By Leen Darwazeh
Every person has their own struggles, my truth is that stuttering was a major source of pain in my life. At the age of 11 years old I developed a stutter in my speech. Stuttering is a confusing thing to explain to people who do not have the condition of stuttering because we are all disfluent sometimes, and for people who are simply disfluent sometimes either they do not pay attention to it, they laugh about it, or they think that taking a deep breath is an easy way to get back on track.
For me and for people who are diagnosed with stuttering the experience is much different especially if the world is not understanding, supportive, safe, and unconditionally loving. We condition ourselves into adopting patterns of hiding, changing words to avoid disfluency, avoiding people and situations that could be enjoyable but are not safe to stutter openly in, and by suppressing our voices. These patterns quickly evolved for me as I learned early and often that the discomfort was very strong and the world was not very forgiving.
I grew to become excellent at judging myself, telling myself why I was wrong, bad, flawed, and not good enough. I routinely judged the way I talked and the sound of my voice. I gave away a lot of energy and attention to considering what people thought about me. I became highly skilled as a people pleaser, contorting myself, and changing myself to be pleasant as well as ways to keep my stutter from being witnessed. I learned that this was safer than being my authentic self. The best option was to abandon myself and my truth.
One of the most creative ways that I learned to cope with the intensity of the feelings and emotions that I felt as a young girl was to dissociate from being in my body to living in my head. This allowed me to suppress one type of pain that I did not know how to feel safe with and replaced it with getting lost in my thoughts, stories, and to do lists. I would later learn that this coping strategy was actually a survival response that I could reframe and learn a lot from.
I managed to create a beautiful life for myself, finding love, having and tending to three beautiful children, and making a safe home. I did all of this despite not being fully aware of my own self and my own experiences. While I am truly grateful and in love with the life that I have,
During the pandemic, stressors increased and life slowed down to a pace that I was unfamiliar with. I noticed that my stutter increased so much and my old ways of dealing with it were no longer serving me. There was a change in my speech that I had never experienced before, not at that level. I also began to notice how anxious I was, and my ability to communicate the way that I wanted to vanished. I felt a lot of shame, guilt, and embarrassment.
An impulse shot through me that I wanted to take massive action. I just knew that I was not able to continue with the constant hiding, avoiding, and living my life outside of myself as I was used to. I found a tremendous support plan, someone who had dedicated his life to finding solutions to this massive challenge. The path that I would begin to explore was to learn to live through my body.
I learned to notice and observe my body, to focus more on the physical state of my bodily experience. The main questions became, “how does my body react and respond to life?” This became a daily devoted practice, to learn how to listen to my body. I learned to become very curious about and aware of my muscles, the tension, my breath patterns, the depth and fluidity of my breath, and all of the sensations throughout my body. I studied myself with a microscope from the inside out, while keeping an open heart, an open mind, and a deep sense of gratitude.
The framework for working with my body was to identify my physical experiences. To determine to what extent I felt comfortable and safe, or uncomfortable and threatened by these feelings. To notice what combination of feelings and perceptions made up my emotional states. To witness the thoughts and stories that my mind created, and ultimately what actions and patterns I chose.
When the opportunity to disclose my stutter on zoom call with over twenty people, most of whom were strangers, presented itself I noticed that I felt a lot of energy in my body, I was very shaky, there was a sensation of blood rushing to my face, and my breath felt shallow and unavailable.
I remember feeling a squeezing pain in my belly. My perceptions of this embodied experience were severely unsafe. I did not feel that I could be with these feelings at this level of intensity all at once. As I sat with these feelings, I identified this experience as worry, anxiety, and fear and at a level 10 out of 10.
My thoughts swirled around how I would be judged and rejected by this group. I could see how clearly the impulsive response would be to avoid taking action and disclosing, yet my conscious and loving awareness of my bodily experience supported me into regulating myself enough to stick to my intention.
I broke the pattern of becoming so dysregulated, picking my stutter and my voice apart and hating it. After releasing this tension and hiding from my body I noticed a strong physical experience of lightness, looseness, and freedom. The very feelings I was in search of when I set out to work on myself.
This work was incredibly hard for me to do considering how long I had spent living a certain way. There were many moments where I chose to not take action, to not do the practices that were given to me by my teacher, and to slip back into my old shape and patterns.
When I’m dissociated from, suppress, and ignore my feelings it’s easy for me to hide and stay small. When I do this people can’t see me, they can’t feel me, they can’t experience me. When I take the other scenario where I’m associated, present, and fully feeling myself, physically, emotionally, and mindfully, I’m able to fully see the possibilities and can always make the choice to come back to my intention of how I want to be rather than to follow an old path of imagined safety.
What I learned from this journey is, in addition to accepting my stutter, is how to integrate it into my life as a beautiful part of my authentic self. I learned how to give more attention and compassionate love to myself. I also started to notice people’s behavior, their bodies, nervous systems, and their regulation.