|About the author: Paul Goldstein, originally from Worcester, Massachusetts, and now residing in the Bergen area of Norway, has been actively involved with the stuttering community for more than 30 years. He has been a member of various Massachusetts chapters of the National Stuttering Association (NSA), and of Norsk Interesseforening for Stamme (NIFS, the Norwegian national stuttering association); and has attended many conventions and conferences of stuttering organizations, both nationally and internationally.His educational background includes a master’s program in speech-language pathology (Emerson College), a degree in music and mathematics (Clark University), and a doctoral program in music composition (University of Chicago). He is a pianist and composer, with 17 works on YouTube. Currently he works in social services in Norway.
This is his fourth appearance at the Online Conferences. Previous submissions were published in 2002, 2004, and 2011. Other articles of his can be found on the Stuttering Home Page.
Looking back on more than six decades of meeting life’s challenges without «normal» speech fluency, I recognize certain patterns in how I have viewed my experiences. This has been an adventure, marked by gradual evolution in my personal perspectives, with ups and downs as well as detours. But the direction has zig-zagged upwards. It is like a mountain climb, beginning in eerie twilight, advancing towards a mountaintop bathed in perpetual sunlight.
In numerous aspects of my life’s journey I recognize three distinct phases – an initial profound worry, followed by realization that the worry could be resolved; and culminating in personal pride, that the reasons for my initial worry are no longer roadblocks.
Here are three examples of how that pride has come to be:
By age 20, my speech had worsened to the point that speaking to people was immensely difficult. I blocked often and for long periods of time. It occurred to me then that most people would probably not want to converse with me, or take the time and patience to meet me. I had no close friends to speak of. To obtain friends seemed a daunting task. I often felt lonely, with a worry that this loneliness would probably be perpetual.
A speech pathologist helped at that time to dispel the clouds of that gloominess. Through repeated questions he elicited the reluctant information from me that I had no close friends to speak of. He advised that regardless of how severe my stuttering happened to be, I needed to get out there and meet people, to find people to converse with, and make new friends.
I was greatly skeptical. Was this even possible?
But skepticism aside, I followed his advice, and began meeting as many people as I could on the campus of Clark University where I was then a student.
To my great surprise, I discovered that even with my stuttering, many of my fellow students enjoyed meeting me! Not only that, but I made an even more astounding realization – that people simply DIDN’T CARE whether I stuttered or not. They were interested in what I had to say, not how I was saying it. And believe me, I had a lot to say if people were willing to listen!
A number of the friends who I met during that break-out period are still close friends of mine today, more than 40 years later. Over these past four decades I have made countless friends. A large number are in my old home state of Massachusetts, with many others throughout the world. I value all my friendships highly, and nurture them as I can. Recalling that I was once virtually friendless, I take pride that I now have so many friends that it is difficult to keep in touch with everyone. I consider each friendship to be a jewel whose value is priceless.
During my teenage years and into early adulthood, a specific worry often gnawed at me. Who would ever want to marry someone who stuttered as I did? It was difficult for me to find dates when I was in my 20’s. Occasionally I succeeded, but I perceived my often severe stuttering to be a formidable barrier. Although I found that most women didn’t mind that I stuttered, I certainly did. I especially feared asking women out who I didn’t know well, afraid I would be rejected due to stuttering.
For a while in my early 30’s, I was having increasing speech successes as the result of a fluency shaping program. Gaining in confidence I began placing personal ads, and soon I was enjoying dates with many women. I didn’t mention stuttering in my ads, but always mentioned the disorder in my initial phone call (even if I was speaking fluently as a result of practiced techniques). In this way, I made sure that a potential date always knew about my stuttering in advance, and wouldn’t be surprised if I had speech difficulties during the first date.
Indeed I did often have speech difficulties during my first dates. Nevertheless about half of my first dates led to subsequent dates, regardless of how my speech happened to be. I was beginning to realize that the degree of my speech fluency was nowhere near the concern of others as I imagined it to be.
The question that plagued me in earlier years, about who would ever want to marry me, was gone from my mind. I now realized it had no merit whatsoever.
Regarding my old fear of rejection due to stuttering, it was now being replaced by a new bold positive thought: If someone would reject me for lack of speech fluency, that person was simply not worthy of my time or attention.
In the stuttering support groups I attended, a fascinating question was sometimes posed: If you could start life over again as a fluent person, discarding all events of life up to this point (both positive and negative), would you do it?
Most were firmly against this hypothetical proposal. They insisted that stuttering had brought them special values in life, such as increased empathy for others and valuable lessons in dealing with life challenges.
But I and a few others were just as adamant that we would indeed accept this – to start life over again as a fluent person. I, for one, felt that nothing positive had ever happened to me because of my stuttering. Despite my increasing acceptance of myself as a person who stutters, I still saw nothing positive in my disorder.
This all changed dramatically for me at age 45. In early 2000, a fluent Norwegian woman with a mysterious fascination in the problem of stuttering found me at a stuttering-related website. Very quickly a cyber-relationship developed. Three months after our initial e-mails, Liv flew to the U.S. to meet me. One week later we were engaged. Four months after that I moved to Norway, and we married in Bergen ten days later.
Stuttering had brought to me my life happiness. It had brought me into a new life, in a beautiful country; in a peaceful, accepting, and caring society.
In my new life I take pride not only in my wonderful wife Liv, but in my family of stepchildren and step-grandchildren, and a foster «weekend daughter» with special needs.
Now of course, if I ever encounter the question again about whether I’d start life over as a fluent person, my Norwegian answer stands ready: «Nei takk. Livet er fantastisk!» [«No, thank you. Life is fantastic!»]
During my childhood and early teenage years, it was becoming increasingly obvious that no real help was available for my stuttering. I had tried a variety of approaches without positive effect. An endless parade of school speech therapists treated me from first through sixth grades, and seemed completely flummoxed by my case, without a clue as to what to do with me. I was placed into articulation groups to practice sounds such as /s/ and /r/, but of course articulation wasn’t the problem. I knew exactly how to make the sounds, but my speech mechanism just wasn’t willing to obey.
Between the ages of 4 and 10, I was also treated by staff at a Youth Guidance Center – who seemed to know even less than the school therapists.
For a few years as a teenager, I was treated by a neurologist/psychiatrist who claimed to know how to eliminate stuttering. I saw no evidence of that alleged knowledge. At one point he prescribed a powerful drug, which did nothing for my speech but caused devastating side effects.
The situation appeared hopeless to me. Was I destined for a lifetime of severe speech blockages nearly every time I spoke? What would my life as a grown-up be like? Would I ever be a happily fluent speaker? I was worried about my future even as a child.
I was 17 when I first encountered a therapy that was beneficial. A speech pathologist introduced me to pullouts, and worked with me on reducing avoidance and secondary symptoms. My blockings reduced, and for the first time I began to realize that not all was hopeless.
Later, following the advice of another speech pathologist, I broke out of my self-imposed shell – and began to experience the World Wide Web of people two decades before it came online. At age 21 I enjoyed sustained fluent speaking for the first time, while working through an experimental fluency shaping program. Though the tremendous successes disappeared some months later, as mysteriously as they had suddenly arisen, I now realized that fluency was within the grasp of possibility.
Within the next few years, I tried two other fluency shaping programs. Unfortunately successes were limited, and positive effects were gone within a matter of months.
For the remainder of my 20’s, I continued to stutter severely, but enjoyed life all the same. I found that I really enjoyed meeting people and fostering friendships, with stuttering not being of much concern.
I often recalled the wise words of my mother, who told me when I was a teenager and reluctant to enter social situations: «Stuttering is like having a little pimple on your nose. So what?». At the age of 30 I found my greatest success with fluency shaping, through the Hollins Communications Research Institute. Following daily intensive practicing for three months, I reached what I regarded as the ultimate pinnacle of life achievement – fluent speaking in ALL situations! This had never happened before! It was a dream come true! Miracle of Miracles!! Now I’ll be fluent forever!!!…
Yup, the Miracle of Miracles! I remained fluent for four months. Bam! I tumbled from my pinnacle, the first of many relapses following an extended period of consistent fluency.
For the next 15 years I struggled back and forth through numerous fluency refreshers, recapturing the magic each time. And each time I stayed fluent for weeks or months by slogging through an hour of dull intensive practicing each day.
When I couldn’t find a spare hour to slog through intensive practicing, my speech started falling apart. Every extended streak of fluent speaking ended in relapse, sometimes leaving me at a lower point than before the streak began.
I knew now that I could speak fluently if I put in the enormous time and effort required, an important realization.
But after 15 years of riding this fluency-relapse-fluency-relapse seesaw, I decided I had enough. There must be a better way….
…. And sure enough there was.
This was in fact the ULTIMATE realization, leading into pervasive life happiness and new-found pride in having made that discovery.
Until age 46 I had presumed that attaining consistent speech fluency was the key to achieving life satisfaction, happiness, and fulfillment.
After meeting Liv and moving to Norway, I now realized this was not true.
Life happiness does not depend on how consistently fluent one’s speech happens to be. It was a realization that I was late in coming to. People have strengths in different areas, and indeed I have strengths in many areas. But maintaining fluent speech on a consistent basis is just not one of them. For the record, I no longer practice fluency shaping techniques. Yes, I still stutter, sometimes severely. But I no longer have to endure the fluency-relapse-fluency-relapse seesaw effect, and good riddance to that!
I have found love in a beautiful environment, in a wonderful caring society. I’ve worked in social services for the last 15 years, and have been active in making music as a pianist and composer.
Life is good, and I am happy.
And in that I feel the ultimate pride.
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