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  • Writer's pictureBailey Levis

Living The Dream

Steven found his courage and is doing what he loves most. Something he never thought he’d be able to do because of his stutter. Musical theater.

I first met Steven when he was a senior in high school. His stutter was pretty severe, with distracting secondary behaviors. He had tried a bunch of speech therapy in the past, had been to some intensive programs that focused on practicing “fluency” strategies. But that approach didn’t work for him. In fact they may have done more harm than good. He was able to speak with more ease during the intensive, but like many he struggled to maintain those changes once he returned home. He felt like he wasn’t good enough, like he should have tried harder, should have practiced more. He felt like he failed. He worried that he would never be able to change his stutter. He was angry at himself, at his stutter. He was angry that he would never be able to act, and that was the one thing that he loved the most.

Steven was so angry and frustrated because he stuttered. He wanted to do everything he could to not stutter anymore. It was clear that these strong negative emotions were only making his stutter worse. Moreover his daily experiences of being out in the world and communicating was incredibly exhausting, meeting challenges and feeling limited at every turn.

We had begun working together and Steven was working hard at shifting his self-limiting beliefs and exploring his stutter in a deeper, more thorough way than he had before. He was going out and testing his assumptions about what other people thought about his stutter. He realized that many (if not all) were his mind’s doing, and that they weren’t in fact true, at least not to the degree he believed.

College application season was here and he applied to a musical theater program at his first choice university. He didn’t get in. Needless to say, he was devastated. It brought up so much anger. He felt like it was because of his stutter and he felt like his dreams of being an actor were shattered. But because this is a success story, you can guess where this is going…

Steven got accepted into a different program at the university and although he was a little bummed that it wasn’t the musical theater program, he didn’t give up. I am grateful that I was able to support and keep that determination strong. Within the first semester or two, Steven reapplied to the musical theater program and guess what happened. He got accepted! He was elated, to say the least. We worked on monologues, on exploring stutters, on increasing comfort with having bigger stutters (as a way to increase the comfort and acceptance of stuttering), on changing stutters to be easier. All of this was hard work, and he wasn’t always able to stutter with more ease, but the setbacks weren’t as significant, and he remained optimistic and hopeful.

Steven quickly got several small parts in a few of the school’s productions. He loved it! He was doing what he wanted. He was proud of himself. He was empowered. And he still stuttered. And he still had some fears and worries about stuttering during performances, but he didn’t let it stop him.

At some point a couple of years into our work together, Steven’s schedule got busy with classes, performances, and part time work. Oh yeah. I forgot to mention that Steven also worked through some of his fear about applying for (and accepting) a part-time, customer facing job on campus. His priorities shifted and it was time to take a break from speech therapy even though we could have done more work together.

Fast forward another year and Steven is now a senior getting ready to graduate from the musical theater program. I wake up one morning and I see the following text from him:

“Hey there! I know it’s been a long time. I just wanted to say something. I’m currently doing one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. I’m in a show in which it’s really hard to stutter easily and there are some pretty challenging stutters that I have on stage in front of everyone. I wanted to thank you though. WIthout what you have helped me understand, there is no way I’d be doing this right now. That doesn’t mean this is easy, but it does mean that I’m actually going to do it. So thank you.”

This is why I do the work I do. Steven totally stood up to his stuttering bully. He reconnected with his courage. He no longer lets his stuttering stop him from pursuing what he loves. Are things easy for him? No, he’s still got challenges that he’s facing, but guess what? But is he a whole lot more confident and more engaged with his life and happier? Absolutely. We all will continue to have challenges throughout our lifetimes. Do they sometimes seem insurmountable? Yes. Especially if we try to scale the really big ones alone. But with the right support, with the right guide, and the willingness and determination to reach the summit, you too can stand up to your stutter. You can live a more enriching personal, professional, and social life. You can shift your lived experience of stuttering. You can create a new personal reality, even if changing your stutters is really hard.

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