by David Friedman

Last year, back in Secaucus, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. At age 33, it was my first experience with the stuttering community. I felt so out of place even though I stuttered all my life. The Friends conference in 2003 put me in a state of shock.

The Friends conference was more of a spiritual and psychological experience for me this time around. Even though I have spent the past year getting involved in the stuttering world, I must admit to still being nervous before the convention this year. So much so, that I was not very sociable during my first event, the baseball game on Thursday evening. On Friday morning, however, there was such a relaxed and positive atmosphere, I was drawn in.

I found myself wanting to be in many places at once. I would have loved to work with the little ones, but then I would have missed the inspiring keynote address and the incredible parent-child forum. I would have loved to have been at the Fishbowl workshop, but the drums were beating and I found myself walking towards the crowd expressing themselves through sound and dance. I would have loved to have gone to the parents workshops, because I wanted to hear about their feelings regarding raising a child who stutters. I wanted to tell them that by just attending the conference, they are helping their child tremendously.

I wanted to help out more, but I just found myself drifting around, not consciously controlling where I was going, kind of letting the day carry me: such a free feeling, floating around soaking in all the energy with all the people who live and breathe the same experience I have lived and breathed for my whole life. Among all of these wonderful workshops, the one that probably had the most profound impact on me was Barry Yeoman s keynote speech. Were those tears rolling down my cheeks? Listening to his speech I was thinking how I wished I had an organization like Friends when I was younger. I feel Friends would have made a huge impact on me as a child.

It is never too late though as I now feel blessed to have found a place that understands. I loved when Barry spoke about his inner voice: “Come out, come out wherever you are.” I wish that I would have been aware enough to hear and act upon those words when I was growing up. Although I did not know it at the time, I was pretending that my stuttering was not bothering me or holding me back.

“Come out come out whenever you are” really hit me hard. Those words make me realize that I had been sleepwalking through parts my life, hiding from my true self. I had been hiding my stuttering -which is not hard to do since I have become more fluent. I was hiding from challenges and felt content being in a safe environment. This, too, is easy to do thanks to modern diversions like the television.

“Come out come out wherever you are” reminded me of a different inner voice that I had been hearing over the past year: “Wake me up inside.” These words come from a song called “Bring Me to Life” by Evanescence and are repeated many times throughout the song. “Wake me up inside” has reverberated within me, wrenching my gut every time I hear it. I was not sure why it was having such an effect on me. What was it telling me?

Hearing Barry talk about his voice, really made things clear for me. This stuttering thing has had more of an effect on my life than I ever imagined and still does.

I now try to view my stutter as a friend that “comes out of hiding” every once in a while. This attitude has many benefits. Thinking of my stuttering as an old buddy keeps those negative feelings away. I also feel like I am a better person, taking more control of my destiny. I do not know where this new “self-awareness” will lead me. Last year after the convention, I did – not know whether I would get involved with the stuttering world. Well as some New Yorkers can attest, I dove in headfirst. I hope I keep on swimming.

Something else Barry said struck me. “It is okay to feel like an outsider.” If I heard that as a teenager, I would have blown it off. He is so right though! I always tried to fit in and wanted to be liked. I was content with just “getting by.” I never spoke in class for fear of ridicule, never “made waves” in class or at home because I did not want to draw attention to my stuttering. A little part of me always felt “different” and I did not like it.

I have learned that it is the difference in all of us that makes life so interesting. “Being an outsider” means being myself. Stuttering is a part of me and should be shared with others. Ironically, I did feel like “an outsider” at the convention, not because I felt unwelcome, but because I am still in awe of the incredible people that I have met and the power that a Friends Convention can have on my life and that of everyone else.

This article is from Reaching Out, February, 2005

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