh> , it's like everyone needs to heal . And so the really, if you even look at the guest list so far and continue and going forward it a random collection of a bunch of different stories of people, how they manage, some people have talked about how they manage their professional lives. Some people have talked about personal hardships because my whole goal for this is I just wanna create this space where people can go to and listen to whatever episode and maybe see pieces of themselves in that. Or, oh, I hadn't thought about this is a trick I could use, or I hadn't considered that this is something that might be impacting me because I think that that's one of the reasons why we don't talk about trauma or stress or, you know, hardship is because so often we think we're alone. We think we're the only person who feels that way. We're a little bit ashamed because we feel like we should not feel those things. Right. And then also we're worried about that judgment. We, you know, unfortunately people have been in situations where they've disclosed personal or private information to somebody and it hasn't gone well, you know, either somebody has, you know, given them a poor reaction or taken that information and used it against them or whatever it is. Right. So there's a re reason we feel guarded and it feels scary. So even just recognizing and slowly getting to those spaces, like, again, like you said, okay, who are my safe people and where do those people exist? And sometimes it isn't anyone that, you know right now. Okay . I didn't have anyone that I felt comfortable with because I was scared about what I was feel inside . I was like, oh, this is so much. I don't know. And so I really did even finding people on Instagram to follow again, you know, we, we trash social media so often, but if you're curating it in a way that is showing you things that are positive and showing you things about personal growth and development, I follow a ton of people who talk about trauma healing. Um, I feel really seen and heard and valued when I see the ways that they write about things, because I'm reminded that I'm not alone. So I guess like, you know, people out there, I would, I actually just talked to my students today in class about this is like, find your expanders, you know, be it in your professional life, your personal life, your love life, whatever it is, who are the people that may make you feel like it's possible for you? You know? And that might not be somebody, you know, it might be a celebrity that you'll never meet . You know, it might be some random person, but who makes you feel like you can do this too? That's the person you need to find. Right? And again, you don't even have to be in person with that. Some that person, if they evoke that feeling in you, you can get that through a screen or through text or whatever.Judy Oskam :
I think there's such hope with that message. And I think that's when, you know, when people read your book or listen to your book, cuz again, I'm a real audio fan on audiobook fan. I love that. And I listened to your book while I'm writing my bicycle. Oh . So I love that writing out there a couple times I stopped and thought, that's, that's a heavy story there. Cause it really did impact me when I heard you say those words and, and what you had gone through and then to come out. I don't know that we ever get to the other side. Yeah . But I don't know that there is another side. I think it's life. And I think life is really, really hard. Mm-hmm <affirmative> um , <affirmative> and I think going through that , uh , and I'm so glad that you were able to share that message and you're providing some resources for beyond the university. Yes. Texas State University, we all try and help our students and faculty mm-hmm <affirmative> but everybody needs this. Everybody needs this.Cassandra LeClair:
Yep . And that's really why. I mean, that's really why I decided to do this. And that's where my students did come in. They were like, you gotta talk to our families. You've gotta tell other people about these things. And you know , this is really what it is for me is really getting this message out there because we've right . The other ways, you know, we've tried beating around the Bush and pushing things aside and where has that gotten us? You know? And one of my things too, you know, people love to say things like, well, kids are resilient or they'll get through things. We have a whole, you know, host of adults who have not clearly gotten through things. Right. So let's stop saying that too. And let's look at ways that people can help people move through things. Instead of just expecting that. That's how we build resiliency is by going through them. One other thing you, you said something about, you know, people's reactions. So I did wanna , um, say something that is, is something I don't think people when they've, when they're disclosing, it's something that can be difficult. A lot of times, especially after you've maybe gotten to a place like I've gotten a place where I can talk about my story very easily. People can ask me questions. It doesn't physically trigger me anymore. Cause this is very much like work I wanna do. But sometimes when I'm telling people I love or care about or people, I know, like you just said, you know, you read parts in my book and it was heavy or it was hard. So what I really had to do is learn to separate out people's initial reactions, hearing what I had to say from what their actual response was gonna be. So what I mean by that is, you know, if I just last week I was having a conversation with my boyfriend and he asked me a couple questions about different things. And you know, I said it very calmly and clearly, and you could see his face and he's just like, oh my God, you know, he's like, oh, and just, you know, going through all , all these emotions and I could have sat and thought, oh, why is he responding this way? Or what have you. But it's again, knowing that he's hearing that information for the first time, you know , it was the same when I tell my parents or what have you, when people are hearing information that's difficult for the first time, it is hard for them to manage that reaction, especially if they care about you. And so they're , they're nonverbals or even the , the things they say might not be exactly what you need in that moment. Right. And so this is where I also encourage people when you're disclosing to give people a little bit of grace and let them process it a second and see how then they're gonna come back and respond to you after they've had a chance to make sense of it. And that something that I think is really important because so often conversations we go with somebody's immediate reaction, and then we get upset because it's not what we needed or wanted, but again, when you're dropping kind of bombshells on people, you gotta give 'em a minute. You really do. And so if it doesn't go well for you the first time, I just, again, don't let that be the reason to never do it again. <laugh> right .Judy Oskam :
Okay . Right. And, and I always think too, and I always tell my girls, both my daughters are adopted from China. And so there's a lot of layers there and I've always told them, it's your story to tell if someone asks you a question, it's your story to tell and how much or none, or as little as you want mm-hmm <affirmative> . So being able to own that story yeah . And know that they have the right, not to tell the in to tell whatever story they want. And just in, in your case, the fact that you put it in a book, obviously, you know, you were ready, but even I , I , I like that, that strategy of, of waiting and watching, and I think that's back to your communication research. That's just, that's just great, great advice for us, you know?Cassandra LeClair:
Well, I think so much of it too is, is, you know, unfortunately again, it's, it is rare that I work with somebody or I meet somebody who doesn't want to talk about their story or doesn't want to share things it's that they don't wanna share things and have the responses that they've previously gotten. That's a big difference. Okay . So that's where that learning to respond to people, learning to have empathy and the compassion component. And then also being able to say , as the person who's responding, you know, like recognizing when you don't have the emotional capacity for somebody or, or being able to honor somebody else's experience without like feeding off of their emotions, you know, there's a bunch of different things. And that's why I say this is work and it's a negotiation and a work in progress. And if you're in a relationship with be with , um , individuals who are through some of these things too, you know, learning other people's triggers and learning other people's patterns, I mean, that's a lot. So just even that's where that awareness comes in, you know, cuz I still have times, but now I feel it in my body. I can tell when it's happening more so when I can separate it out and I can know, okay, this is not really about this moment. This is about something else. But again, that takes a lot of work and awareness. And so I wanna encourage people if you're not there or if you slip up, guess what I do too. Okay . Cuz it's the daily work of it cuz you're essentially, you're retraining your brain and you're retraining your body and that's for years of patterns probably for most of us . WellJudy Oskam :
Let's, let's touch on that just a little bit because I think, I think understanding how the brain body works together. Can you touch on that and how someone listening will know to watch for signs and to, to be concerned about regulation?Cassandra LeClair:
Well, and one of the easiest, I think ways for me to emotional regulation is really just thinking about where do emotions live in your body and emotions live in your body. And you can think about time of day. You can think about people. You can think about different times of your life and different scenarios. So one example I have just, even when my son was little, he was really upset about something and I could tell he was gonna, and I was like , ke it's okay. If you wanna cry, he's like, I don't wanna cry. My nose is just all tingly. And you know, that feeling like when you're about to cry, your nose kind of gets all tingly. Then it was like, that struck me. And of course, as the communication first and it's like, okay, yeah, that it starts that early, right? That we already separate our emotions from what we're feeling in our body. Cuz we're trying to push something aside that makes us feel uncomfortable. You know? So you can think about maybe different topics. Like a lot of people, for example , um, they , um, shy away from conflict. They don't like conflict. So when they start having a heated convers, they might not even realize that their heart rate's rising or they'll feel like a ch a tightness in their throat even, or your pitch changes. So really even just starting to pay attention to some of those behaviors , um, even some things , sometimes it comes up in different ways. Like one of the things for me that I have is a , a , a trigger is finances. Um , I was, you know, really worried about money. My abuser talked about how my family wouldn't have any money. Cause my dad worked for him, all sorts of things. Right. So I was very much in this like kind of scarcity model of money my whole life. Am I gonna have enough worried about it? So how that manifests sometimes in relationships is if somebody buys me something or does something like grandious for me are nice. I, it actually makes me uncomfortable, like I'm happy and it makes me feel so good. And I'm like, oh my gosh, that was so nice. But I also inside feel weird. I really do. I feel awkward. And my heart goes racist a little bit because I'm like, oh my gosh, did that have that person have that money to spend? I could never spend this much money on somebody. I wouldn't spend this much money on my myself or whatever it is. Right. So even recognizing kind of where you take things and there's a lot of research on that, you know, of getting yourself out of the storyline. Okay . We tell ourselves these stories and they've been conditioned in our brain to kind of make up scenarios, especially if we don't know how something's happening or why something's happening, your brain gonna give you a story. So it's really having that awareness to recognize, okay, what story is my brain in right now? Where am I feeling it in my body? Have I felt this somewhere before? Is it about this moment? You know, just kind of like really asking yourself some questions. I joke that sometimes I treat my I'm like a two year old . I'm like, why, why, why kind of like poking up my myself. Yeah . Um , but I think, and , and not in a way of like, what's wrong with me or anything like that, but really again, I've really reframed it for myself. And it's powerful to me, it's powerful to me to be able to understand these things that I didn't used to understand. And now I know how to, you know, the heart rate rising the tightness in the chest, those things still happen, but they don't make me feel bad about myself anymore. I would feel so bad when it happened or I wouldn't understand, or I would, would react and then I'd beat myself up and I'd be like, why did I do that? So now it gives me the tools to kind of stop a little bit and recognize what's happening before I lash out or for whatever else. Yeah.Judy Oskam :
Well, it , it is a lot about learning the tools and the strategies in order to then analyze. I mean, we are our own best advocate and our own best enemy in some cases.Cassandra LeClair:
Right? Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think too, you know, we're only, there's so much research. That's continuing to come out like neuroscience research, different brain developments and things that we're noticing. And that's also just, you know, we're never as stuck as we think we are. And that's the story . Our brain is telling us too, like I can't get out of this or I can't do it. The reality of it is, is we really can work to create those new neural pathways, even in our brain. You know, One of my doctors even described it to me as like, you know , if you think of a road and you know, your road right now has a bunch of deep ruts in it. And so when we work and do this work and you raise your awareness through meditation, all sorts of other things, you're basically kind of repaving over those ruts. You're kind of repaving your road in your brain. And I liked, you know, sometimes the different visual examples are helpful. Sure. And so some of , as I think about that, I'm like, oh yeah, we hit a bump again, you know? Yeah. Hit a bump Again, pothole right there. <laugh>Judy Oskam :
Or , or fix that bowl, use the gold to the bowl . ISpeaker 2:
Love that.Cassandra LeClair:
And I think that that's the idea of it's not, it's not reality. You think you're not gonna have a hardship or times of dysfunction or crisis or what have you. Right. So rather than that, being the goal, happiness, shouldn't be the goal. Okay . I mean, obviously we all wanna be happy, but it's working to move through whatever emotion you're experiencing and understanding how that, even in the hard times, it's how we move through them, that then us to move through something else differently. Okay. So that's how we build resiliency is how we learn to move through things, not just by going through it and sucking it up and then having another thing happen.Judy Oskam :
Well , and, and like you said, at the end of every chapter messages for moving forward, I think that's great, Cassandra, thanks so much for sharing your time and expertise and your book Being Whole: Healing from Trauma and Reclaiming My Voice, and the podcast being whole check her out. Thanks, Cassandra. Thank youCassandra LeClair:
So much. It was so much fun. Glad to be here.Judy Oskam :
Thank you for listening to Stories of Change and Creativity.. Check out the show notes for more information about this episode and to follow Cassandra LeClaire. If you have a story to tell or know someone who does reach out to me at judyoskam.com - thanks for listening.