The Reverence Window: A Practice to Accelerate Change

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Stuttering is not the anxiety, hesitations, and fear to struggle. It is what follows the choice to brave each moment of stuttering. What we who stutter do when the tsunami of reactions hits after we stop stuttering, and how we choose to process them is what strengthens it as a disorder.

These two choices arise right after I start to stutter. They are more important than the decision to enter the moment of stuttering that creates them because of the opportunity they provide. I must navigate the shame, second-guessing, and exhaustion first. But, I cannot waver in the surf. The cognitive, emotional, and physiological reactions start while I’m stuttering and last either a few seconds until I speak again, or, in many cases, years if I never fully processed the moments.

If we don’t recognize this window of opportunity, we risk further reinforcing the traumatic impact that prevents us from making real change. Granted, I am looking back on my journey seeking to figure out why I was lucky enough to peer through the window, and act on it. But, what follows helped me, and one who stutters can adapt the practice to their own experience.

There are at least five basic parts to a moment of stuttering:

1. The request to speak,

2. The moment of stuttering,

3. Its end,

4. Processing how it went,

5. The anticipation of the next.

We who stutter know the first three and the fifth part well. Processing, or simply how we internally judge each moment of stuttering, is where the window of opportunity stands open. For me, for too long, stuttering was always just traumatic and I denied myself the opportunity to accurately judge my moments. (I know, I know we shouldn’t be judging each and every stutter, but we have to if we want to illuminate what happens when we do instead of defaulting to our established negative self-stigma.)

What did I do?

I started by writing down what happened and what I felt during each moment of stuttering. This might seem silly but I didn’t know. My eyes closed, vocal folds slammed shut, thoughts swirled, limbs flailed, face contorted, and my head jerked–all of the mechanics of stuttering that I had denied were happening. What surprised me most, though, was how often my nervous system shut everything down, and I would awaken as the tsunami hit.

Little deaths, as legendary American speech-language pathologist Charles Van Riper aptly named this phenomenon, had darkened and closed my window. Psychologists call this dissociation, which occurs when we are extremely overwhelmed by the events of a moment and, quite literally, our nervous systems separates us from it to ensure our survival. While extreme, it happened to me more than I’d like to admit. I could not hear, see, or recall what happened when I stuttered, but becoming aware of this disconnection was critical. When I awoke, the only story available to tell myself was how I failed and what my audience probably thought about my stutter. I lived in my imagination instead of reality.

Between dissociation and disciplined reflection was where I discovered the window of opportunity. Recognizing and feeling this cognitive, emotional, and physiological impact was how I turned the corner towards change.

The more I reflected the more I could stay present to tell the true story of each moment of stuttering. Naturally, stuttering was bad, traumatic, exhausting, ugly, judgment-provoking, funny (for others), shameful, and an insurmountable impediment. Why would anyone want to stay awake through all of that? Fair enough, though I had been living up to a narrative of having to endure the tsunami at all costs, which had left me dead inside.

What was missing?

The window–I hadn’t yet used the power of storytelling.

It may seem simple yet by taking the time to stand and pat myself on the back for what I was finally doing, stuttering, and not doing, avoiding or hiding from it. And, staying fully present through it all.

But, what exactly did I do?

After each moment of stuttering, I’d write out by hand what happened and how it felt, and repeat to myself:

“Wow, that was hard but I’m okay.”

“I really just did that.”

“No one laughed.”

“They heard what I said.”

I did this for several years before it became second nature. The physical act of giving myself this round of applause time and again added up to real change. The affirmations replaced the drawn-out recovery I used to process through to withstand the tsunami. Self-respect grew where trauma had once handicapped every effort to take my life back from stuttering.

This is why i call it the reverence window practice. To change, I had to stand and clap for every single moment of stuttering, regardless of how it went. I had to recognize that I was doing things stuttering-wise that I had never done before and never thought possible. And, most importantly, I acknowledged that I was finally learning what happened when I did stutter and how it felt, which was life-changing.

To Change, I had to stand and clap for every single moment of stuttering, regardless of how it went.

The way I stutter remains the same, but I’ve shed most of the traumatic impact in favor of this awe practice. It is important that I continue to appreciate each moment of stuttering.

The window always stands open–stand and clap.

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