I am now 44 years of age. Unlike most, my stuttering came about during adolescence. My initial reaction during this period was one of denial, avoidance, and a hatred of the sound of my voice. I spoke very little and allowed myself the luxury of talking only under the safest of conditions with people I knew very well. My grades suffered as a result but I reckoned this was a small price to pay rather than endure the risk of being found out as a person who stutters and suffer the inevitable ridicule of classmates. Upon entering the work force I made a conscious decision never to permit my speaking difficulty to deny me job opportunities and advancement. **Notice how I refer to the stuttering as a separate entity** It never occured to me that I was the catalyst of success or failure and actually had control over my own destiny. At any rate, I sought positions in the job world that forced me into verbal interaction with others. By emerging from my comfort zone time and time again I envisioned I was engaged in a furious battle with my stutter. When I managed to speak fluent enough to avoid embarrassment, I was winning. Conversely, a tremendous block signaled defeat. I adopted the notion that if I persistently confronted the stuttering demon eventually the stuttering would subside and I would one day be fluent. After all, my dad always assured me one day I would "grow out of it". This was not to be. I know at this time I still practiced avoidance behaviors but never "let myself off the hook" for doing so. I wallowed in guilt and despair for allowing my fear to get the best of me (read: my stuttering was winning). Although I forced myself into verbal situations on a daily basis my stuttering remained a source of embarrassment and I was quick to pick up on a slight, real or imagined. I believe I developed a combative stance when dealing with those in authority which managed to get me into trouble on several occasions. Eventually, I discovered by adopting a cheerful demeanor when speaking with others I was better able to manage fluency lapses when they occured and perceived others reacting to me in a more positive (and supportive) way.
Along the way, I made several attempts at therapy and all resulted with no lasting improvement in fluency. For some reason I viewed failure in therapy as being worse than the actual stuttering itself. I took it as personal failure and would be despondent for several months after the therapy had ended. I maintain that those intensive programs out there that imply near guaranteed results with self serving statistics do a great disservice to those who stutter.
Coping with stuttering took another turn last year when I attended my first National Stuttering Project convention in Denver. There was no shortage of role models and I came away from the experience with the ability to look at myself in a truly positive way for the first time. The change occured when I wasn't looking. I find myself stuttering more openly with those around me (even strangers) than I have ever done with no more beating myself over a block. The telephone truly has become a communicative tool which I now pick up to use at a moments notice. I never realized in the past how I selectively made phone calls, waiting to call during those times when I felt less stress. The coping mechanism had been ingrained in me for so long it became involuntary.
Perhaps my newfound self image will be the closest I will come to being "cured". But I must confess when I hear the velvet voice of a Richard Burton or the slick, confident diction of Alec Baldwin I become a little envious. :-)
added with permission October 23, 1997