I have been stuttering since the stone age--and believe me, stuttering therapy was like that 60 years ago--and have heard all the theories since then: neurological, psychological, physiological. How about biological? There's a germ of an idea. (Just kidding.)

Of course, we've heard it runs in our genes. However, I beg to differ with that since I don't stutter when I run. But then, I don't wear jeans while running either. And still another don't--I don't think about my in. can't remember when.

Sure I used to wake up every morning with fear in my heart and panic in my mouth (or wherever panic for stuttering resides). As for anxiety, well anytime the phone rang and I had to answer it. Well, you know the feeling.

Take the simple word "hello". Drop off the "o" and that's what it was like answer the phone. I was speechless, nameless but I sure as hell wasn't fearless. The hard copy was when I was growing up, there wasn't a speaking situation that I ever met, that I didn't try to avoid.

To make it even easier for me to practice avoidance, my Father said everything he thought I had to say, to everyone he thought I had to say it to. And when he saw therapy wasn't working (ever tried talking along with a metronome? Swing and sway with stuttering Ben or doing tongue exercises because the common theory was a stutterer was tongue tied) hatred therapy of his own. Like insisting I take tap dancing lessons. I didn't have any real talent (actually, I had two left feet), but I found I could sing "Anchors Away" without stuttering while I was tap dancing.

I could sing a lot of other things too, without stuttering. Unfortunately I wasn't a Mel Tillis or a Carley Simon. And to make things worse, in those un-enlightened educational times, I was classified as a "non-singer" and deprived of even opening my mouth in music class. Think that was bad? Some battle-ax of a teacher, was so upset by my stutter that she had me write my answers to her questions on the blackboard.

Fortunately there were a few teachers in the upper grades who gave me responsibility: school guard crossing, school patrol lieutenant and I was beginning to feel better about myself until I was told I was never going to be a man. At least not in the eyes of my religion. In preparation for my initiation into Jewish manhood, I had to be Bar Mitzvahed. But my Hebrew school teachers said my stuttering was so bad, that I would never be able to participate in the ceremonies.

Boy, did my Father fool them. No, he didn't take my place. However he did get a private tutor who made me so proficient in Hebrew that I was able to get up before our Congregation and read all the required text as well as give a speech without stuttering. I was so happy, that I didn't go back to a Synagogue until I was married.

How did I get married? How did I even meet a girl? It took therapy. Not speech, but good old Freudian psychotherapy. It didn't cure my stuttering, yet by spilling out my fears, my frustrations, my fixations to my analyst, I found something that I never had before--freedom. And release from all the feelings and emotions that seemed to weigh me down so that I almost couldn't breathe.

Through psychoanalysis, I was literally and figuratively able to "get a lot off my chest". Indeed I found a freedom of expression that I never had before and was able to take some major steps forward including leaving home and starting one for myself, a home where I could live my life without parental interference.

In those days you just didn't move out--at least until you were married. So I solved that by meeting a girl at a Halloween party while, as I like to put it, dunking for apples. And it was love at first bite.

Not unexpectedly, my folks found all sorts of reasons why I shouldn't get married. But I did. And without a stutter. Indeed it didn't matter at all to my wife or her family. They were from England and as my mother-in-law once assured me, if King George could stutter, so can you.

Nearly 40 years later, my wife and I can look back on some great times and some not so great ones. Best of all though, was raising three children and giving them what I didn't have--love, understanding and a freedom born of strength and respect to be the best they could be.

Interestingly enough, they never noticed that I stutter. Not that I have been fluent or have remained speechless. On the contrary somewhere, somehow I discovered that the key to fluency was to forget about attaining it. More important, to stop worrying about stuttering and to say what I wanted to say, when I wanted to say it. Believe me I love food and drink too much, to let something like stuttering stand in my way of a Beefeater's martini, extra dry with a twist or a hamburger medium rare or anything else on the menu that my salivary glands took a hankering to salivate over.

And believe me, eating out became an important part of my life. Though I thought that I would never become more than an advertising copywriter churning out all kinds of great slogans to make people buy, my career took some twists and turns that had me calling on clients and selling them on me and my agencies creativity. And some of those presentations were done over lunch, you know those three martini lunches that are no longer tax deductible.

I found a new "me". One who enjoyed people, one who wasn't afraid of talking, even on the telephone. Indeed when I wasn't over at the client's I was on the phone with them or their secretaries doing something I never thought I could do-- making small talk.

And from a Bennett who was afraid to open his mouth, I became someone who couldn't keep it closed, especially when it came to volunteering. Thank heaven I was never in the Armed Forces or I would have been leading "The charge of the light brigade." But I did about everything else in my community. And enjoyed it. I was on so many boards that I never had a chance to get bored. Hardly ever saw my kids either, except when I was on the sidelines coaching them or in the stands rooting for them.

The best part of all this was waking up in the morning and thinking of what I had to do, not what I had to say or how was going to say it. Just think of it for a minute--if take the anxiety out of speaking, what's left?

For me it was the miracle of communicating. What became important, was what I said, not how I said it. Sure I could hear, I could feel myself stuttering at times (I still do) but it wasn't the end of the world if I blocked as long as I didn't block out people. I guess I learned to stutter "naturally". Without fuss, without muss. I don't think I turned people off because I made sure I was turned to them, not away from them. Just as I didn't avoid speaking situations, I didn't avoid my audience. Or saddle them with my baggage or attitudes. I didn't do any song or dance numbers, nor did contortion acts by screwing up my face or rolling my eyes. When I stuttered, you could hear it, not see it.

I once wrote an article "I stutter, so what". Someone really took that to heart, made up buttons, T-shirts and went around wearing them as he wore out his audience with his severe stuttering.

What I meant was that stuttering to me wasn't a big deal anymore because I learned to control it and not let it control me. I didn't go around constantly thinking about it, in fact, the only time I thought about it was when it happened and then promptly carried on, without regrets and without worrying about it. My Lord, if the earth opened up every time I stuttered, I would have been in China and back.

There's an analogy I like to use in regards to stuttering. Or getting yourself ready so you won't. I believe it's called "anticipation", as in thinking about how you're going to order that chocolate ice cream cone. That Hagan Daaz Chocolate Ice Cream Cone with sprinkles and a heath bar in a waffle cone. You want it so badly that you're going to do everything in your power to order it without stuttering.

OK. Now close your eyes and imagine that you are walking on a tight rope. All you have in your mind is that you are going to fall. Go ahead, take that first step.

Bennett Gross

New Jersey NSP