Baring My Soul

by Ralph Steinhauser

Here are some experiences I've had that I would like to share with the NSP. I hope they help someone who has had similar problems.

I'm 73 now, and I think when I was seven or eight I knew I was different because I stuttered. I became withdrawn and did things by myself and was depressed and even cried because I couldn't say my name without stuttering.

One day when I was very young, I remember going to the barber shop for a haircut. When my turn came, this woman pushed her son ahead of me. I started to protest and stammered and stuttered a lot, and the barber said to me "Can't you talk right, dummy?" I was so hurt and ashamed I ran crying out of the store vowing never to have that happen to me again.

So I became a master at avoiding, changing words and using tricks to get by. My parents saw how unhappy I was, and all they would say was "Don't worry Ralph, you'll outgrow it." Well, here I am some 66 years older, and I still stutter and block.

When I was in the army in World War 11, we had to learn general orders in basic training. I was in a group of 15 and we had to learn to recite a list of 10 or 12 rules. I was so scared, because I knew I couldn't do this, so I slowly moved around to avoid being called on. When the sergeant said, "If anyone hasn't said their general orders, step forward." I crouched down behind a large boulder and hid.

I got a good job at our base as an M.P. Since I was in the office, I had to answer the phones and say "Provost Marshal's Office, Capt. Steinhauser speaking." After screwing that up a few times and hearing giggling and mimicry I then said, "Guard Headquarters, Capt. Steinhauser." It was much better and the tension began to ease in the pit of my stomach. My speech improved as I was given more responsibilities and my self-esteem grew. I knew then that to help myself I would have to talk more and become more aggressive. In 1946 I was discharged and answered a want ad for a retail sales job and learned the fountain pen and jewelry business. I was doing very well and hardly stuttered. So after three years, I opened my own jewelry store and did very well.

My confidence grew as I had charge of myself. I ran my store for 22 years till I lost my lease and had to find a job.

You see, I was married and we had three children who had to eat. I got a new job and worked for this man for 17 years, and he never said anything or really knew that I stuttered because I hid it so well. The only time pressure was on me was when he would have me call the customers about their lay-away. When he was there I would dial our own phone number and get a busy signal and tell him I would call later. When he stepped out of the store I would make all these calls without feeling pressured.

He was not the type of person I could talk to about my stuttering. I knew if he found out, he would fire me! So I used my tricks and avoidances, but I came home every night exhausted. In 1989, I retired and moved to Southern California to be near our three children.

In 1991 I suffered a severe heart attack and almost died, had bypass surgery and was put on a cardiac rehabilitation program and did well. Medically, I was doing fine but my stuttering became very bad. I took some speech therapy at C.S.U.N. and began reading all I could about stuttering in literature that I received from the NSP. I've come a long way, and my speech is improving. I've come to adjust and handle my problem better. I need these support groups and the Letting GO newsletter really helps a lot. I thought I was the only stutterer, but now I know I'm not alone and I belong to a large and wonderful family, the NSP. In particular, I always enjoy calling the office and chatting with NSP office manager Tammy Ybarra.

The fears I have are slowly going away, talking to people has become easier, and the giant speaking scar has begun to slowly heal...but there is much more I have to do. It's been a long battle, and I'm much happier now than I have ever been. I owe this to the love and support of my wife of 49 years who has stood by me in good and bad times and also my children and grandchildren who have patiently loved and supported me. Stuttering has not ruined my life, in fact it has helped me to go forward. ~