About the presenter: Mary Wood is a National Director for the Canadian Association for People Who Stutter. She is a coordinator of the CAPS 2003 Conference to be held in Toronto. Mary also sits on the board of the International Stuttering Association, and is an active member of the National Stuttering Association, attending conference and presenting workshops. Since 1992, she has facilitated Stuttering Connections, a self-help group in Hamilton, Ontario. Mary is co-author of the book "Winning Women." She is also a volunteer in the prison system through "Bridge," a self-help group for ex-offenders and their families, and the Mennonite Church.

You can post Questions/comments about the following paper to Mary Wood before October 22, 2002.

To Go Beyond the Fear

by Mary Wood
from Canada

What I'm going to share with you is my truth. It has allowed me to go beyond the fear - the immense fear that was a large part of my life for many years. The immense fear that held me back from being who I am, doing what I want to do, saying what I want to say.

Let me tell you a little bit about where I come from. I've stuttered since I've been about 3 years old. On January 21, 1989, I went to a seminar that taught me how important thought is. What I think about manifests in my life - within and without. On the way home from the seminar that day, I knew that there was hope for me (interesting that the me part came first) and my speech. I knew I didn't have to stutter any more.

I came home from that seminar focusing on fluency, wanting to be a perfect 100% fluent speaker. Then one morning, I looked at myself in the mirror and asked why I didn't like to stutter. The answer was there immediately: I thought someone wouldn't like me if I stutter. This was where this immense fear came from

From that point on, my focus has been self-esteem. Loving and accepting me, moving beyond this fear. The fear of rejection. I read a book by dr. Leonard Shaw "love and forgiveness" that told me there are only two emotions - love and fear. I pondered that for quite a while, and then realized this worked for me. Love is peace, joy, laughter - everything that makes us feel good. Fear is all the negative emotions - shame, guilt, embarrassment, anger. So, if I was not coming from love, I had to be coming from fear.

First of all, I started to look at my thought. "As ye think, so shall ye be." This information has been around since the beginning of time. A quote from 500 B.C. reads "everything that is comes from the mind." So, were my thoughts focusing on the fluency that was there or the stuttering that might be there?

We have about 60,000 thoughts a day, and about 75% of them are negative - no wonder we get tired, stressed, and angry. Both sides of everything are always here - the positive and the negative. Health and sickness, peace and conflict, prosperity and poverty, fluency and stuttering. Every moment of every day we make a choice what we want to think about. When we know we have this choice, then we can be victims no more.

In July 1990, I went back to York University to hear Mark Victor Hansen - co-author of Chicken Soup for the Soul series. During his workshop, I had a message - I didn't believe too much in god then - but just knew this message was for real. "Share what has changed your life - speak about it!" I finally knew what I wanted to be when I grew up - a speaker!

We need dreams to grow from, and for the first time in my life, I had a definite dream. Two months later, I was at toastmasters - and stayed there for four years - every Wednesday night, telling people I stutter (that was a first), working through my fear. A dream gives you a reason to face your fear. It motivates you, pushes you where you don't want to go, but know you have to go if you want to realize your dream. It is your rocket that will launch you into the unknown.

We are always our dreams, even before they come into fruition. I believe I've always been a speaker, but for many years it was so scary for me I didn't want to look at it.

To go beyond our fear, we have to take action. It doesn't have to be one giant leap for mankind. It can be tiny baby steps. Speaking to someone at the bus stop, making a phone call we really don't want to make, asking for what we really want to eat. Keep a victory journal. Write down all the little steps you are taking. Think about them, and congratulate yourself - it's OK to do that!

Look forward to change - be persistent - never give up. Change is inevitable. It's happening whether you acknowledge it or not. When you change one letter in the word "change," you get the word "chance." That's what change is all about. A chance to grow, to learn, to laugh, to love, to be who you really are. That's what stuttering is for me. The biggest learning lesson I've ever had - so far. When I look at it as a lesson, then the fear starts to go away. Every one and everything in our lives is here for us to learn from.

The people and circumstances in my life that have the most to teach me bring the greatest challenges. So.. What if we woke up in the morning and said "thank you for stuttering". Do you think some of the fear would go away?

We want to change our lives, but we don't want to make changes. One of the definitions of insanity is - expecting different results while doing the same old thing, singing the same old song.

How many of us sing the same old song that we've sung a thousand times before - most of the time it's a sad song. Why do we keep singing it? Because it gets us the attention we think we need. It allows us to hang onto our victim image, to stay in the blame state of mind, to stay in our comfort zone. But it's always self-defeating because we're hiding behind these thoughts. We're escaping from being fully present, from being responsible for who we are.

When I started to look at my feelings, I found out stuttering was not the problem. It's how I felt about it and how I felt about me - mostly me. Do we acknowledge how we feel? Do we know it's okay to have the feelings we have? Have we been told it's not OK to cry, it's not OK to be angry. And so we squish (I love that word) these feelings down until we don't know they're there any more. How can we release something when we don't know it's there.

My mom died in 1994 - I didn't realize I was angry at her. I was driving down to Ottawa to speak at a self-help workshop, thinking about her. All of a sudden I started to cry, and then scream. I can remember being surprised - but I let it happen. Then I was aware of how I felt. Underneath anger, there is always fear. My dad had died 6 years before, now my mom had died. I felt very alone, I was scared there was no one who really loved me.

Moving beyond the fear is understanding it, acknowledging it is present.

One of our biggest fears is the fear of rejection. Somebody won't like us because we stutter, because we don't say the right things, wear the right clothes, have the right job, etc., Etc.

We need to know that what someone else thinks about us has nothing to do with who we are, but... What we think about ourselves has everything to do with who we are.

What you think about me is really what you think about you. I've just finished reading "the four agreements." It outlines agreements that we can make with ourselves to replace some of the old negative beliefs we have about who we are.

The second agreement is "don't take anything personally." Big lesson! If someone says you're stupid, thoughtless and inconsiderate, it's not about you - it's about them. It's their perception of who you are. It doesn't have to be yours. But..... We take it personally because we agree with whatever was said. As soon as we agree, we're trapped in this belief.

What someone says, what someone does, and the opinions they give are according to their beliefs, to the agreements they've made with themselves. Their point of view comes from all the programming they've received during their life.

We think that someone else knows more about who we are than we do, and so we take what they say about us to be the truth of who we are.

When we take things personally, we feel offended and our reaction is to defend our beliefs and create conflicts. We make something so big out of something so little because we have the need to be right. The need to be right comes from a place of fear. So..... Would you rather be right - or would you rather be happy?

What does all this have to do with stuttering, you might ask. The fear of rejection was a large part of my stuttering. I've also come to realize that stuttering was only one of the ways that it manifested in my life. Stuttering was maybe the most noticeable. The other parts were hidden - and are still hidden some days - deep within.

I also learned that fear is a negative thought - if you feel good about yourself in a situation, then the fear isn't there. It's there when you're unsure, when you're scared, when you feel you might be rejected.

An important lesson to go beyond the fear - what I say or do cannot make you feel anything - that is your choice. If I say I don't like your green hair, you'll laugh at me because you know it's not true. However, if I say you're thoughtless and inconsiderate, somewhere inside here you might feel that way, and get angry with me. But it has nothing to do with who I think you are - it has everything to do with who you think you are.

This life we're living - we're the producer, the director, the singer of our own song. Our song is something that is personal to us. It's made up of no one's thoughts but ours, no one's words but ours. The only point of power we have is with us.

How can we go beyond this fear?

We can help others. We're not learning all this "good stuff" to keep it locked up inside. We have to share it - we have to be it. When you hang onto something so tight, then it withers and it dies. You are wonderful, caring, creative, loving souls. Share some of this. Give it away -

When we help others, we forget about ourselves, our fears, and we think about what we can do for them. When I stop worrying about if you're going to like what I say, and I focus on how I can help you, what I can say that will let you know how special you are, then the fear goes away.

Let go of the past! Carrying the past with us is always more burdensome than any mistake we have made. Any energy we invest in reliving or resenting the past detracts from "now." Resenting someone allows them to live rent free in your head.

Forgiveness work lets us let go of the past. Forgiveness is letting go of all hopes for a better past. It means no longer living in the fearful past.

Move beyond the fear - have an attitude of gratitude. Say "thank you" for what you have - don't moan and groan about what you don't have. There is no lack of anything. The only lack is in our thinking. Fluency is here, just like stuttering. If everything starts with thought, then does stuttering - or fluency - also start with thought? I believe it does. (that should start some interesting interaction.)

Thank yourself at the end of the day for the things you've done - don't go into the shoulda's- shoulda done this, shoulda said this - once again you're in the past.

Never, never, never give up on you. You are a wonderful, awesome child of god. You are oh so worthy, oh so capable, oh so loved and lovable. When the fear starts to go away, you'll find that you have the answers for you.

When human beings appeared on the planet, a group of gods got together and decided to play a game. "Let's hide the secret of life" one suggested. Great idea, another agreed, where shall we hide it?

At the top of the highest mountain, one proposed. No responded another, people will climb the highest mountain.

How about at the bottom of the ocean, asked another. No, they will invent submarines.

On and on the gods pondered, trying to find a suitable hiding place. Finally, one god had a bright idea.

"I know," he exclaimed, "Let's hide the secret of life inside each person - they'll never think to look there."

We need to look at the fear to go beyond the fear.

I attended a conference in Chicago in 1995 - the theme for the day was the gift of stuttering - never in my whole life did I ever think I'd say that. I realized my gift didn't come wrapped in shiny silver paper with a big red bow. It came wrapped in many layers of plain brown wrapping. As I peel away the layers, I find the gift. The gift is to know the love I've been searching for is always with me - it always has been and it always will be.

Stuttering is my greatest lesson - so far. When I started to look at it this way - turn it around - then I started to go beyond the fear. Learning from stuttering and the fear enables me to be on this awesome journey that I'm on.

Know that it is okay to be who you are today - not who you might be tomorrow - but who you are today. Search for and speak your own truth, no matter what anyone else says or thinks. Listen for your own answers. Look to others for help, support and ideas, and then take only what feels good for you at the time and moment. Be so honest with yourself about this. Focus on the moment and not on the outcome, and the fear will disappear. When you go beyond the fear, you will find the love that is there.

My wish for you - may you speak your own words, may you sing your own song, and may you know that you are always loved.

You can post Questions/comments about the above paper to Mary Wood before October 22, 2002.

August 14, 2002