Make Room For The Stuttering

Posts Tagged ‘stuttering shame

Episode 76 features Andrea Montes, who hails from Seattle, Washington. Andrea works in Redmond as a massage therapist. She always loved getting massages when she was younger, and became good at giving massages because she knew what she liked.

Andrea decided to become a massage therapist, both because of her love for it and because she thought she wouldn’t have to talk much. Not surprisingly, she learned otherwise!

Andrea only “came out” about her stuttering 7 or 8 months ago. She was covert, and worked hard at hiding stuttering at work, for fear of being judged or fired. She was terrified of being found out as a stutterer.

She talks about how it took so much energy to hide, that when she left work and returned to her safety zone, she was almost inaudible. Her blocks were severe after being near perfectly fluent at work.

Listen in as we also talk about quality of life, getting rid of the “fluency dream”, self esteem and anxiety. Andrea also talks about her experience with the McGuire Program, and how it helped her “come out of hiding.”

Andrea shares that she is still dealing with the shame of stuttering, which prompts a segment about how we manage shame and other people’s reactions. Andrea gets really honest about her fear of her “big blocks.”

I loved getting to know Andrea, and loved her gut honesty. Feel free to leave comments or ask questions, or just let Andrea know how great she did in sharing her story.

Credit for the music used in this episode goes to ccMixter.

Earlier this week, I visited some classes and met teachers and students that I will be working with in my new position of Adult Literacy Program Manager.

My goal is to introduce myself personally to all of the teachers I will work with, and to as many of their students as possible. I think this is the best way to navigate my way through a new position that includes programming I am not familiar with yet!

I visited one of the adult high school equivalency classes. I introduced myself, and personally shared a little about who I am and what my goal is with my new position. That is important to me, since this is adult education. Adults should know who I am and what I will be responsible for, so when they see me walking around or pop into a classroom, they won’t be wondering, “Who’s she?”

It is also important for me to be humble and acknowledge right from the start that adult education is new for me. My learning curve includes honesty and asking for guidance and for people to be upfront with me.

People seem to really appreciate that, and are more willing to reciprocate when I ask them to introduce themself to me and tell a little about why they are taking this particular class at this particular time in their life.

Adults have many different reasons for taking literacy classes. For some, it’s not easy to tell their tales. I had thought that it must be hard to “tell their tells” to a total stranger. It would be for me!

But it has not been an issue so far. Every student I have engaged with has been honest and told me stark details, in front of their classmates and teacher. It was evident to me that the teacher in this particular class did not know all of the details shared on this day.

One woman, in her late 40’s, acknowledged that she is ashamed that she never finished high school and doesn’t want to live with shame anymore. She said it embarrassed her to admit this to her classmates, all of whom were male and considerably younger. Not one batted an eyelash. It is what it is. It may have been their story too.

Another young man shared that he dropped out of school only 3 months before the end of his senior year, because he knew he wouldn’t graduate. He went to school only to leave school. He was bored and unchallenged and didn’t see any value in what high school was teaching him.

He is in this class now because he knows he can’t go any farther without a diploma and he is sick of his life being a dead-end.

I responded to some of what he shared, and got caught in a good stuttering block, followed quickly by lots of repetitions. It seemed a good time to share about my stuttering. I mentioned that I stutter (like I just had!) and that I am OK with it, and hoped they were too. I also mentioned that, like the woman, for different reasons, I used to feel shame and embarrassed to acknowledge that I stutter.

From there, I matter-of-factly moved on and asked the last student to introduce himself. Since he was last, he shared that since everyone else had been so honest, he was going to be as well. He shared a quick story of drugs, wrong crowds, bad decisions, loss and finally “seeing the light.” Everyone nodded and made eye contact, and you could tell everyone understood everyone’s stories as partially “their own.”

This last man further offered, “And you know what else? I stutter too! Not as bad as I used too, but every once in a while you can still hear it. And my mother stutters too. Sometimes her stuttering was so bad it was almost laughable. Not in a mean way, but she stutters really bad, you know. But she doesn’t let it “tense her” as much as it used to.”

He added, “me either. When I stutter sometimes now, I don’t let it “tense me” like it used to. It’s good to talk about it once in a while.”

I was kind of blown away by all that had been shared in 35 minutes. I told the class that and thanked them for their honesty, and smiled and wished them a good day before leaving. And as I left the classroom and looked back through the window, I saw the class turn their attention back to the math “brain squeeze” on the white board.

As I drove home, I processed all I had learned and shared that day. And wondered if that man would have shared that he, and his mother, stuttered if I had not shared it about myself.

Have you ever worn shoes that don’t fit right? So tight, it hurts to walk? Or even to stand still? I’ve bought shoes sometimes that are too tight, hoping either they would loosen or my feet would shrink.

Especially leather shoes. I’ve hoped that the leather would soften with wear and conform to my foot. I have stubbornly endured foot pain for days. And blisters. Sometimes it worked. The shoe did soften up and became comfortable. Other times, I realized I wasted my money.

What about shoes that are too big? Have you ever fell in love with a certain pair that didn’t come in your size and you bought the next size up? I have, thinking I could  wear fluffier socks or even two pair.

I remember one time wearing shoes that were so wide, I feared falling out of them. And I did! One of the shoes FELL OFF as I climbed stairs!

So what do you do when shoes don’t fit? You don’t wear them! You get rid of them, ideally passing them on to someone who can use them.

But sometimes that’s hard to do. Even when we should get rid of something that doesn’t fit or we don’t even wear anymore, it’s hard to give up what we know.

I remember years ago when a brand of shoes called “Docksiders” was all the rage. I just had to have a pair. They were leather boat shoes, flat, like moccasins. They had sturdy hard cords as laces. I wore those shoes to death. They became scuffed and the cords broke. I couldn’t find the exact replacement laces, so I tied the broken cord together and still wore them!

I outgrew those shoes, but had a hard time getting rid of them. I kept them in my closet for years, finally parting with them when packing up to move.

I had a conversation with my mentor the other day. I was complaining about how dizzying my life seemed lately. I lost a job that I loved, had a serious bike accident, had to move suddenly due to flooding, and had a temporary job that also ended abruptly. All in the course of 4 months.

I was moaning (crying) about how all of this was way too much to handle and it wasn’t fair. When would I catch a break?

He just looked at me very calmly and said, “Pam, stop. This doesn’t fit you anymore. You know better than most how to navigate changes in life. You’re an expert at it. It doesn’t fit you anymore to bemoan change.”

He stopped me dead in my tracks. Of course he was right. Whining and complaining does nothing to change any of the “drama” that has gone on in my life. I can’t hold on to the old ways of reacting and panicking. That’s not me any more.

Like shoes that don’t fit, we have to get rid of strategies that don’t work or we outgrow. My mentor calmly said, “That’s it. I give you permission to stop carrying all this and just let it go. Can you give your self permission?”

I thought about this long and hard. I want to gently acknowledge all of these things going on in my life and let them go. But it is so hard. I still find myself fighting it, as tough as that is to admit.

When something doesn’t fit, we need to get rid of it and make room for newer things that fit better.

Like stuttering, loss, change and pain – we have to take control, not let “things” control us.

What do you think? Do you still have a pair of old shoes in your closet (like me) that you can’t part with? Why is it so hard?

Sometimes I wonder if I am the only one who experiences this, but I know this cannot be true. Everyone must, from time to time. Here’s what I mean. Sometimes, I feel emotionally paralyzed by a situation and find myself unable to say what I want to say.

And it has nothing to do with my stuttering. It’s all emotional. There are times when I know what I want to say, or should say, but something between my head, heart and gut freezes and nothing comes out. I find myself emotionally inarticulate.

A really good example of this happened recently, and is in fact, still ongoing.

My father is seriously ill and hospitalized. Last week, he had several large brain tumors removed. I chose not to go and see him, before or after the surgery, despite the risk that he might not survive.

This was not an easy decision for me, as I felt pressured by two of my siblings to join them and “sit vigil” during the surgery. I did not want to. To me, it felt fake.

I have been virtually estranged from my father for years, and we have not talked beyond the once or twice obligatory holiday greetings over the last several years.

I suppose both of us share the blame for this estrangement. I cannot get past feeling let down by my father time after time, and feeling (but not expressing) so angry. And since he re-built a family, he has taken no real initiative to take any interest in my life as an adult.

Maybe it’s time to leave the past in the past, but for some reason, I find myself unable to. And I cannot even articulate why.

I feel two of my siblings were being judgemental and criticizing me for not sitting vigil with them. I found it hard to even let them know how I felt. Both of them asked me the question, “How are you going to feel if he dies? Aren’t you going to regret that you didn’t see him one last time before that happens?’

There are things that I wish I could say to my sisters. Like, “don’t judge me. We all have different ways of dealing with things.”

And there are things I wish I could say to my father, but I know I can’t without feeling extremely vulnerable and getting too emotionally upset. I have always felt he was ashamed of me, stemming back from when I first began stuttering.

If I had the courage, I would want to ask him if he has ever been proud of me, and loved me for who I am, and not what he wished I was.

But I can’t seem to do that. Around these most vulnerable and painful matters, I remain emotionally inarticulate.


Episode 67 features Georgia Stephens, who hails from Minneapolis, Minnesota. Georgia had a career as a choreographer, writer and dance performer for about 30 years.

She is currently enrolled in the Master’s degree program at St Mary’s University, studying Counseling Psychology.

Georgia is interested in perhaps using dance to help people who stutter, and hopes to combine traditional talk therapy with dance therapy.

Georgia shares how she came to experience that most people think that we can only communicate using words. She realized that is not true, that we can also communicate through dance and movement.

Listen in to a fascinating conversation about dance and movement, covert stuttering, blocking, and the energy we use when trying not to stutter. We also discuss beating ourselves up, shame, disclosure, and support.

The podcast safe music used in this clip is credited to ccMixter. Please be sure to leave comments for Georgia or just let her know what a great job she did! Feedback is a gift!

Episode 62 features Cynthia Scace who hails from Greenfield, Massachusetts. Cyn has been a caseworker for an elder and disabled services agency for 25 years.

Cynthia shares her entry into the stuttering community, when her then 3-year-old son showed signs of stuttering. A life-long stutterer, her first reaction was panic and fear. She wished her child could have any other disability but stuttering.

Cynthia researched and found the virtual support group, Stutt-L. She became actively involved, made new friends and learned new perspectives. A year later, in 1997, she attended her first NSA conference.

This episode packs a punch. We talk about Cynthia’s journey of finding peace for herself and her son, who is now 17 years old.

Listen in as we discuss childhood stuttering, negative therapy experiences, shame and acceptance, NSA and FRIENDS.  Stuttering is now a positive part of Cynthia’s identity. Cynthia is very open as she relates how people have reacted to her struggled stuttering, bringing up stuttering, passive intervention and covert stuttering.

To my delight, Cynthia also shares how she began a NSA chapter with local people, including the late Marty Jezer, who wrote the wonderful book, Stuttering: A Life Bound Up In Words. Jezer’s book was the first I ever read about stuttering. I have loaned it out several times and always make sure I get it back!

Credit for the podcast safe music used in this episode goes to Dano Songs.

I invite you to leave comments. Feedback is a gift!

Here are summaries from some workshops presented at this year’s National Stuttering Association annual conference recently held in Texas!

I am also gratified to have reached a milestone. This is my 400th post since starting this blog in February 2009!

There were so many workshops to choose from at the same time. It’s almost unfair to have to choose. So I asked fellow attendees to summarize some of the best workshops they attended. Helps me, helps you, helps all.

You Are Changed By What You Do: “Shame-Busting” Through Avoidance Reduction Therapy. This was the most powerful workshop for me, led by Vivian Sisskin. She and several people that participate in her therapy groups led us through how to reduce shame by learning to face our fears and re-define success and progress. I listened to Vivian speak last year and became fascinated with her approach to avoidance reduction.

Shame was always my biggest issue, and learning even to identify that is hugely empowering. I have read several books on shame reduction and shame resilience over the last year as well, that has helped me move toward more acceptance of my feelings and emotions.

My friend Brandon shares his take away points from two workshops that resonated with him.

Release Fear, presented by Zaheen Nanji and NSA Career All-Stars, presented by Beth Bienvenu, Jim McClure, Tracey Wallace, Gregg Benedikt, and John Moore.

Brandon writes, “As I find myself looking for a new career opportunity I realized that the work place is my final frontier. From experience in working outside my comfort zone, I know what needs to be done but wanted to hear it from others that are doing it. The Release Fear workshop turned the abstract concept of “facing what you fear to create change” into a logical evaluation to expose the cost of making or not making the change.  This workshop helped me to see that some discomfort now while facing challenging speaking situations will lead to a more open and balanced life in the future.”

He goes on to share, “Do you remember growing up thinking, “Damn, am I the only one that stutters?”  Then you find an organization like the NSA and know you are not alone.  Witnessing a person stuttering in the workplace is like a Bigfoot sighting for me. It is exciting and a bit scary depending on how far away I am from it.

I still feel I have one foot stuck in the mud with regard to the workplace, so I was excited to hear from the NSA Career Stars.  Hearing first hand from these successful people that stutter in the work environment took away a lot of the mystery I had built up around it.

I loved the slogan “Participation is the Price of Admission”.  A few years back I realized that in order to be more at ease with stuttering I would need to take it to the street.  Originally I was misled to think I could practice in hiding then put the show on for all to see.  I realized I was just going to have to be ME!

One of the biggest changes I had to make was to start using the world as my practice.  Hearing it again from one of the speakers pinpointing the workplace really hit home for me.  The phrase “Participation is the Price of Admission” has many meanings for me.  Regarding stuttering, it reinforces that I need to work my speech agenda step by step, speaking up and sharing my ideas and concerns, and interacting, all for the admission to a better more fulfilling life.”

Brandon – thanks so much for sharing these thoughts and how helpful these presentations were for you!

My friend Anna shares her thoughts on some workshops she attended. Anna was a first time attendee to the conference and also presented at the Toastmasters workshop! I have so much material here that I will include her two other summaries in my next post.

Laughter Yoga – The Fun Part of Everyday presented by Judith Newman.

Anna writes: “When was last time you really laughed? Not smiled, chuckled or giggled, but laughed, openly, heartily, loudly, without inhibitions? If you can’t remember, you should check out laughter yoga classes. As Judith explained, laughter is very beneficial to our body and our brain – so we should do it often. You can do it alone and your body won’t know the difference between a “fake” laugh and the real thing.

But it is easier to burst into open laughter in a group, under the guidance of a laughter Yoga leader. For 45 minutes we did silly exercises and laughed so hard, my insides started to hurt. Regarding  stuttering, it is not a therapy. But laughing with all your might, while looking a stranger in the eye, is definitely something that I don’t do in my everyday life.  To me it was very liberating.  To my non-PWS husband – a bit too weird.”

Thanks Anna for taking the time to share these thoughts.

In my next post, I will have two more summaries from Anna, on Dr. Baker’s Speech – Treatment Innovations and Journey of Hope presented by Robert Baker Ph.D. and Going Beyond Stammering with Confidence presented by Maria McGrath (who has been a guest on this podcast).

And I will have a summary from Alex on his powerful thoughts on the keynote by Neal Jeffrey.

I also have a few live videos from the conference that I will post, once I have secured permission from those recorded. Feel free to leave comments, so that the folks who took the time to write these up, and me, know that you found it helpful.

I went alone to see the movie The Kings Speech, wanting to experience it by myself. I had read reviews about the movie, and knew the story, but felt I needed to feel my feelings without worrying about how someone sitting next to me might react if I got emotional.

I sat in the back, eager to see this movie everyone in the stuttering community has been talking about. I sipped hot tea and had extra napkins for when tears might fall.

I did not expect the strong emotional reaction I had. From the opening scene, my heart pounded and my eyes welled up. When Colin Firth (playing the prince who would be king) stepped up to the microphone to speak publicly, I recognized the look on his face. The actor captured it perfectly – the panic, fear, shame and embarrassment, all etched on his face before he even opened his mouth.

And when he did open his mouth, nothing came out at first. Then, a faltering, struggled syllable, which seemed to reverberate through the stadium, and then, silence. The silences were deafening and as the camera panned the faces in the crowd, I saw pained looks, averted eyes, and then the look of shame on the soon-to-be-king’s face intensified.

This movie brilliantly portrays what it “feels like” to stutter. It shows that stuttering  is so much more than what does (or doesn’t) come out of our mouths. It is those feelings that we almost never talk about that the movie poignantly illustrates.

I was transfixed right away. I won’t mention specific lines and scenes, because if you are reading this and haven’t seen the movie yet, I don’t want to be a spoiler. But I will share what I felt, physically and emotionally, as I watched.

My heart was pounding and my eyes overflowed several times. I wiped tears away that streamed down my face, unabashedly. Why was I so moved? Because the portrayal of stuttering, and the reactions of those around this man who stuttered, stirred so many of my own memories and emotions. I was reminded of what I felt as a helpless child, a child who felt like I had disappointed my parents. I was reminded of how defective I felt and how I tried for so long to hide my stuttering.

I had a knot in my stomach, as I recognized how much people who stutter have in common, irregardless of whether we are royalty or common. The people close to the King reacted to his stuttering, making me appreciate that audience members were seeing that stuttering doesn’t just affect the person who stutters, but also includes siblings, parents and spouses.

I laughed at the parts that were funny. I cheered when he put his fears aside and spoke anyway. I empathized when he broke down privately with his wife and shared feelings of failure and inadequacy, which is hard to put into words. I have felt those feelings too.

Truthfully, I was deeply moved by the whole film. It was told with grace, dignity, and was funny at times, just like life. The stuttering was not demeaning or comic. It was done in such a way that you couldn’t help but “feel something” as you watched.

People in the audience applauded at the end. I so wanted to know WHY? What did they think? Why were they moved? They don’t stutter. What did it mean to them?

I hope to find out. My friend Steve (who is a SLP and stutters) and I are going to do a workshop next month at our community library. We are calling it “An Un-Royal Talk About Stuttering”. We will provide resources on self-help, support, and therapy. Hopefully, we will also dispel some myths and help people feel comfortable talking about stuttering.

It is up to us, people who stutter, to raise awareness and educate others. We can’t just stand by, assuming that someone else is speaking up. Because they might be too afraid or embarassed. This movie may remove some of the stigma and silence.

If you haven’t seen the movie yet, GO. You will be moved, I guarantee it.

This article I wrote was published  in today’s print edition of the Albany, NY Times Union  1/1/2011 .

I have written about  friends who stutter here before. I have many friends whose names begin with J, so if you are reading this and think its you, you’re probably right!

J and I hung out the other night. It’s good to spend time with friends who stutter. We can let our guard down, stutter freely and sometimes, offer candid feedback to each other about stuttering moments. Not always a good idea with non-stuttering friends.

I went to his place and we talked for a while before leaving to see a play. We weren’t sure where to park when we got there, so I called and asked for directions. No problem making the call and stuttering a bit during the brief conversation. I stutter more on the phone, like many of us who stutter.

J then decided he wanted to make sure the play was not going to be too “somber and depressing” for a Thursday night, (he wanted to be entertained) so he called them back. He said he would “practice his speech on the phone”, as that is when he stutters the most too.

As soon as he started talking, he started to tense up, lean forward and block. Immediately, he stood, turned his back to me and walked away as he tried to push the first word out and then move into conversation. This really surprised me. He has never reacted like this, at least around me.

Of course, I have not seen him make many calls. When he calls me on the phone, I can’t see him, only hear, and he is very comfortable with me. I rarely hear him stutter over the phone.

When he finished his call, I mentioned this. I offered that it looked like he did not want me to see his struggle. He said he always does that on the phone. He tenses, leans forward and blocks and that he needs to stand and walk to help him move through the block.

I quietly wondered aloud if he was also uncomfortable with having me actually “see” this struggle.  I asked him if he was ashamed of that, and he simply said “maybe”. 

We talked about it a little more a couple of days later, and he said it’s not really shame. He said that when he gets in a block, he can’t think. He is so focused on the block that he can’t think. He says anyone around him is a distraction, and that I was a distraction, that’s why he had to move, so he could think.

His blocks are silent blocks, that over the phone I am not going to hear. There is no audible stuttering. Watching him initiate a phone call really allowed me to see the physical tension he has.

It was good that we talked about it. I suggested that if he allows himself to struggle in front of people he trusts, he can desensitize himself when it really happens making calls at work. And I further offered that he is not always going to be able to move away from distractions, and that maybe he needs to think of a way to work with this.

I remember when we recently  listened to one of my podcast episodes together. When he heard me stutter on a “p” sound, which I always do,  I felt embarrassed having him hear it. I commented  “I hate when I do that.” He said it doesn’t bother him and asked, “Why are you so hard on yourself?” I simply said, “I don’t know.”

Yes, it’s always good to talk about our stuttering with someone else who stutters.

Episode 24 features Mady, a student at Cal State University Northridge, in Los Angeles, California. I got to know Mady at the 2009 NSA Conference in Scottsdale, AZ. We have since become face book buddies.

Mady is studying psychology and wishes to combine research of stuttering and anxiety in her eventual doctoral program. Mady is also a wonderful writer and enjoys photography.

Listen in as we discuss Mady’s “seasons of stuttering” and how she dealt with denial and covert behaviors. She shares feelings about being secretly conflicted and broken about stuttering, and how she found a good therapist who helped her make sense of those feelings.

Mady also freely shares how she built a “fort of shame” – which she describes as hating something so much that you try to protect yourself against it. She describes how it started to corrode her.

Musical credit for the podcast safe clip “Scott Waves to April’s Salty Grace” goes to ccMixter.

As always, your feedback is encouraged and welcome. Let us know what you thought.

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