As I sat in the airport terminal last Friday to write my first blog post about speech therapy, I was convinced that initial post would be the most arduous to write. Unfortunately, I was very mistaken. This past week has proven to be the most difficult for me in a variety of ways. I guess you could say that real life has finally penetrated its way into my three week therapy bubble. And it has taken its toll.
Over the past two weeks, my life has been consumed by speech therapy and at-home speech practices. Every single day, I get better and better at the many exercises and tools that my speech therapist has given me to improve my fluency. But the end result of fluency doesn't come instantly. There is not a sudden flip of a switch inside your brain or your vocal tract to produce complete fluency. Moreover, it is not simply putting the procedures into place. The path to fluency includes overcoming all of the emotional factors - the fear, anxiety, and shame of stuttering.
I noticed that since Thursday evening, I have not been doing as well in my moments of disfluency like I have been in the past. When we have a moment of stutter, we are supposed to use this practice called freezing. Basically, instead of pushing through the stutter and engaging with it in order to "push out" a word, you are supposed to stop, and ease into the sound. That probably sounds like no big deal, right? Well, it is. You relax your upper body, focus on your breathing, relax your throat muscles, inhale, and ease into the sound. This takes time. And practice. Constant practice of overturning old habits. Instead of pushing through stutters or avoiding something I want to say, every conversation requires me to say exactly what I intend to say and engage in new behaviors. It is something like sanctification for speech. Unlearning bad habits and engaging in new ones. Facing my feared words and not backing down, even when I know I just entered a moment of stutter. Sometimes I fail miserably at freezing and it an unnatural lengthy pause occurs in a conversation so I can get out the sound.
I know overturning these old habits are for my benefit. But they create new fears. Will I ever get better at this? Will the moments of disfluency ever get shorter? Will the seconds for easing into a vowel sound ever decrease? When will they stop feeling like small eternities?
Moreover, the issue of minimizing the emotional factors in a moment of stutter is an even greater battle. Somewhere along the way in the past two weeks, I realized that one of the largest obstacles to fluency is the fear of other's opinion of me. Whenever I get into a moment of stutter, even with my closest friends, I feel extremely guilty. I am making them wait. What do they think of me right now? Do they think I'm not intelligent? Do they think that I am weird? Why does this make me feel so alienated from my audience? Will they feel uncomfortable and try to end this conversation? When will I stop having this inner dialogue and simply not care what other people think of me?
I found myself, starting yesterday, actually apologizing in my moment of stutter. I offer a quick "sorry" in the period of pauses. And then eventually, I get the sound out. But in essence, I realized that I'm apologizing for who I am. I keep apologizing because I'm essentially begging my audience not to judge me, and to believe that I am just like them.
But I'm not like them. And I never will be. Obviously stuttering is an actual disability. However, I never imagined that spiritual transformation would come through an attempt to confront my stuttering. Every conversation presents a new opportunity to forfeit my idolatry and work on improving my fluency. That part is more painful than getting my vocal tract to finally produce a sound.
At the end of this week, I find myself amazed again at the way in which God has used my disability to reveal my continuous theology of glory. But conversation after conversation, I am reminded that the God of the cross dwells with the lowly, the humble, and the least of them.