"I'm broken....when I'm open."
This line is from one of my favorite songs. For those who don't know, the song is "Broken" by Seether, featuring the amazing talents of Ms. Amy Lee from the group Evanescense. I was driving home from speech therapy last night, which is about an hour's drive from where I live, and when I heard the song, I pulled over to the side of the road and began to cry.
One of my former high school classmates used this quote for graduation-"How do you know where you're going if you don't look back?" Most people, when you think about it, don't want to look back at their past. After all, the moment you start to think about the past, you begin living in it. But for me, as a person who stutters, I always have to think about the past. And what it meant for me, and the scars I have. It is a constant reminder of how far I have come, and where I still need to go.
At the NSA conferences, we can all learn something from each other, regardless of how old we are or where we are going. That, above all else, is what makes these conferences so powerful and emotional for me-so much so that I begin to cry during the emotional closing ceremonies. Until I came to my first conference...you could say I was broken.
I've always been a person who is raw when it comes to speaking my mind, even if it gets me in trouble. I believe the greatest gift we have is to express how we feel, regardless of what other people believe. In high school and college, I never had that opportunity. When I raised my hand to volunteer, I would be ignored or the teacher would ask if there was anyone else who wanted to speak. I would try to speak to a girl and I'd experience all the anxiety coming in, like a tidal wave off the Chesapeake. And then when a guy came along to "rescue her" from having to listen to me, I would shatter all over on the inside.
My second year of college my speech was even worse. I felt myself slipping away from the world. My speech had gotten so severe that I felt I was becoming a burden to myself and to others. I couldn't make it through the day at all, and would often ask why I was alive. One day I finally snapped and did something that was the worst decision of my life.
What I am about to say is very personal and not too many people know. If you are scared, I'd understand if you wanted to stop reading.
I drove home and cried for about three hours, or until I couldn't go anymore. I went to the kitchen and tried to slit my wrists open. I thought it would be easier than to swallow pills. I didn't succeed, but escaped with a few scrapes, but the scars will never, ever heal in my heart. I never told anyone about this until a few days later I was sitting with my family over dinner and finally, I couldn't hold it in anymore. The dam burst and everything came out.
Of course, my parents were shocked. They kept saying "Steve isn't the type of person to do this." I would be willing to bet all of us at the NSA have felt like this at some time or another. I was crying out for someone to hear me.
It was those thoughts that were permeating my mind when I entered California airspace en route to the conference in Long Beach, when I spoke of how do you know where you're going if you don't look back? I was 100 percent scared getting on the plane and not knowing what was going to happen at this conference. Five days later, Steven Kaufman was dead to the world. A new Steven Kaufman was born.
As a person who stutters, I often feel that I am fighting two wars: a war against stuttering, and a war against myself. The world isn't tolerant when it comes to people who are different. Whenever I am put down or teased, it can be very easy to unleash an attack on that person. But you can't allow that. You have to be the bigger person always. Not everyone is going to like you, and you need to accept that. But I always remember where I came from, because I don't ever want to go down a destructive path again.
To anyone who stutters, whether it's mild or severe, please talk to someone if you feel that your stutter is so crippling that you're on the verge of hurting yourself. If you can't talk to your parents, talk to a friend, a clergy...talk to someone. It can get better, it will get better.
I think about what would have happened if I succeeded. I wouldn't have found an amazing organization. I would not have known one person can stand up and make a difference. I would not have known about the wisdom of Russ Hicks. Or Tracey Wallace. Or Tammy Flores, Kenny Butler, Bernie Weiner, and hundreds of others.
One person can really make a difference. That's the reason why I am planning on submitting my workshop again for the NSA 2009 conference in Arizona. It's my obligation to help others stand up for themselves.
My name is Steven Kaufman, and I am a person who stutters.
Until next time, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.