Make Room For The Stuttering

Does Our Past Shape Our Stuttering?

Posted on: February 24, 2009

At support group last night , we talked about what were some of the significant memories that we have had of our stuttering, and did they shape who we are today.

Interestingly, several people, (the group was all male except for me) talked about being stymied by stuttering when attempting to ask a girl out on a date, and how the stuttering was remembered as a source of embarrassment. Several other members chimed in, saying that stuttering stood out as embarrassing moments when grade school teachers would make the class participate in reading circles. Two guys explained how that memory has stayed with them, seared into memory, of how peers kept pushing them, reminding them what word they left off on. Some members have also talked about where are all the women. We used to have 3 or 4 women come to this group, now its just me. Its funny participating in a group so heavily out-weighed by males. I guess that speaks to the general stuttering ratio in the general population, as 3 out of 4 people who stutter are male. But me being the only woman is pretty obvious. That’s why they have asked. The guys want to know if they have done something wrong.

Maybe I will write about what its like specifically being a woman who stutters. It does differ I think. It seems I get more introspective and emotional, where as the guys are rather matter-of-fact. One guy even says “that was then, this is now”. Actually, pretty healthy response. Anyway, back to my thoughts on memories from childhood.

I don’t remember specific stuttering experiences from childhood. My childhood was so clouded with other traumatic stuff that stuttering moments were not what I remembered. What I do remember is painful silence. I had learned early on, “If I didn’t talk, I didn’t stutter”. That part I do remember. My father yelled at me when I first started stuttering, helped me realize that stuttering was something bad I was doing. Then the kindergarten teacher yelled at me to “Stop that” when I stuttered in class, again leading my young mind to equate stuttering with bad.

So I hardly ever talked. I was quiet – all the time. That’s what I remember most. Silence. No real friends, no dates, no socializing. I had become covert about my stutter so early and had it so practiced, so rote, to remain silent that it had become second nature.

I do remember years later, in adult hood, I had joined a bowling league. I didn’t know anyone there. People would come up to me and say things like, “you don’t talk much, huh?”. Or, “Do you talk?” I remember whispering something about being shy. No one attempted any more small talk with me. I was pretty much alone for the first year that I bowled there (or tried to bowl, anyway; my captain did talk to me – he yelled when I missed an easy shot, which was a lot).

I do think my years of staying silent, and covert, has shaped who I am today. I felt like I was living in a prison, with shame and guilt hanging as curtains over the windows. Not only couldn’t get out of that prison for so long, I also couldn’t see out the windows. I was trapped, and the only way out was for me to move the curtains aside and step through. It was a little more dramatic then that. Something helped me along the way. Those who know me know that getting fired from my job of 20 years (due to stuttering) certainly was the wake-up call I needed, and was looking for. That became one of the moments you hear people talk about, or read on the inside of a Hallmark card: That ordeal was really a blessing in disguise.

I have become a different person. Still struggling with demons, which I will occasionally write about here. (I think my willingness to write about childhood demons will be of use not just to me, but hopefully will inspire others to also confront the past and finally lay it to rest.) These days, I am much more willing to come out and stay out of the covert prison I stayed in for so long.

Writing is one of my strengths. It helps me give voice to the things I had once feared and kept hidden. The real “aha” moment will come when I can put them both together and write and talk comfortably about who I was, who I am, and who I want to be.

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