About the presenter: Chris Roach is foremost a husband, father, grandfather, son, brother, uncle and friend to many. Living in Frisco, Texas with wife Jo Anne, he's celebrated 54 years of life, 25 years of marriage, and 32 years of a career journey as a federal bank liquidator, banker, litigation expert and hopeful writer along the way. For a lifetime, he's stuttered. He enjoys sharing practical perspectives on pursuing life fully with stuttering as a daily companion.

You can post Questions/comments about the following paper to the author before October 22, 2009.

"Returning to the Lion's Den Thirty Years Later...Older, Wiser and Armed!"

by Chris Roach
from Texas, USA

"If I could go back, knowing what I know now, . . ."

We've all thought that. No matter how grand life has been, there's that one thing we've never punted from our regrets. We want a "do-over"! Only now, we'd demand the protective armor of life lessons gained the old fashioned way - "we earned it," as famed pitchman John Houseman said of his Wall Street client.

For most, redemption never materializes. We never retire that one regret and silence its perennial thorn in our consciousness. Life rarely recycles around the game board to pass Start again. Sure, we now employ scar-tissued prudence that we dismissed in our youth. Yet, we still pine for one thing, "If I could only go back..."

Well, I got my "do-over" -- and found myself face-to-face with my regret. I returned to the Lion's Den thirty years later and discovered it's still as scary -- but so am I now!

Let's start at the beginning. Blessed with a loving family and extended rural community, nobody cared when I stuttered at eleven. Since they didn't care, I didn't care. That's generally how the loop works. Instinctively, what matters to others is what matters to us.

I loved school alongside my 37 classmates from Kindergarten through graduation. Blessed with gifted capability and curiosity, I achieved much, cultivated leadership roles and continued that momentum into college.

Yep, stuttering didn't matter -- just a seamless part of who I was, never impairing pursuing my potential. I moved forward and fully despite "my speech problem." When rarely discussed, I'd brag "it didn't bother me and it never stopped me." I felt normal. After all, I'd never been told or treated otherwise ... until I left the insulated walls of academia and entered the Lion's Den.

But unexpectedly, my speech suddenly "did matter" to some. And not in a good way, but with true consequences - emotional, economic and physical. I had no armor to protect myself. I'd never needed any - until now.

In the wake of college graduation, my girlfriend's mother, a fan throughout the courtship, abruptly demanded a break-up. Why? Because I had "done nothing to cure my stuttering," a fate certain to doom her daughter's life, she explained. Girlfriend agreed. Relationship done. I felt pain never experienced - the shame and humiliation of being flawed.

Interviewing for jobs, I met with a state banking official for an entry examiner position. His response, despite a resume though young was laden with ambitious success, was "I can't hire you - you stutter." Stunned, I defended myself vigorously, touting my standard "it never stopped me." He feared I couldn't talk to a board of directors. Another sting from a new arrow never felt - my good wasn't good enough, stuttering trumped!

Fortunately, offers surfaced from two prominent federal agencies, following solid interviews and background vetting. One would have me investigating bombings, weapon sales, and alcohol black markets and the other seizing failed banks. Not bad for a stutterer, Mr. State Banking Official? However, along with the excitement of my future came the newly emerging Fear of "discovery" - discovery on the job that I stuttered when I hid it so well during recruitment.

Choosing bank liquidation, I took the plunge - fear and all! What a ride it was. Immersed in the world of bank closings, several of which I managed, I met thousands, engaged premium projects, helped numerous Americans dealing with failed bank deposit insurance issues, mentored people along their career journeys, and even met my wife now of twenty-five years after closing the bank where she worked! I maneuvered through a complex government agency and got to see over forty states. Yet, I still remained paralyzed internally by the fear of stuttering every day. Along with the impact on one's soul, every PWS identifies with the physical influences on sleep, appetite, and nerves. My insides were a whirlwind of seldom peace. Shame and humiliation continued to be reinforced in my young mind and heart. Let me explain.

My first boss summoned me after overhearing my phone conversation with a former failed bank customer. "If you don't do something about that speech," he said, "it will kill your career. You need to fix it." Another impressionable message - stuttering is bad. Fix it! Fear now camped inside my new career that apparently would demand fluency for success?

In a profile fraud project, I achieved the first unlitigated full fidelity bond claim recovery in agency history. The bank president was imprisoned. Board of directors and accountants were sued. As the forensic expert, I'd analyzed and chronicled thousands of transactions. Yet at my three-day deposition to authenticate countless hours of efforts, fluency vanished. So excruciating was the experience, lawyers and clients literally groaned over three days as I struggled to speak basic words. No transcript could be assembled due to my fragmented speech. We prevailed yet the indignation was indescribable.

Another supervisor often told me to speak quieter in public because "someone might hear" me. Others asked me why I had done nothing about my speech "to get better." They were embarrassed.

I reacted with covert tricks to mask the stuttering that plagued so many others. I learned to hide this stuff. I became good at it. I found fluency in many tactics. Avoidance, substitution, overcompensation, maneuvering, games, ventriloquism, personality, extra effort - we know the list. Anything to mitigate humiliation. Anything to make the other person feel better about my stuttering -- win their approval, capture their acceptance, convince them my speech won't matter.

Ultimately, I felt relieved to escape this chronic challenge when I finally escaped the agency and entered the world of banking. I could start over and work free of shame and humiliation - I thought. I saw the agency as my inaugural Lion's Den that I wanted to never experience again.

For the next twenty-three years, I continued my stimulating ride -- but Fear never vacated the backseat. It tagged along, darnit! The Lion's Den never left - it just packed its bags and buckled in for the long ride.

Oddly life changed. After thirty years, the career bookend to match the one I first put on the shelf unexpectedly surfaced. Sadly again, our banks tumbled and the rescue flag went up for seasoned help. Bank-closing experience became a commodity! Through earnest outreach and an attractive offer, I swallowed hard and agreed to return to the agency.

My fellow PWS know what was foremost on my mind - not money, fulfillment or future. No, it was words. As I considered returning, every old wound flaired enmasse. So I grabbed a classic covert tactic - strike first! Before fear does. I impulsively accepted and jumped into the Lion's Den. Once more, I was a bank liquidator.

But something new accompanied me that was absence in my youth. I had armor, armor built from layers cultivated by maturity, support from a community of advocates and fellow stutterers unknown years ago, and empowerment from the education of what stuttering is and is not. Looking around the familiar lair, here's what I did this time around.

Honesty and Openness

As the last to join an intimidating veteran team, I was honest from the start. I told everyone I stuttered! I educated them that I wasn't nervous, cognitively impaired nor unable to communicate - I simply stuttered. I wanted to bust stuttering's myths and stereotypes immediately. The result? An indifferent shrug and instant acceptance. Because it didn't matter to me, it didn't matter to them. I stuttered openly and naturally to all that I met...mostly (you coverts understand.)

A new colleague was amazed that I could struggle with hard blocks but just "keep plugging away without hesitation." She said, "Nothing stops you." What was the result of this strategy? Fear evaporated a little. Shame and humiliation ebbed slightly.

Voluntary Stuttering

A big fear soon arrived - the square-table conference with major players! Ugh, an all-day seminar on critical issues with influential officials. I was a presenter - a speaking part, gulp!

Within moments, it arrived on target - "let's go around the room and..." Waiting for my approaching torture, panic swelled. As I had in my youth, I fast-forwarded options to avoid, to avert and maybe even flee this unbearable confrontation? Pretend I'm sick? Coughing spell?

But not this time. I was too tired to fight. I did what I would've never imagined many years ago - I stuttered - voluntarily! And I continued through a day's worth of discussion, issues and challenges, many nested in my area of responsibility. What happened? I communicated what I needed to share, often fluently. The disfluent words didn't matter. I connected with participants based on the content of my words, not how I spoke them. I gained a little respect - from myself. The result of this strategy? Fear evaporated more. Shame and humiliation stalled.

Disclosure and Advocacy

Soon another favorite phobia came calling -- the multi-day training class - speaking for the group AND reading stuff out loud -- verbatim! No substitutions! Where's that bag of tricks to avoid this certain beating? Nope. Not this time.

When we went 'around the room,' a new twist was added by this insightful instructor - to tell this group of forty "something unique about you that nobody knows." Back table first. I was the third to speak. Not enough time to escape...suddenly, I knew what I had to do. With a choked diaphragm impairing airflow, hidden hands trembling, and a tidal wave of embarrassment ready to strike, I stood and announced proudly in a cascade of true stuttering blocks that I was a person who stuttered. Duh! I briskly described statistics, stereotyping and myths. I shared the beauty of advocacy with the stuttering community through NSA and wonderful friends confronted by stuttering that I'd met in recent years. The results? Dozens of smiles and nods. Then we moved to the next person, a cancer survivor it turned out. I glowed a little as others followed suit to share triumphs over personal challenges along with their joys of advocacies of choice.

For two days, I represented my group and the essence of my true intellectual capability - things that would've paralyzed me in youth. Many words were openly and honestly stuttered; most were not. I didn't care. Nobody else did either. The result of this strategy? The fear, shame and humiliation didn't seem quite as powerful.


My hushed "speech problem" from early days had transpired into "Hey, I stutter," during this second go-around. I tote everywhere a favorite mug, emblazoned with "National Stuttering Association." I approached Human Resources to contribute in brown bag lunch seminars to discuss communication disorders. In meeting new staff members, I share my stuttering upfront. When paired with new colleagues on projects, I mention it early and only once. I focus on the support and guidance from organizations such as the NSA but more importantly, I share stories of inspiration of PWS I've met over the years which brings perspective and encouragement to workplace issues and challenges. The result of this strategy? The fear, humiliation and shame took breaks while I concentrated on bank closings, deadlines, workload - stuff that mattered.


Finally, what differs most thirty years later from those novice years in the Lion's Den? Acceptance. No, not chasing acceptance of others but acceptance of myself. A wise, seasoned veterinarian once told me that all we do -- the disclosures, advertising, openness - is NOT to make others feel better about our stuttering but to make us feel better.

One of the finest lines in David McCullough's legendary "John Adams" literary masterpiece converted to screen was by lifetime partner Abigail when Adams, in post-presidency retirement, fretted over an imagined litany of alleged, nasty criticisms of what others thought of him. Abigail calmly responded, "Nobody is thinking about you, John." The ultimate truism - nobody is thinking about you. I finally figured out nobody is thinking about my stuttering - only me. In this second go-around into the Lion's Den, the lions are thinking about their own financial security, job challenges, crisis demands, health issues, etc. Sure, they demand something from me -- performance, team work, contributing my share, optimum production, decency, kindness, consideration, effort, etc. That's all 'they' care about. As I've learned over the years, stuttering has nothing to do with any of this.

Yes, I've returned to the Lion's Den thirty years later and realized the meanest lion of all was myself. But I haven't told you what I finally accepted. You'll be surprised. No, I've not accepted my stuttering. Nor have I accepted the shame and humiliation I feel when I stutter. What I've finally come to accept is the fear and that I'll always be scared of the pain of shame and humiliation caused by stuttering. Only now, I don't feel ashamed because I'm scared. That, I finally accept.

You weren't expecting that, huh? Honesty doesn't always produce an expected ending...

You can post Questions/comments about the above paper to the author before October 22, 2009.

August 15, 2009
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