by Maggie Hansen

The months constituting the summer of 1997 were the best months of my life through the eighteen years and five months I have been alive. I have never spent a summer - or any other season - more wonderfully than I spent the summer of 1997. I participated in several events within the stuttering community that helped me to look at my stuttering as a blessing, and not a curse. For the first time in my life, I actually LIKE being a stutterer! I never thought that I would really be able to look at stuttering as something positive, after all the pain I suffered during my childhood and adolescence due to being a stutterer. Now, I am finally seeing all the beauty that it has added to my life.

In June, thanks to a very generous NSP member who had been impressed by my Dear Abby letter, I was able to attend my first NSP convention! When I left Buffalo, I remember saying to myself that living in the Marriot Hotel with 500 other stutterers was life in an ideal world. It was a very emotional weekend - it seemed that I was constantly crying tears of either joy or sorrow. The warm and loving atmosphere of the convention made me cry; I cried over the unplanned and unexpected success of my Dear Abby letter; I cried when I heard other people's life stories; I cried when I had to say good-bye. I was very excited to go and meet in person all the people I had only talked to over the phone and E-mail, especially Annie Bradberry. I met so many beautiful new people, too - some people my age, including Kelly and Rod , and a fluent man named Justin who is writing a novel and screenplay about a young woman who stutters. Everyone I met was so caring, and I felt an emotional connection with almost everyone I met. I took part in an Open Mike Session, too, which filled my stomach with butterflies as I waited for my name to be called, and which were replaced with pride when I was finished. I hope to be able to go to Atlanta in 1998 in order to spend more time with my "other family," the NSP. I cannot imagine where my life would be without you after more than four years of membership.

Exactly one week after I got home from Buffalo, I left again - this time, to spend three and a half weeks at Eastern Washington University's Successful Stuttering Management Program. I had been looking forward to going to the SSMP for the past seven months, and the time had finally come. Being able to go to the SSMP was the best thing that has ever happened to me. It changed my life, and I feel that I am finally becoming the woman I have always wanted to be! I have this feeling of invincibility, and I know that I can do ANYTHING! I am enjoying every minute of my "new stuttering life." I did not even get homesick at the SSMP - but now that I am back home, I am finding myself homesick for EWU and my eight fellow stutterers, the eighteen clinicians, and the five supervisors. These people, and the EWU campus itself, and even the town, Cheney, will hold a special place in my heart forever, being that they were there with me as I underwent the dramatic change that I needed so much in my life.

At the SSMP, we spent the entire first half of the program changing our attitudes about our stuttering. We analyzed our stuttering by watching the videotaped speeches we had made the first day, and we had to let all of our stuttering out by giving up all avoidances. We were put into all of our feared situations - talking to strangers and making telephone calls - hundreds of them - and we had to use all of our "feared words." Most importantly, we learned how to tell everyone that we stutter and that we must never try to come off as fluent speakers. I even learned that the politically correct term "stutterer" is not a derogatory title. During the second half of the program, we learned the handling techniques - the ways in which we can control our stuttering.

A few weeks after I returned home from the SSMP, I decided to go up to the convention for the Canadian Association for People who Stutter (CAPS) in Vancouver, British Columbia. I was able to go pretty cheaply, being that Vancouver is only about a three-hour-drive from Seattle, and I did not have to fly. There were several NSP members at the CAPS convention, I saw people I had met in Buffalo, and I met many other great CAPS and NSP members. Best of all, I became great friends with some girls my own age - Carolina from Toronto, Anna from Winnipeg, and Marianna from my own Seattle NSP chapter, whom I had not spent much time talking to before. We had a blast eating at Planet Hollywood, shopping on the lively Robson Street, and boogying at the dance following the banquet. I did not feel the same connection at the CAPS convention that I felt at the NSP convention, but I think that because there were girls my own age there, whom I got along with very well, I had more fun at CAPS. This time, I participated in the Open Mike Sessions twice! I must say that I had a difficult time listening to other methods of speech therapy and about other intensive stuttering therapy programs. This is because of my experience in the SSMP, which was very successful for me, and I don't know if any other program would have "worked" for me. Quite frankly, listening to other therapy methods frightens me.

In conclusion, this summer was awesome. I lived many, many once-in-a-lifetime experiences which I know can never be precisely re-created. But, they have become a part of me, and they have added so much to my life! These people, experiences, and new ideas are what have helped me to finally, fully accept the fact that I am stutterer and to almost feel a sense of pride about it. I can't say that I particularly like everything about my life, but I can honestly say that I like being a stutterer. Of course, there will be times when it will be hard for me, but even during the tough times, I will never again feel shame or embarrassment when I open my mouth and stutter.

added September 5, 1997