I sat in class and listened to the assignment being presented. To go out into the world and stutter in front of a stranger.
Of course, I realized that I should complete the assignment in order to understand that stuttering is NOT the end of the world and to be able to help my clients also realize this. Unfortunately, I did not see it that way. Even though I knew that this viewpoint was "wrong," I felt that stuttering was absolutely awful. And as most people, I felt that stutterers should be as fluent as they could possibly be no matter what. So when I heard about voluntary stuttering and reinforcing the disfluencies rather than the fluent speech, I was completely confused!
So weeks went by and I tried several times to complete the assignment. During therapy sessions, I voluntarily stuttered (with much hesitation) and I learned more and more about stuttering. However, I still could not bring myself to complete the assignment. I would venture to a convenience store or to the deli and every single time I thought about the assignment. Of course, I knew that I was capable of completing the assignment physically, but mentally I could not do it. I was also unable, for the life of me, to understand why I couldn't do it. It was actually torturing me inside because I had never experienced anything like this.
A few more weeks went by and I started to become a bit more desensitized to stuttering by listening to my clients, voluntarily stuttering on my own (in the therapy room) and becoming more and more educated about stuttering. During fluency class, Woody Starkweather's wife, Janet, came in to speak to us about her "story." Her story proved to me that a disfluent individual IS able to let go of the feelings of shame, embarrassment, fear, anger, etc. and life can completely change after this finally happens. This was a major discovery in my understanding of stuttering. However, I was still unable to complete the assignment.
A few more weeks went by and Scott Yaruss came to Temple and presented his research about stuttering and what he is trying to accomplish. During his presentation, a statistic from a survey that Scott conducted was read "100% of non-stutterers think that stutterers should be 100% fluent and 80% of stutterers feel that stutterers should also be completely fluent." For some reason, this struck a chord inside of me and I realized that I was part of that statistic and that was the problem. That was why I couldn't complete the assignment. That was why the techniques used in our clinic created dissonance within myself.
Finally, I had gotten it. It was a very strange feeling and was extremely emotional for me. I almost felt as if I had been fighting with myself for all those weeks because of what I was being told and what I actually thought. That fight had come to an end. During my next class that same day, I was finally able to envision myself completing the assignment. This was something I was unable to do for ten weeks prior because of my feelings towards stuttering. It was a very exciting feeling and I actually wanted to stutter in front of a stranger. Finally, I completed the assignment that night as I was buying tickets for the train. I had no fear or embarrassment before, during, or after the stuttering. In fact, I was ecstatic!
My views about stuttering have taken a 180 degree turn, and I was able to overcome my strong negative feelings against stuttering (for those who know me, all my opinions and feelings are very strong). My battle with stuttering may have been a strange one because of the fact that I do not stutter. However, as we all know, the feelings (rather than the physical behaviors) associated with stuttering is the real problem. Even though my feelings may have not been exactly as those experienced by people who stutter, they were strong feelings that I was unable to control. Being able to deal with them and eventually overcome them has made me understand that there is real help for people who stutter.