We live our lives wanting to complete a narrative. We want to tell a story of what we’ve struggled with, what we’ve reconciled with, what we’ve accomplished, and what we’ve learned. The feeling at the end of that development arc feels right, accomplished, and complete. Like turning the page in a new book and starting a new chapter, we are ready for a fresh challenge and a new experience. But what happens when after the chapter ends, the same one just begins again?
My stuttering journey has been a long, profound, and impactful one on the person I am today. For the first 28 years of my life I was controlled by this limitation that I put on myself, that I couldn’t do things I wanted to do. Every day life brought potential moments of being outed or embarrassed and I lived my life in the pockets of comfort available, a respite from potential dangers, and as I eventually realized, from myself.
The last year and a half have been incredible as I’ve found a community of people that understand my pain. The National Stuttering Association embraced me and attending the national conference was life changing . I found my #westUTTER family and found a confidence in myself I didn’t know existed. I began taking control of my life, talking about my stutter to friends and family, and even talked about it in a standup bit. Friends and family told me how proud they were of me, of how far I’d come, of the courage I had, and the willingness to share my story.
It felt exhilarating to finally face my fear and come to terms with it. I no longer was owned by my speech, but took control of my life. I felt ready for more. I knew I was ready.
It was in the quiet moments when the chapter had ended that I found myself most unexpectedly back at the start of the journey. Moments that I thought were behind me sprang back up and slapped me with a hand that felt so known and so familiar it almost was nostalgic. Having a bad stuttering day led to the same avoidance behavior and thoughts I had sworn away. The pit in my throat that I thought was forever gone returned, and I began to doubt myself and my body. Opportunities I would have jumped at in the last year were ignored for those pockets of comfort I had known.
The suffering felt no different than the pain in years past. If that were true, then what was the point of my journey? Did it mean anything? Were my accomplishments for nothing?
I realized I was trapped in the story of how things should be, and my failure came from just that, the story. I was so preoccupied with the feeling of comfort, acceptance, and sharing that I began to believe my own narrative that this was truly just the words of a chapter in my life, ready to be forgotten and fondly looked back upon.
In my many moments reflecting on this, I’ve realized my stutter is not the words of a chapter, but makes up the paper it is written on. Far from saying my stuttering defines me, I’m coming to understand it is apart of me, one of many things that influence who I am, but it is not my story or a thing with a neat ending. It is an every day attribute that is sometimes good, sometimes worse, sometimes okay, sometimes frustrating and all times what makes me, me.
Feeling that familiar feeling from the past is no failure. It may make some pages of my book light and fun, while others are heavy and sad, but the words in every chapter are up to me, and only me.