Never Too Late: Bouncing Back From Defeat – Matt Dorn

About the Author:

My name is Matthew Dorn, but I prefer to be called Matt. I am 30 years old, male, and I am a person who stutters. I live in Pennsylvania, in a small city called Telford. I come from a large family of 6, and I am the only one who stutters. I’ve been stuttering since I could talk and like many my stuttering has gone through periods where it was better at times, and worse at others. I’ve gone through many avenues to work on my speech, but none have been the “cure.” I realize now there is no cure, just management and acceptance. I am currently on the journey towards full acceptance and discovering who I am. Currently, I work as a package handler at an Amazon distribution center. I also belong to the NSA Philadelphia chapter.

I’d like to tell you a story about how it’s never too late to find support. I grew up in a household with four brothers and two sisters, and I am the only one who stutters. I am also the youngest in my family. This instantly made me a target for bullying, for getting treated differently because of my stutter. Living in that household, I never felt like I had a voice or value. My childhood had good times, but they weren’t often with my family. I do cherish some family memories. Those younger years growing up were the hardest. I had ADHD as a kid. I was very loud, but my voice was hardly ever heard. When it was, I was either mocked or avoided.

I recall instances where my family would be playing board games and I wanted to join in, but I wasn’t allowed. Any moment I started speaking, one of two things would happen: my family would either mimic my stuttering and call me hurtful names or they would just tell me to shut up and leave the room. I always came back to annoy them because when you said no to me, it just made me want to do it more.

All this mocking and avoidance affected me greatly. When I went to school, the kids would make fun of my stuttering too. At school I was mocked and at home I was mocked. My mom and sisters were the only ones who never did. That role went to my brothers and occasionally my dad, but my sisters also didn’t come to my aid. They said nothing. Doing nothing was almost as harmful. I felt like nobody cared except my mom. She would tell them to stop but she was often outnumbered and felt helpless.

When I was into my teens, the in-laws also started making fun of me. I remember one specific instance where we were all sitting at the dinner table. I was telling a joke and I got in a bad block before the punchline. I can’t remember what my brother-in-law said but it was hurtful. I remember my face was red, looking down in shame, and tearfully expressing “He’s making fun of my stutter.” My family was silent. Nobody came to my aid. I ran out of the room, crying. In the other room, my mom came to console me. I didn’t show my face for the rest of the night. These incidents were re-occurring and as a result, I closed down and used covert strategies when I did have to speak. I had been in denial and didn’t want to face my stuttering. I never wanted to address it and I never talked about it. 

Eventually, I realized I couldn’t be in denial. I heard about the Hollins Communications Research Institute. At this point, I was desperate and just wanted an out, so I took it. The night before the course, I was up all night just watching speech testimonials from other clients. “That’s going to be me in 2 weeks,” I thought. I didn’t know what to expect. The first day there changed how I looked at stuttering from that point forward. The instructor for the course was very strict with her instructions on that first day. You learn what are called “Targets” which are speech skills. Very vividly, she said “While you are here, you will always be on target. You can NEVER go off target.” I, being a perfectionist, took this advice to heart, perhaps too much. Success occurred through conditioning. Stuttering was treated as bad and wrong. I was successful in my completion of the course and by the end of those 2 weeks, I had fluency. I could speak. I could express myself and it all felt great…for a time.

My first week home from that program was the hardest week. I had gone from that environment of learning my skills, back to familiar territory. Old speech habits and the triggers for those habits were taking hold. I remember being home, in my room, feeling those old triggers. I can only describe it as this: A demon hovering over my shoulders, consuming me, swallowing me into the darkness. I’ve never felt more scared in my life. It felt like a constant fight to use my new speech skills and avoid the old ones. The demon was the metaphor for the old habits. Eventually, I adjusted, and the demon’s grip was less over time. I got better at using my speech skills, of staying on target, of having conversations and it felt fantastic! If there were moments where I had an off-target day, I would spend the next day practicing harder for a few hours. It was how I bounced back from those days. I did this quite often because I knew I could. I knew I could bounce back. I knew this until one day I couldn’t and from there, it was a gradual regression into the demon’s grip.

Time passed and I had lost my speech skills. Gone completely back to my old ways and my family didn’t have a clue. To them, I could always appear to be fine but, deep down, I was hurting. I remember staying up until 4 AM watching videos of people who stutter who were able to overcome it. I watched several TED talks on people who found success with a stutter and I was comparing my life to theirs. I concluded their life was better than mine and I cried myself to sleep. I did this for many nights. I think my mom could see something was wrong, but she never said anything.

Eight months was how long I maintained my speech skills. When I’d gone back to my old habits completely, I still attempted to practice the skills. I don’t know why. I guess I thought I could still bounce back. Around this time, my parents had been planning a vacation to South Carolina with my brother and his family. I thought maybe a vacation could be good for me to clear my head. So, I went along on this venture, but I may as well have stayed home. I wasn’t very sociable, and I didn’t participate in the games my brother was playing. We stayed at a condo and I just locked myself up in my room, trying to practice my speech skills. It was harder being away from home, feeling so alone. The 3rd day into this trip, I lost all control and had reached my breaking point. All the practice wasn’t working, and I just cried uncontrollably in my room. I cried and I couldn’t take it anymore. I couldn’t stand to feel this way. The demon had won, and I felt defeated. I called my brother, Chris, who stayed home for this trip and I broke down. I was vulnerable to him. Crying, I told him everything I was feeling, and these are things from me he’d never heard before. I told him I felt like my life was over, that I’m a failure, that I’ll never be able to beat this thing, to change the course of my life.

For the first time, my brother actually listened to me and he knew how I felt. He’s been through his own path of darkness and I felt like he really could relate. What he said to me during this long phone call helped me realize he’s in my corner for support. He said “Matthew, you are a fighter. I know you can beat this because you have been through so much and no matter what life throws at you, you always come back. You come back because you know you can. You are one of the strongest people I know, and you were actually the inspiration for me beating my darkness. I’m here for you, brother.” He offered to come take me home, but I stuck it out. I decided to wait until I got home to tell them all the truth.

When I got home from our trip, I sat down at my computer and I wrote a very long letter to all my family. This letter contained everything. Everything I’d been feeling, been hiding, been thinking. This letter was the most raw and emotional I’d ever been. I did not hold back. I explained, very specifically, how it feels to be a person who stutters and the challenges that I face. I explained the ways that I would hide my stutter as well as the iceberg effect. I explained, in detail, my time at Hollins and that period of regression I went through after. I said everything that was in my heart and it felt so good to do so. I sent the letter via e-mail to everybody and awaited their response.

What came next was unbelievable. My family responded in different ways to this letter, but everything was overwhelmingly positive. First was my brother, Ryan, who said “Matthew, it takes a lot of courage to be vulnerable like you did and I had no idea you were suffering so much. I am so sorry that I couldn’t be there during that time, but I am so proud of you, proud to be your brother, and if you ever want to talk, I’m here. I love you, brother!” Then came my sister, Shari, who called me and said “Matthew, I just read your letter and I was in tears. I am so sorry you never felt like you had support growing up. It couldn’t have been easy but it’s never too late. I’m here now and I will help you in any way I can. You don’t have to do this alone.” My other brothers responded in similar fashion via text to a group text Shari sent out. She said “Guys, Matthew needs our help, and we weren’t there for him growing up, but we’re going to be there for him now. We are all so proud of you.”

The next response is perhaps my most memorable one of all. My sister, Tara, did not call, did not text. Tara drove over to my house personally. I was in my room and I could hear her talking to my mom in the kitchen. I opened the door and I saw her standing there. No speech required. She stood there in tears and gave me a long, heartfelt hug. We spoke afterwards and had a long conversation. I could feel her sadness, her regret, her tears, and I knew she was deeply sorry for not being there for me, for not coming to my aid. Tara was the one sibling in my family who I could never really connect to or to feel close with. In that moment though, I felt closer to her than I’ve ever been. From letting it all out, I feel closer to everyone in my family. I felt like I finally had a support system after 26 years battling alone.

It didn’t take long for that support system to spring into action. At family gatherings we were talking about stuttering. It was no longer the elephant in the room. They were listening to me. I had value. Sometime later, I took another speech course. My family practiced with me every day. I had them on a practice schedule. I regressed just like Hollins. I didn’t feel like a failure because my family was there to pick me back up. They are still there for me to this day and we are closer than we have ever been. My family was the first of my ever-expanding support system.

For 26 years of my life, I thought it was too late to find that support. I thought the demon had beaten me. I hope my story shows proof that it’s never too late to find that support, to start your journey. It’s never too late to bounce back from defeat! I did and you can too!

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Never Too Late: Bouncing Back From Defeat – Matt Dorn — 23 Comments

  1. Matthew this was an incredible piece so thank you so much for sharing. I can’t imagine having a family who created additional barriers and caused so much pain for your stuttering on top of the experiences people who stutter face externally as well.

    How is your relationship with your family? Also, what was going through your mind when you finally wrote the letter and why do you think it took you so long to write that letter?

    Any advice for others who are struggling to get the confidence to write that letter now?

    • Thank you so much, Kunal! I’m glad you liked my story. All good questions you have asked.

      1. Since getting my family on board with my stuttering, our relationships have gotten much stronger. I receive hugs from my siblings every time I see them now and I didn’t before. It was almost as if I needed to earn the hugs. There are some of my siblings who I am closer with than others just because of what we have in common. My brother, Ryan, for example. Me and Ryan are very close as we are similar in a lot of ways. We like a lot of the same things, we both play video games. We both have a similar style of speaking (minus the stuttering). Even for my siblings who I have less in common with, since I brought my stuttering into their lives, that is one thing we can always talk about. They ask me about my speech a lot in a supportive way and offer to help if I need it. Me being vulnerable like I did in the letter I think allowed them to really see me for the first time. I feel as a PWS we can often feel invisible to others because we don’t know how or want to let them in if you know what I mean. The letter made me visible to them for the first time in my life.

      2. What Was Going Through My Mind When I Wrote the Letter? A lot. A lot of emotions from depression, sadness, frustration, anger and envy. I was literally at the lowest point in my life when I decided to write the letter. The letter for me was almost like my last resort. It was my last shot. If the letter didn’t work, I don’t know what I would have done or where I’d be in my life right now. It’s a hard thing to think about. Thankfully, I don’t have to because the letter did work. As for why it took so long to write it? As I said it was a last resort. I reached my breaking point and needed a way forward. I figured if my family won’t listen and take me seriously when I’m verbally speaking, then they’ll probably respond to a letter. I had hoped anyway. The letter itself took 3 hours to write all in one sitting. I reread it several times to make sure I was conveying emotions in written form which is not easy to do. The emotions clearly got across because my sisters were in tears when they read it.

      3. Advice For Those Struggling to Write a Letter Like This Now? It doesn’t have to be a letter. I just chose a letter because speaking wasn’t working. With a letter I can say exactly what I want to say and how I want to say it. No worry of speech blocks or other stuttering moments. Plus, I couldn’t quite find the words to speak what was in my heart and needed to see it written down first. I would say if anybody is feeling stuck and wants support from those closest to you, a letter is a good way to go about it. It shows people that what you deal with is a serious issue and a letter takes time too. People will know you spent time on it. I had a real good attention grabbing sentence at the beginning of mine so that probably helped. If nothing else has been working, like you tried to talk about it and nobody will listen, write a letter. In my experience when people see a letter of any kind, they take it seriously. There’s no harm in doing so because even if people respond negatively to it (hopefully they won’t), it’s still helpful to write the letter just for yourself because it’s therapeutic to get your thoughts out of your head and on paper. Write multiple letters if you must. Who knows? May be able to turn it into a book some day. I hope I answered your questions.

      • Thank you for this Matt. Would you feel comfortable posting this letter?

        I know it would resonate with so many people if you chose to do so as I can tell how heartfelt it was and how authentic you were.

        Appreciate you sharing this story

        • Unfortunately, I no longer have the letter. This was 5 years ago when I wrote it and I kept all that sort of stuff on my old PC. I moved everything to a few PC’s over the years. I can’t recall what I did with the letter. I even checked my email and there’s no sign of it. I don’t know if I would have posted it though. There was some really personal content within it, thing’s I’d only share with family. It doesn’t matter now though because the letter did its job.

          • I understand Matt. If you ever feel comfortable sharing the highlights, do let me know as I (and others) would be very inspired by hearing you share what those feelings were

  2. Matthew, I can’t even begin to tell you what a great story yours is.
    I can certainly relate to being a PWS and being the youngest in my family but I’m so sorry that you had to endure so much bullying/abuse as a child.
    I am, however, thrilled to see that you’ve overcame so much and even had your family come around.
    I can’t imagine what you’ve had to deal with within your own family but huge kudos to you for being strong and courageous enough to not only share your story but show that, like you said, it’s never too late.
    If you do make this into a book some day, I’d be one of the first to read it!

    • Thank you so much, Ryan! That’s quite a compliment that you believe my story could be turned into a book. It’s something I thought about before and maybe someday I’ll do it. Until that day comes though, I feel my story is still being written. It’s true my family came around and I overcame that barrier in my life, but there are still several others yet to be overcome. I imagine those other barriers could be a story as well. Only time will tell. Thanks for your kind words 🙂

  3. Matt, Your story is very powerful and it stirs a lot of feelings in me. I am happy that you found the courage to speak up, advocate for yourself and find a path towards accepting your stutter. I am glad your family listened and they are now your best supporters. But I am mad at what you had to go through to get there. We tend to think that our families are our best supporters all the time but your story shows that even one’s own family can be oblivious to our internal struggle and that they can be the cause of our distress. What someone views as harmless fun or kid’s play can do a lot of damage to the recipient. It’s easy to make fun of a person who stutters. Everybody does it, don’t they? Movies do it, comedians do it. It’s normal, so why wouldn’t people around us do it too? And we hide our feelings so well that no one notices. Is that why witnesses don’t react when they see you being made fun of? I know it is not easy to step up to intervene and defend a person in trouble, but I still wonder.

    Thank you for sharing your story with us. You are a true example of this year’s conference theme:

  4. Hi Matt,

    Your story was so emotional and I really felt your struggle. I admire you courage to reach out to your family and express your feelings. You said that in the negative home environment was when your speech would revert to old habits, do you notice any specific environments at this current time in your life that impact your speech? Do you find that having the courage to talk to your family about your struggles helped you branch out to others, either asking for or providing support? You mentioned that our stutter was no longer the “elephant in the room”, is this a topic you now enjoy to talk about? Thank you for sharing your story!

    • Thank you, Claudia. I’m glad to hear you were able to feel the struggle. I was worried in written form I wouldn’t be able to show how tough it was then because it was hard being surrounded by others but feeling alone. Reaching out to my family with my feelings was incredibly difficult. They were the last ones I’d expected to respond in such a positive way. To answer you question about my speech in specific environments? Yes. At work is where I notice it being bad and moreso because of being in COVID. At home it’s relatively the same with the same kind of struggles and blocks. At work though is where stuttering is more frequent.

      To answer your second question about branching out to others: I definitely find that opening up to family allowed me to have that freedom to reach out to others and talk about my experience. In my opinion, family needed to be first. I couldn’t turn to anybody else because I felt too shameful to do so. I felt shameful towards family too so it was a big risk on my part reaching out when I did. I didn’t know how they would respond considering they never cared or showed support growing up. Once I had family on board, then I turned to friends and now friends are on board. Strangers still presents a challenge but I’ve opened up to a few strangers already and talked about stuttering and it felt great! Just need the courage to do that more. Stuttering is no longer the elephant in the room. We do talk about it. I let them know what’s been going on with me with my support groups I belong too and they praise me for all I’ve done. I love when they ask me how things are with my speech. I do enjoy talking about stuttering. If it weren’t for how annoyingly frustrating stuttering is, it really is a fascinating subject.

  5. Hi Matt, your story was so inspirational. I can not even begin to imagine the hurt you must have felt not being supported by your family until later in life. Did you have any peers that you were able to talk with about how you were feeling? Also how old were you when/if you saw an SLP for the first time. In other words were you formally diagnosed at a certain age? Your story is amazing and I think it would make for a great book or documentary to raise awareness around people who stutter. This story has definitely touched me and I am so thankful that you have shared this!

    • Hi Eligee,

      Those are such kind words of praise. Thank you so much! I’m glad you enjoyed my story. You are the 5th person now to say my story would be great for a book someday. Perhaps further in my journey, I’ll look back and consider the idea. I do like to write. As for your questions, I didn’t have any peers I could talk to. Even if I did I didn’t want to talk about my struggle with stuttering. It was too embarrassing and shameful to do so. The very first time I saw an SLP was in school. I can’t remember how old I was but I was definitely young. I remember sitting with the SLP, talking, and I wasn’t stuttering. Everywhere else I would stutter but with the SLP, I did very little stuttering. The SLP diagnosed me as mild. My mom was very confused because I was far from mild. It wasn’t severe either but far from mild. It was the weirdest thing but that’s how it was with the SLP. Maybe I didn’t feel pressure with the SLP? I really don’t know. Needless to say, there was no reason to keep seeing her because she never got to see my “real stuttering.” I’m seeing an SLP today and have been for 3 years and she gets to see my real stuttering.

  6. Hi Matt,

    What a great contribution to this year’s conference. Thank you for sharing such a personal part of your identity. You have reached out and found support and very likely you are leading a much happier life.

    Why did you decide to share your story at this year’s ISAD online conference? What gave you the courage to be so open with us?


    • Hi Pam! Thank you for reading and accepting my submission. Glad you enjoyed it. Good questions you have asked. So to answer your question, I didn’t know about the ISAD online conference. Didn’t know the conference existed. I knew about the ISAD day but not always either. I didn’t know there was an international day for stuttering until about 2 years ago. When I found out, I did nothing that first year. I guess then I wasn’t ready. The following year, I did something to raise awareness on that day, but only that day. Only this year did I find out there was an ISAD conference, thanks to a conversation I had with Tiffani Kittilstved, who I met at the NSA virtual lounge. We became friends after that and she informed me there was an ISAD conference. So, that’s why I decided at this years because it was the first year I knew about it.

      As for what gave me the courage: Everybody struggling or feeling like they have no support. I wanted to reach those who feel that way as I once did and show them it’s not too late to build support even from those you wouldn’t expect. Considering the treatment I got, I didn’t expect anything from my family. You just need to give people a chance and they’ll surprise you and that’s what I did.

  7. Hi Matt,

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I can’t imagine how difficult it had to have been to grow up feeling unsupported and mocked by your immediate and extended family. I was deeply touched by your story, both your struggles and the immense courage it took to write the letter to your family and to continue to share your story with others today. I am not a PWS but I have also experienced my own battles that I hid completely from my family and friends. It took me coming to my breaking point as well to open up to my family about what I had been going through and what I was feeling. I can relate to how scary that felt because I was not sure how they would react and the relief that was felt when they responded with great support. Your story is an inspiration to others to seek and gather courage to reach out to other people in our lives, be it family or friends, for support and to share with them our thoughts, feelings, and experiences. I hope that I can be a support and advocate for others in my life who are going through their battles. Since I am not a PWS, what is your advice for supporting a PWS, whether they have shared their struggles with me or not?

    Thank you again for sharing your story!

  8. Thank you so much, Ansley! That really means a lot that you being a non PWS found strength and inspiration from my story. I’m happy to hear it :). Everybody faces battles and sometimes all you need to do is lend an ear. Show them you are there. That would be my advice for supporting a PWS. Lend an ear and listen. Listen most of all. All we want from others is the space and chance to be heard. We all have voices and each one matters no matter who we are. You are doing so much support by just allowing the PWS time to speak without interruption or word guessing. Even better to go the extra mile: If you see a PWS being treated with disrespect, stand up for them. Show them you are an ally and someone who cares who will have their back. I hope this advice is helpful.

  9. Hi Matt – thank you so much for sharing your story. This highlights how important family interaction and support really is. As mom to a 24-year old who stutters, I can just imagine how helpless and scared your mom must have felt. I am so glad you wrote that letter and your family responded with lots of love. I am an advocate for parents with kids who stutter and I believe that the best intervention is working with the parents and family to focus on acceptance, love, and self-esteem. I hope you are able to take the time to read my contribution to this conference – “The 3 C’s” and maybe have your mom take a look too. Please know that you have more than one mom in the world who is very proud of you!!

    • Oh my gosh, Dori…Thank you so much for saying this. This means so much to me to have another mother see the value and importance of being there for someone who stutters. Yes, I did read your contribution and left a comment. You highlighted so well the helplessness of not being able to do anything while the child struggles. That’s exactly how my mom felt towards me when I was growing up. She wanted to help but didn’t know how. All she could do was stand aside while the mockery ensued. Even as I got older she felt helpless. I recall one time she said to me “I don’t want any of my children to suffer.” and she started crying. It made me tear up too because I didn’t want her to feel that way. Today in the present, she is very proud of me and proud of my involvement in the stuttering community. All my family are as I am no longer doing anything alone. It couldn’t have turned out any other way. Everything happens for a reason.

  10. Hey there, Matt! Reading your story brought tears to my eyes, and touched me very much. I appreciate you sharing how you felt your whole life, and how that affected you. So often people are fearful of sharing how they really feel, but this story should be proof for others that there is light at the end of the tunnel! I am currently a graduate student in school to be a Speech Language Pathologist. If I could spread one message to others with respect to when/how to reach out to someone who stutters who you suspect might be suffering, what would that be? I would never want to overstep and pull someone out of their comfort zone if they’re not ready to talk about it, but sometimes I feel it is helpful to have someone reach out if they feel another person is struggling. Thanks for your time and braveness in sharing your story.

    • Awww…Allie, that is so nice of you to say. Thank you :)! It brought tears to my eyes writing it thinking back on such moments, both the good and the bad. There is always light at the end of the tunnel. My experience makes me a believer in that. I’m really glad you enjoyed my story and good luck on becoming an SLP. By doing so, you are making a difference. As for the message I would spread to someone struggling and when to reach out? First off, due to the iceberg effect, you’ll never really know how one is truly feeling unless they are ready to just come out and say it. That’s what I had to do to get my family on my side of support. There is no set time though. People who stutter just want to be heard, to be included, to be valued. As long as you make an effort to ask about things they’re doing in their life, you’re already showing them that you take an interest in who they are as a human being. Keep doing this all the time, become their friend, and when they feel ready, they will open up to you. It also helps to share something vulnerable about yourself that you struggle with so you can relate to them. Really, it’s just about being human. Don’t be afraid to show your feelings, and in return, the PWS won’t feel afraid to show theirs. Hope this advice helps.

  11. Hello Matt! I appreciate your courage to share your story with such transparency. Thank you for your message that it is never too late to find support and bounce back. I believe your words will have a great impact on peoples lives! It was also beautiful to read that your relationships with family members have been restored!
    I saw in a previous comment that you have been attending speech therapy for the past few years. What role has your recent experience with speech therapy played in your adult life? Is there anything in particular that has been especially beneficial for you?

    Thank you again for your words; they are so valuable! Best wishes to you in your future endeavors!

  12. Matt,
    your story was truly inspiring. Thank you for sharing your message and what you went through. I loved hearing your relationships have been restored with your family members. It was interesting to learn about the target you used when you first took the speech course. Again thank you for sharing this inspiring story.

  13. Hello Linsie!

    Thank you for reading my story and for appreciating the transparency and vulnerability I showed. I’m glad in written form you could feel the emotions because I felt them writing it too. I hope my words have an impact because it really is never too late. Where ever people are right now, that is their chance to turn it all around. Not tomorrow, not next week. Right now!

    Great question about the speech therapy. Yes, I have been seeing an SLP for 3 years now and there is certainly a role she plays. It’s interesting because her role gradually changed over time. We started off just focusing on fluency strategies, mainly with her calling the shots for our therapy direction. Over time, as she got to know me, we focused more on just making observations. Not correcting speech but just observing moments of speech. Then, eventually we reached a point of just talking. During that time, she didn’t correct my speech or point out errors. We just sat and talked about difficulties because we both realized mental health is just as important as working on one’s speech. So, for awhile her role was as a psychotherapist just talking things out and working on CBT strategies. Fast-forward to where we are now and my speech is way better then when I first started. I feel more comfortable telling my SLP things now. We start every session just checking in with my mental health and having a brief conversation about anything. Most importantly, I’m calling the shots now. My therapist can see how far I’ve come and what I’m capable of, and now our therapy direction is based on where I want to take it. She is in full support of this and is there as a valuable mentor and guide on whatever decisions I make. So, yeah, our relationship and the roles have evolved over time.