Within the last year, I had this weird period of fluency. It wasn’t complete, but I was significantly more fluent than I had been in my entire life. I secretly attributed it to my new-found confidence and my personal acceptance of my stutter. How easy! All I had to do was accept the stutter and away it went. Another part of me also felt ashamed going to the Stuttering NSA Chapter meetings and I felt like I was “pretending” to understand. Which was bizarre, because that wasn’t true at all. I still suffer from most of the issues I’ve always had: confidence, anxiety, shame. But I felt fake.
After a social hour with some of them, I confessed this guilt to one of the other members. He shrugged. “A couple years ago, my stutter pretty much went away too. But it came back. It just goes through seasons sometimes. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect you.”
As much as I try so hard to be “ACCEPTANCE ORIENTATED,” I’ll admit that my stomach dropped a little. It came back. Mine will probably come back, I thought in the moment. I’m not stutter-free. This won’t last. I told myself that was fine and that I could face it.
The stutter… it did. It’s back. Not all the time, but I’m about back to normal (my normal, anyway): Stuttering on the phone, stuttering when I order food. It’s nearly gone when I meet with my Chapter group, but drops back in before work the next day. As I’m writing this and processing my own emotions about it, I realize my fear was never the stutter coming back. My fear was that all my self-confidence would disappear with my fluency. Even more, I was terrified of becoming invisible again.
Katherine Preston does a much better job at describing this in her book Out With It, when she says the following:
He [the SLP] reassured them that I would grow out of “it,” that “it” would go away on its own. My stutter was just another milestone on the road of childhood development. A temporary thing. He had statistics on his side. Three out of four kids would prove him right. However, I was not growing out of it. More important, I was losing confidence at an alarming rate. Every day I was sliding further into myself and moving further away from my previously carefree personality. Every day my speech was drifting further away from the fluent voice in my head. It was a protection thing: I needed to become introverted to face the difficulty of my new reality.
In the last year, I have begun to find my voice. I’ve gone through a lot of emotional issues, but I have found myself with a louder and more direct demeanor. I am still shy and still get pretty anxious in groups or meeting people, but I *want* to do those things now. I want to overcome my fears.
For a moment, I did backslide. But it was not because of my stutter. My insecurities lifted their head again, eager to find a weak point. It worked… for a moment. But I’m back again, and I’m going to stand tall. Without expecting the anxiety to disappear, without expecting the fear to go away, I still refuse to hide from those things. I will face them – stuttering or not stuttering on any particular day – and I will embrace who I am. It won’t be perfect… and I’m sure I’ll find myself in tears again… but my stutter can be loved and embraced – and so can I also be loved and embraced.