For most of my life, I cared what other people thought about the way I talk. The disjointed words and the ugly facial grimaces that came with or without the words from my mouth.
I knew I was different than everyone else. Rather, how I talked was different than everyone else. Was the way it made me feel different than how everyone else felt? My difference made for an isolating and lonely existence.
I don’t know how, when, why, or where my perspective changed but it did, and it disrupted every social interaction afterwards.
I say it perhaps too often and I’ll lead with it here—my struggle with stuttering turned out to be no different than anything anyone else faces. My approach to life presumes that everyone I come in contact with has experienced some kind adversity in their lives akin to what I have lived through and face daily, yet we may never know nothing about their struggle. Eventually, everyone hears and sees mine.
When I was trapped within the endless wonder of how to escape stuttering, it was impossible to become aware of such a perspective. I didn’t believe anyone else could know what I went through just to make it to the next day. The struggle to speak. The constancy of my thoughts. The burdening exhaustion. The fear induced paralysis.
How could anyone else possibly understand not being able to say what you want when and how you want?
The problem was…they could.
The truth I carry with me wherever I go: Everyone has dealt or is dealing with something that we know nothing about.
The moment I realized this I never looked back.
Each and every one of us has our own something. This something made us. It shaped our identity. It gave us character. It can be haunting, self-limiting, and, at times, push us to the brink. It is the arbiter in everything that we do, often tipping the scales against us. It is not fleeting nor temporary, distinctive or comparative, neither subjective nor objective. And, no one knows the weight of our individual something better than we do ourselves. How could they, right?
Yet, most argue that our somethings have made us different from one another, and we’re told to celebrate them because they are what make us unique.
I wrestled with this belief for over twenty years. While we live our own lives with ourselves on the inside, the world goes about its business without an awareness of our suffering. I wanted everyone to know or acknowledge my struggle, even commend my resilience. I apologized for my stutter. I cowered behind the shame. I used stuttering to opt out of my life. How could I have celebrated from that state of despair?
In the lived experience of stuttering, we who stutter stand watch for when others point out our differences. This watchfulness and hypervigilance keeps us fixated on negative feedback that almost never occurs. Standing watch, it turned out, only perpetuated my stuttering affliction and sucked the life out of me. Years later, surrendering watch was one of the most impactful choices I have ever made.
What did I do instead?
I learned to see the somethings. To find and illuminate them as quickly as possible. I used my own something, stuttering, and what the years of hypervigilance gave me, superhuman awareness, to connect with others.
It seemed like I just started doing it. But, in reality, it accompanied my acceptance of stuttering.
What does this look like in action?
Wherever I maybe, I automatically see through the differences to find a similarity with which to connect.The somethings now scream out to me like the sun in a clear sky.
How did this become a default behavior and the opposite of my lifeless hypervigilance?
Forgiveness relieved my ever-reactive radar of duty clearing the way to use words instead of emotions to find common ground. It was impossible to expect everyone to know that what I was doing was stuttering and that nothing was wrong.
Self-confidence came with acceptance. Openly stuttering whenever possible wore away its novelty to yield a confident voice that others could hear and see. When others can sense your confidence, their more likely to be welcoming of your something.
Social skills helped foster connection. Stuttering conditioned a social anxiety that only made my stutter isolate me from those I sought to befriend. Being social is not innate and is a skill that all must learn, but it also does not require one to become an extrovert. It took me ten years to learn adequate conversational and interpersonal skills. And I’m still learning…
Awareness of bitterness and resentment that you carry into the present from the past. Feelings of hurt, shame, and failure accumulate and compound hidden behind the wall that you constructed in your mind to help you cope with their existence. The wall prevents your something from breaking through to find the intersections. I spent a full year writing mine out by hand and seeing how it influenced my actions. Without these, the possibilities are endless.
Ask questions to get beyond the surface. This, coupled with social skills, has been the key to unlocking
I get it—all easier said than done. It was incredibly hard. However, I’m fortunate for having lived at least ten years on both sides of affliction to see that this fallacy of differences only strengthens the “uniquely experienced” narrative as a self-limiting opposition.
This where I am now. I am refining my perspective on this as I write. In stuttering, I strongly oppose the belief that no two people who stutter are all that different. What worked for you is unique to your experience and I must follow my own course. Malarkey. I wallowed in speech therapy for 15 years. I was angry, and even harbored resentment because no one could help alleviate my severe stutter since no one stuttered like me. And yet, I found my way to stand face-to-face with this pre-conceived fallacy to learn the life propelling antidote of seeking somethings.
Only through seeking similarities did I heal and build community.
Only by defining differences did mine become disruptive and create tension.
So, seek the something in everyone and your difference will no longer impede your life.
4 comments on “Seeking Similarity”
Wise and beautiful thoughts and words.
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