As the plane taxied to the runway, preparing to take off, I set my watch back three hours. The time was 5:00am. The day was just dawning in San Francisco-my destination.
As we lifted into the air, leaving a gray, cloudy New Jersey behind, I settled into the seat which I would occupy for the next five hours. I wondered whether traveling 3000 miles to meet with a therapist might just be a little silly on my part. I began to rationalize that in addition to the one, or hopefully two therapy sessions I would have, I had a friend in San Francisco, whom I was anxious to see. There was also the NSP office I could visit. Perhaps, I could pull John away from his desk long enough for lunch.
Nevertheless, the question of why I was making this trip kept running through my mind. Why now? The weather reports were forecasting more rain for an already soggy northern California. I really hadn't been very diligent in reading my California tour book, so I had no definite sightseeing plans. WHY was this trip so important to me?
Perhaps the phrase written by Anais Nin which I keep next to my computer had finally started to sink in -"...and the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud, was more painful than the risk it took to blossom..."
Could it be that at age 44, I was finally ready to change? I've heard that it gets easier, as you get older- but for me, the feelings of frustration and helplessness were getting worse. I didn't want to spend the rest of my life feeling this way.
My stuttering isn't all that severe (although it can be in certain situations). Over the years, I have devised lots of ways to hide it. At work, for example, I choose to use my middle name, "Cheryl". I block less on"Cheryl" than on "Diane." Of course, these tricks don't work for me all the time; but for the most part (at least outwardly), I succeed at playing the phony non-stutterer roll. What I'm not handling very well are the feelings inside- the fear, the uneasiness, the shame, the guilt and the constant anxiety.
As a young child, I first became aware that something was wrong when my mother would call me to the TV every Sunday afternoon when the Oral Roberts show came on. As Oral Roberts bellowed out words of healing, my mother would place her hand on my mouth. I watched as the people on the TV who walked up to him on crutches, were able to walk away without them. People who were blind, could suddenly see again. I gradually came to realize that what my mother wanted- was to change the way I talked. She called it stuttering. She didn't want me to stutter.
Unlike most children, I did not outgrow my disfluencies. On the contrary, the repetitions gradually changed to silent blocks. My speech did not fit into the perfectionistic painting that my parents were painting for me, but I tried really hard to please them anyway. I became the GOOD little girl- shy, quiet, studious, perfect in every way (except for my speech). I learned to hold back.
During my school career, I struggled to achieve, in spite of my stuttering. Gradually, as I took on my parents' beliefs, I began to measure myself-esteem by what I could accomplish. Since class participation was not an option for me, I had to work doubly hard. I didn't know what it meant to have fun. I attended the High School of Music and Art, and as an art major, I remember times when I genuinely enjoyed what I was doing, BUT my father told the world that his daughter was going to be a doctor.
I succeeded in graduating with honors, but looking back, I realize that it was at the expense of an emerging Self. Somewhere along the way, amid my quest for perfection, my desire to please, my hiding, and my holding back, I had lost sight of who I was, what I felt, and what I wanted to do.
While in college, I changed my major from chemistry to speech and language pathology. By the time I had my Masters, I had participated in several types of speech therapy programs. I never was able to take any of them very seriously because deep down inside, I always knew that I needed more than a therapy program which only centered around controlling the speech behavior.
I began an intensive cognitive based psychotherapy program. Over the many years of this type of therapy, I learned a great deal about myself. I gained the strength to leave a destructive marriage, and I also changed careers. Although my level of awareness increased greatly, the familiar feelings of fear and anxiety still haunted me. I still held back.
Today, I find myself in a career that feels almost as foreign to me as majoring in chemistry or pre-med. did when I was in college.
I still hurt inside.
Upon arriving in San Francisco, I arranged for a car rental, and I prepared to meet the therapist with whom I had been corresponding. Although we had never met (up to now, he had been an e-mail address and an occasional voice on the telephone), his holistic approach to therapy, his enthusiasm, knowledge, understanding and acceptance - had come through very clearly in his letters. Somehow, he had succeeded in giving me a gift of hope.
We had two sessions together while I was in San Francisco. I will share more about the therapy process later on. For now, although I'm still in the beginning stages of therapy, it feels right - for ME.
As I embark upon my new journey, my goal is to rebuild my self-esteem, stop holding back, and to discover the Self I gave up a very long time ago. When my therapist tells me that "the only way out is through," I know that this will probably be the most difficult thing I've ever had to DO in my life.
Obviously, I won't be able to travel to San Francisco for weekly therapy sessions, but in spite of the physical distance, I feel that I now have a partner in my journey. When things get rough, as I'm sure they will, I will recall the look in his eyes - the enthusiasm and passion tempered only by gentle understanding and acceptance. I will also remember his belief (which is quickly becoming mine too) that- I CAN CHANGE MY LIFE.
Yesterday, as I was driving down highway 101, south of San Francisco, imagining what it might feel like to let go and allow my feelings to flow naturally, I saw my very first rainbow. As I marveled at the big beautiful bands of color, I hoped that this rainbow might symbolize a new beginning for me.
I leave San Francisco today. From my hotel window, as I look out on the streets of downtown, I see that it's raining again. Earlier this morning, I heard hail hitting the window panes. The weatherman on the radio talks of snow in the mountains, and more thunder showers in the Bay area. As I stand there at the window, reminiscing about the past week, I look further into the distance, and I can see signs of blue sky and sunshine.
I smile, as I wonder whether there just might be a parallel between my life and this crazy northern California weather- rain, hail, snow, thunder, showers, more rain, sunshine, ... and then a Rainbow.
Diane C. Laval