Every day seems to matter more than the day before it. What I mean by this is that you can’t change the past. You bring the past with you wherever you go, but it’s part of the present now. Your past only matters because it’s forming who you are today.
People pretend all the time like their past doesn’t affect their present. They repress and ignore things that happened in early childhood, a few years ago, or even last week. Yet it comes back to visit. It lives underneath your skin. It breathes even when you pretend that it isn’t breathing.
Last week, I posted that article, “When a Poke Feels Like a Punch.” I wrote that by telling an amusing story that didn’t hurt me very much. In the last week, however, I’ve had a couple moments where others’ pokes have felt like a big giant punch in the gut. One I responded to carefully. One I did not. I panicked and the anger overtook me so much that I swung my arms like a child waking up from a bad dream. I’ll reflect on the real “bruise” of one of these moments.
Growing up, my mom was extremely affirming about my voice. She allowed to “make valid arguments” (ones my Grandmother said was just me talking back) in order to make my point. My mom let me be heard at home. However… most people did not. Another family member (trying to not name names, since who knows who will read this) took care of my brother and me all the time. She enforced a very strict policy about how much I was allowed to talk. I was a chatty cathy with a fumbling, stuttering voice. Frequently, I was encouraged to not speak until I could “slow down” and “control my voice” which really meant I had to be fluent. I was taught by her that my voice was not allowed unless I could “control” it. But I couldn’t. I could slow down, I could try my techniques, but fluency didn’t happen.
It wasn’t just this family member. It was also at school. What I’m about to say can be interpreted different ways, and I do not have a suggestion for a better way this can be done. I understand its necessity. I also need to point out that it hurt my development as a speaker. I was frequently encouraged to not have to speak in front of the class. I was constantly given the “out” so often that I started to believe people did not want to hear my stuttering voice. I understand, as an adult, what was going on. But being the isolated child at school who was told every single presentation that I did not have to do it if I was uncomfortable was strange and confusing. What’s tough here is that I do believe children who stutter should be allowed to opt out if they get so much anxiety that they cannot do it. I also believe that they should be greatly encouraged to do it, “stutter and all”. I am not an SLP and have not studied it, so I’m not an expert. Who knows.
Either way, my voice being challenged makes me feel incredibly insecure. My voice being silenced has felt like a theme in my life: I desired for awhile to become a pastor, but “knew” that women “weren’t allowed” to be pastors. I used to stand on the “stage” at church where my pastor stood and pretend that it was me giving a sermon. But my theology at the time was influenced by the idea that women had to be silent. Why would God make my innate self so LOUD if I was a stuttering woman in church? On top of all that, I was also a victim of a sexual assault by someone I was close to, and frequently felt silenced when I wanted to share what had happened. It’s also the way people frequently make teenagers feel. There are few things as dehumanizing as having your voice taken away from you.
This is true for most disabilities in the US. It isn’t just true for stuttering. People often speak “for” or “on behalf” of another, and sometimes this is necessary, but is it always? How do we decide when to speak if for our whole lives, we have thought it would be better to be silent?
Recently, I was at dinner with my friends and the topic of my stutter came up. One of them complimented my blog and everyone tuned in. It’s incredible because I was unable to have these conversations a year ago. Another girl asked me if I had kids – would they have a higher chance of stuttering? Yes, they would. I mentioned I have a friend whose son stutters, and I know of other parent/child stutterers. She replied, “Wow, that sucks.”
I understand what happened here. It is a struggle to stutter. It’s exhausting and frustrating, and it has clearly affected my self-esteem is terrible ways growing up. However, my reaction to this comment was amusement. “Not really. I mean how great is it to have that connection? You have a parent who ‘gets it’ and can pave the pathway for the kid… providing that the parent has made peace with it.”
I’m still amazed at how far one can come in just a year.
It’s up to those of us who stutter to change the path we are on. It’s up to us to determine that our voices matter – not in spite of our stutter… and not even because of our stutter. I think people will listen. I think most people want to hear our voices. But no matter what the truth of that statement is: Our voices matter — stutter and all.