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I guess you’d say it’s ironic. I make a living helping brands find their voice online, all the while running from the sound of my own. It’s the only part of my stutter I don’t identify with. The only part that never felt like me. So I kept running.

When I was forcibly entered into my college’s speech therapy program, I didn’t fight them on much. When you’re offered up as the sacrificial lamb, acting like a sheep seems all too natural. Polite, even. But there was one instance where I did make a sound. It was when my therapist dropped that tape recorder on the table. Clunky and archaic, it shook not only the table, but my insides. The only thing more painful than the act of stuttering, is having to listen to yourself doing it. Because the machine erases you from the equation. All you hear is the defect.

I had fought my entire youth and adulthood to be Lisa. Just Lisa. She wanted to strip that way in just one session. Screw her.

We made a deal. I’d allow her to record me, but I’d never be asked to listen to the tape. No negotiation. No guilt trips.

“But it will help”, she lied. “Trust me.” She wasn’t even close to having a clue.

What people don’t understand is that I don’t hear my stutter. I may feel the blocks, the repetitions, the tightness, but the message in my head is clear. Most stutterers are fluent when they sing or when they talk without an audience (aka to themselves). That’s the voice that exists in my head. It’s the one I recognize and the one in my dreams. If I were to hear the tape, I’d hear it. I’d hear me. She could go back to her life and catch the latest soap. But I’d be forever changed. I’d now be a Person Who Stutters (PWS). I wasn’t ready for that.

I’ve run from that label my entire life. And the people around me have enabled me to do so. Growing up, my stutter had been treated as a non-issue. My parents never spoke of it, teachers didn’t allow extra time, and I wasn’t carted off to speech therapy. When others don’t allow you to make excuses, it removes your instinct to make them for yourself. It allowed me to believe that I was like everyone else. It was empowering, but also limiting. Not being able to identify my stutter, also meant not being able to reconcile who I was..

If I listened to the tape, I’d be forced to do both.

On the tape I’d hear my voice. I’d hear what others hear every time I open my mouth. I’d become an outside observer to my own disfluency, experiencing the breaks, the blocks and the burden the way that others did. I’ve seen the faces of strangers. The ones that looked not only uncomfortable, but pained. I’ve seen them look down, avoid eye contact, bite their lip. Anything to not have to watch. I didn’t want to see myself the way I knew they saw me. There’s accepting what’s different about you, and then there’s inviting your abuser over for tea.

The college had already forced me to view myself as different, placing me in this program and later requiring that I enroll as “disabled”. They were trying to do it again in this room and I wouldn’t let them.

But you can’t run forever.

Last month fate knew I was ready and brought a new friend into my life. Her name is Pam and, like me, she’s a unicorn – an adult female stutterer. She’s part of a local group who meet monthly. She challenged me to come along. Without realizing it, she put the tape recorder back on the table.

Fight or flight? Fuck it, fight.

In my 28 years, I’d never met anther unicorn face to face. Suddenly, I was surrounded by them. In talking to the unicorns, I heard myself. I saw my stutter inside theirs. I saw their broken voice, the tics, the involuntary movements. And it became okay. It became a sound and an identity I no longer had to run from. If I could accept the sound of their voices, I could accept the sound of mine. If they were okay, then so was I. Even the parts that are hard to hear.

Meeting the unicorns showed me that I am one. I’m a Person Who Stutters. And I don’t have to run anymore.

5 Responses to “Meeting the Unicorns…and myself”

  1. Kim M.

    Awww, BFF! This reminds me so much of the conversation we had after seeing "The King’s Speech" last week. Fantastic movie, and an even better Q&A session afterward. LOL You were really blessed that your family never treated your stutter as some fatal flaw. So you’re a PWS. Big freakin’ deal. I can only imagine how being asked to label yourself ‘disabled’ in college must have bothered you. Sure, I occasionally have to remind myself to let you finish your thought before I jump in, but whatevs. You’re OK. All you unicorns are OK. ♥

  2. Pam

    Hell yeah! Wow. That was beautiful. I rather liked being called a unicorn. You shoud be proud of how far you have come in a short (gulp – maybe pushed a little by a unicorn stalker).It is very difficult to accept ourselves when we perceive that it is a negative "label". But unicorn is not – it is unique and special. And when you allow and accept others to be your mirror, it does make it easier. You are a gifted, talented, beautiful woman who is already touching the world. And soon, your voice will teach even more and more people to listen – with their whole being, not just ears, but with their heart and soul. Becasue that’s the affect us unicorns have on others – they can’t help but listen. They have to – WE HAVE A VOICE!

  3. Burt Albrecht

    This is again a vivid description of a feeling we stutterers probably all are faced with, and which indeed therapist seem to powerfully ignore. I wonder why they are so ignorant, or cruel.In this respect, I always think that the rise of the internet world is doubled edged for us: on the one hand, it allows us to express ourselves more openly and "speak" on line with that fluent inner voice of ours which you describe so well. On the other hand, this creates an online version of us which is fluent, and it makes it even harder for us to confront it with our stuttering self in the physical world. A modern paradox. Pam does a lot for helping us all to resolve that internal tension of ours.On another topic, if women who stutter are unicorns, I wonder what kind of animal males who stutter are.

  4. Steve Marchant

    Again, another well written piece. I am so glad that you came away form the get together last month with a positive feeling, and a feeling that you don’t need to run anymore. Unicorns are pretty cool. Hope to see you at our future get togethers.

  5. Esther Miller

    Thank you for expressing so well what it sounds like and feels like to be a woman who stutters. Those of us in various helping professions are taught certain formulaic responses to a variety of conditions. For so long, our clients/patients did not speak out and let us know how we came across. With time, maturity, and experience, most of us move past the formulas and learn to treat the whole person. Many of us also strive to be aware of the effect of our treatment. But we don’t always get it right. We desperately need the kind of feedback you have just provided. If the therapist or counselor someone is seeing is not willing to listen, it may be time to find another professional.


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