There is a difference between feeling and being alone. Both are equally hard to endure but knowing the difference was life-changing.
There are 70 million people worldwide who stutter yet growing up I felt like the only one. Stuttering was socially isolating because it denied my use of verbal communication to foster connection with others.
When I was a teenager, I had a brief encounter with the stuttering community at a National Stuttering Association support group meeting. I wasn’t ready yet. I couldn’t get beyond my social anxiety to attend more than one meeting and feel the power of connecting with others that were like me.
Twenty years later, I returned in search of community. When I decided to attend another meeting, I was on the heels of rock bottom. I had been trying to go at it alone but stuttering and all its might was still trying to bury me. One night, I searched for the local “NSA support group meeting” and went the next week.
The NSA was my first step towards getting help. It was this step that changed the trajectory of my relationship with stuttering. At the meeting, I was one of at least ten who stuttered. I felt at home amidst the sound of their stuttering. When I was about to leave, the chapter leader had the courage to hand me a business card for the speech-language pathologist that had changed his life. He apologized for his assuming therapy was what I wanted as I accepted the card, though I admitted that I wasn’t ready for it, yet.
Six months after receiving the card, I sat in the screening interview with the SLP and began group speech therapy. I never had experienced therapy in a group before and was immediately welcomed by the others, as I had been in the NSA meetings. It was refreshing to meet other people who stutter that were just like me. They held me accountable in and outside of the therapy room, and showed me the path forward because they were traveling it themselves.
To see others stuttering away with pride and saying what they wanted without pursuing fluency ran counter to everything I had ever known. It woke me up to what was possible.
The summer after beginning therapy, I attended my first NSA conference in Arizona. It was there where the support and therapy groups came together to change my relationship with stuttering. The energy at the conference from being surrounded by so many powerful stuttering voices solidified my belief that it truly was okay to stutter.
However, there was one moment that taught me the natural fellowship between each person who stutters. I grabbed dinner with a friend from my therapy group after a full day of fun. I had known him only in the therapy room, and had never had a private conversation. At dinner, he immediately opened up about how stuttering had impacted a long-term relationship. He might as well have been telling the story of my life.
Knowing someone shares nearly the same life experience of stuttering gives way to a transparent vulnerability that creates an immediate connection. I made a friend for life in those few minutes. And, that kind of situation has happened many times since and is what is so great about stuttering and its community—it embraces you with an outstretched hand no matter who you are, what you’ve experienced, or how you stutter.
I am no longer alone.
What did I do to know I’ll never be alone again?
- Self-Help Support Groups, like the NSA, Friends, or SAY
- Group Therapy
- Cultivate Community (Support + Therapy groups)
I recently saw a bumper sticker that read, “The only way to get it together is together.” Physically putting myself around other people that were living openly as people who stutter changed my fundamental perspective on stuttering.
My journey within the stuttering community is not unlike many others. I do not believe it would have been possible to come out on the other side of stuttering without being a part of it. However, I will leave you with a challenge that was given to me:
“Why do most people who stutter that find peace with their stuttering leave the community altogether without turning back to helps others just like them?” This question came from a founding member of the community, and lodged itself in the forefront of my mind. Its powerful message still resonates through me as I write five years later.
Service. It’s the part of the stuttering community that makes it a community. Find a way to give back what it gave to you.