The last Stammering Open Space in May saw a great exchange of ideas and experiences among the people in the group. Of the many interesting discussions that came up during the session, one in particular resonated with me: the idea that acceptance can be a useful way of dealing with your stammer.
I’ll be the first to admit that I was quick to reject the idea of acceptance when I first began speech therapy. The word felt too passive for me. It implied resignation, while I was determined to fight. As far as I was concerned, throwing punches at my stammer was the best way to get rid of it.
Fortunately, my attitude has changed enormously since then. After many months of mulling over the idea of acceptance, I can now see that it is actually a very active process. It does advocate giving up, but not in the way I initially thought. Acceptance is about moving forward by giving up the struggle against a problem. This may sound like passive resignation, but choosing not to fight requires a lot of effort.
As an amateur violinist, I like to think of ‘giving up the struggle’ in the context of violin-playing. When I was just starting out on the violin, my teacher told me a story of a fellow string player – a cellist – who held his cello bow so loosely that it slipped from his fingers during a concert and flew into the audience. ‘Now that’s how you should hold your bow’, she told me.
I’ve never forgotten this anecdote. It was a turning point for me as a musician. A natural instinct for novice string players is to grab on to the bow as tightly as possible to control its movement. It was a revelation to learn that putting in less physical effort – though completely counterintuitive – actually produces a better sound.
Learning to work with the instrument and not against it was a difficult process and took a lot of practice. But it completely transformed the way I played. Even more surprising was how it freed up my mind (and muscles) to focus on other aspects of my playing.
I am now working towards giving up the struggle against my stammer, and hope that this process will similarly transform the way I feel about myself and the way I speak. It will undoubtedly take some practice, but I know it will be worth the effort. I believe now that accepting – and not fighting – my stammer is the key to coming to terms with it.
I guess you could say that I’ve accepted acceptance.