Did I Stutter? No Seriously, Did I?

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Facebook is a crazy thing, isn’t it? I’m not sure you could convince me that it alone hasn’t utterly transformed our society. It seems that even the folks who used to say, “You’ll never find me on Facebook!” are toting several hundred “friends” and posting weekly statuses about their job, family, favorite sports teams, political ideals, etc. Books have been written dissecting the impact the social media giant has had on us, politicians have started to use it as a primary communications tool, and families have turned to it as the best way to stay in touch with distant relatives. It’s hard to remember exactly what life was like before selfies and hashtags.

I am not convinced of the good or evil of Facebook, though I have plenty of friends who argue passionately for both views. I am, however, extremely interested to see how the way we connect with each other has changed partly due to Facebook’s existence. I just started reading a book about vulnerability–an underrated and highly avoided thing in my own life. The author of the book I am reading makes it clear that without vulnerability we can’t have authentic human connection. That scares me.

Hide & Seek

The truth is that I am hiding. I am hiding pieces of myself that don’t support the “Ben” I want you to see. All it takes is one look at my Facebook page to see that I only let you see what I want you to see. In some ways that’s probably a good thing. You don’t need to see all my garbage. I’m not so sure that is what it means to be vulnerable. I do think, however, that being vulnerable means showing up in a way that doesn’t hide who I really am. Of course my hiding didn’t start with Facebook. It has been going on since I was a kid.

As early as Elementary School I can remember being ashamed of my stutter. It probably didn’t help that other kids ruthlessly pointed it out as something hilarious. It didn’t take me long to realize that it wasn’t fun to be made fun of. So, I started trying to “control” my stutter. Anyone reading this who has a stutter can probably relate to this shame inducing practice. Even as an adult I often rate my public speaking on how much or little I stuttered. If I say a sermon went great, it probably means I managed to hide all stuttering as ‘deep thinking’ or simply didn’t stutter at all. It often has little to do with the content of my message.

I share this with a lot of discomfort. It’s uncomfortable because as much as I hated getting made fun of in school, I equally hate the pitty that often comes with the attempt to comfort me by saying “I didn’t even notice your stutter.” and “It really isn’t that bad. You have nothing to be ashamed of.” Honestly it’s like nails on a chalk board, because it forces me to be vulnerable enough to admit that my stuttering bothers me. It feels uncomfortable because I put down my guard of being “wise”, “smart”, “Put Together” and I risk being made to feel quite small and deeply inferior to all the non-stuttering Good Samaritans trying to comfort me. This is just the tip of the iceberg which is why the previously mentioned need for vulnerability scares the hell out of me.

Being Seen

Perfectly assembling the “Ben” I want you to see often means that you are not seeing the real Ben. I assume this is why human connection is impossible without being willing to risk enough to be seen. Being seen means that you are opening yourself up to criticism, which is hard enough when it is applied to the “masks” we wear, but it is truly terrifying when we risk it happening within the depths of our being. It doesn’t really hurt that much (though it might hurt my feelings a little) to hear someone say that my blogs suck. But it still feels like a needle in the eye to have someone (even a kid) make fun of my stutter. It’s risky business allowing others to see all of you.

Of course, allowing all of ourselves to be seen is something we have pretty much sucked at since the Garden of Eden. Which brings me back to Facebook. I don’t think it’s evil, but I do recognize that it makes it easier than ever to hide.

I am feeling a strong push to stop hiding–to stop hiding in my job, my family, my friends, and even quite so much in my writing and “online personality”. I’m not entirely sure what that means, but in some ways it feels like it starts with this blog.

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6 thoughts on “Did I Stutter? No Seriously, Did I?

  1. Very insightful, risky, valuable and appreciated. I have an insight that’s come via my caregiving/involvement with my elderly aunt. Finally moved her from her home of many decades into an assisted living facility. It wasn’t smooth or even welcomed (but urgently needed). Turns out she has mid level dementia. 4 months after the move, she’s undergone a pleasing bit of a personality transformation. I think she finally was able to relax her guard and not have to convince everyone else along with herself that everything was just fine…lots of energy was, I think, poured into that endeavor for more than a year. I doubt she’d verbalize it this way, but I think she’s gained so much as she has stopped hiding that reality.

  2. HI Ben, loved your post, so much in your post rings so true for myself. a stuttering high school teacher, or rather a stuttering teacher who never stutters if he can help it. After involvement in the McGuire Programme 10 years ago, I did go down that road, and very whole heartedly. I spoke to very class and disclosed my stutter and used deliberate dysfluency as a way of being open and honest. I got a fantastic reaction from everyone, spontaneous standing ovations at school assemblies from kids and staff, and I knew and still know that being vulnerable like that for the first time in my life was incredibly empowering. But I’ve slipped back a long way, till now when I’m spending a lot of energy hiding it. Back in the swamp. I just don’t have the …psychic energy? to put myself out there. Is it realy that I can’t stand that level of closeness, intimacy with other people. I just don’t want to be who I am- the guy with the stutter, and that is desperately sad. Totally agree with your idea that not being seen makes connection very difficult. People, especially kids, sense it. But it’s just so damned hard.

    • Wow, thanks for sharing so vulnerably. It sort of goes in waves for me too. I will accept my stutter for a long while and even talk openly about it and then go long stretches trying to hide it and judging what others must think of me based on how well I hid it.

      It is probably the hardest thing to allow our full selves (stutter and all) to be seen. I admire your courage and I feel a deep desire to walk that hard road again. I’ll be on the side of the road debating whether or not I have the courage to join you! Blessings on your journey!

      • The waves analogy is a good one. I like something called the stuttering hexagon, developed by a guy called John Harrison. It posits stuttering as an interactive system, not just a speech issue, but involving feelings,perceptions, behaviours, physical state, beliefs and one other I can’t remember. Like you there are times I feel really free and willing to talk about it, but the general rule is that the comfort zone gets inexorably smaller unless I take specific counter action to push the walls out. By the way, I see you’re from Denver. I met Nadia Bolz-Weber(?) in the summer over here in Scotland. Fascinating woman. Do you know her? Seems we share a faith as well. Nice to met you. Have a great day.

      • That’s a great insight! It takes daily awareness to grow that comfort level.

        I do know Nadia. My wife and I have gone to her church several times over the years. She is one of my favorite pastors in Denver and probably the world.

        It’s always fun to meet others who share our perspective across the world! Thanks for adding so much depth to the stuttering conversation and beyond!

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