Monday, November 17, 2008

It took me forever to get here......

"I'm sorry I'm took me forever to get here."
"Yeah, I know what you mean!"

These are the last two lines from the Drew Barrymore movie "Never Been Kissed." As much as we always wish, life doesn't often imitate the movies. And no one is guaranteed a happy ending...unless the director likes what he/she sees.

"Never Been Kissed" revolves around the theme of getting a second chance to re-live your life all over again and trying to capture lightning in a bottle doing so. For Josie Geller, she's a twentysomething copy editor who wants to write for a newspaper in Chicago. She's assigned to go undercover at a high school, but she also has to confront the nightmare and social jungle that it was for her-the teasing of being nicknamed "Josie Grossie," and not feeling beautiful. She was never kissed, and wanted that one moment more than anything.

My one moment, though, isn't about being kissed by that woman. Nor is it about winning the battle of popularity contests. As a person who stutters, my moment already happened in a place called Long Beach, Calif. That was the first National Stuttering Association conference I attended. And that is when my journey to self-acceptance as a person who stutters really began. As far as I am concerned, it did take me forever to get there.

There are some people who stutter who feel so ashamed of it that they will often take menial jobs to avoid speaking, or they are "given" these jobs by a supervisor. The supervisor may feel that their stuttering would prevent them from holding an administrative position or they might feel they are "helping" them by avoiding speaking situations. A few years ago, I had interviewed with a law firm for a paralegal position, and was offered a billing clerk-type job. When I asked what happened, the administrator said "Well, we decided there wasn't a need for one right now." Against my better judgment, I took it, and realized after six months it was a dead-end position, and became angry when I found out another candidate who completed the same program I did was offered the job, only this person did not stutter. Just like the band Warrant, I saw red. (Yes I am that old LOL). It was probably at that time my world was shattered. Yet at the lowest point of my life (and there have been several), I found out that the NSA was hosting their conference in California. I read the description and knew this was something I had to go to.

Of course, I didn't tell about my parents about this until three days before. I will never forget their response: "Why?" Not what are you hoping to get out of this, where will you be staying, just "Why?" It wasn't so much the question that bothered me, but the tone. You know the tone I am talking about: a tone of resignation. I did not want to get into a screaming match with them, so I said "I'm doing this with your blessing or without it." They were like, "OK have a good time." The adage that actions speak louder than words is not true. Not when it comes to people who stutter. Words can hurt people. It can belittle them, and it can drive them to do things they'd normally wouldn't do.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't scared. I could have turned in my ticket, and no one would have thought any less of me for doing so. As the plane took off from Kenendy International and I saw the skyline above me, I realized just what I had done. I took the biggest risk of my life. If this were Las Vegas, I just pushed all my chips into the middle of the table. Either I was going to come home a winner, or I just flushed $1,000+ down the toilet.

When I was waiting to check in, I felt I was running on adrenaline. And when the friendly woman behind the counter beckoned me to come up, I felt like my vocal wheels were locked in the snow bank. I wanted to say I was here for the conference but I couldn't. And I heard other people experiencing the same thing I was. I knew at long last, I made the best decision of my life.

It really did take me forever to get here. But with the support of amazing workshops and a community unlike anything else I've seen, I discovered how to begin that journey of self-acceptance. There are many parallels drawn to "coming out," and letting people know you are a person who stutters. For many, that journey has yet to begin. Mine started in Long Beach....and it grew stronger and especially in North Jersey, I can say I reached that goal of self-acceptance.

And I know for my fellow people who stutter, they can (and will) reach it too. if anyone wants help on that journey, you've got about 650 teammates who will reach out to you anytime you need it.

My name is Steven Kaufman, and I am a person who stutters.

Until next time, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.

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