Make Room For The Stuttering

Living An Authentic Life

Posted on: February 17, 2009

This is an article I had published in Advance Magazine, as a guest editorial, on 9.8.08.

Having lived most of my adult life as a covert stutterer, I finally came out of the stuttering closet two years ago. I am now working on acceptance and living an authentic life as a person who stutters.

My experience at the Friends Conference in July was eye-opening on many levels.
I had heard about Friends: The National Association of Young People Who Stutter from Joe Klein, PhD, assistant professor in the Communication Sciences and Disorders Department at the College of St. Rose, in Albany, NY, and had met co-founder Lee Caggiano during a weekend workshop for people who stutter. Lee had asked if she could use a poem I had written at the Friends Conference. I decided to read it myself, and thus began my journey to New Orleans.

I wondered if I would fit in with the young people and their parents that I was to meet at the conference. My question was answered right away. Two parents introduced themselves and expressed how happy they were to have adults who stutter join this special weekend. It quickly became apparent to me that parents viewed adults who stutter as hope-hope that their kids would grow up to be successful, have fulfilling lives, and do all the normal things we do, from dating and going to college to having families and maintaining good jobs.

I participated in many workshops with parents, and for the first time I shared things I wish I could have shared with my own parents when growing up. I wish I had told my dad at least once that it really hurt me to think he was ashamed of me. And I really wish my family had talked about stuttering. We never did. It was one of those taboo subjects, like my mom’s alcoholism. We never talked about my mom’s drinking. As the oldest, I basically covered for her most of the time. I’m sure I borrowed those same camouflage tactics when it came to covering up my stuttering.

When I shared these thoughts with the parents, they weren’t shocked as I feared they might be. Rather, they were understanding and grateful that they openly talked about stuttering with their kids. It was strangely freeing for me to be able to do this, almost as if sharing this with some parents was like sharing it with my parents.

I learned how important it was for the parents to have adults who stutter be at the conference. Before finding Friends and self-help, some parents carried the internal fears that their kids would be doomed to difficult lives, having to always settle for less than they deserved. Seeing adults who were happy, content, and working in jobs of their own choosing was like seeing into the crystal ball of their kid’s future, and it was no longer so murky.

The crucial eye-opening moment for me came during the wrap-up session, which was facilitated by Tricia Zebrowski, PhD, CCC-SLP, BRS-FD, associate professor in the Department of Communication Sciences & Disorders at the University of Iowa.

She asked us to reflect and comment on two questions: What do we need to know, and what do we believe?

I raised my hand and said, “I now believe that my stuttering serves a purpose. Finally, after all these years of hiding, shame and fear, I believe that my experience means something, and that I am supposed to share my experience with others.”

As I said this, I felt an amazing sense of peace wash over me. I don’t know where that came from, but it felt right. And judging by the looks and head nods I saw, it was right.

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© Pamela A Mertz and Make Room For The Stuttering, 2009 - 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Pamela A Mertz and Make Room For The Stuttering with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Same protection applies to the podcasts linked to this blog, "Women Who Stutter: Our Stories" and "He Stutters: She Asks Him." Please give credit to owner/author Pamela A Mertz 2017.