The biggest eye opener of Avoidance Reduction Therapy involved learning that stuttering does not necessitate struggling. I had always assumed that these behaviors were inextricable, that in order to communicate, I would need to force out my words, to plow through them at whatever cost. And the cost was high.
When Vivian showed me that my struggling behaviors developed over the years in response to my persistent attempts to avoid, hide, and deny my stuttering, I was taken aback. I always thought they were part of my stuttering pattern, not the effect from trying to cover it up.
The analogy that as a person who stutters, I felt cast into deep water without a life vest, rang true. I would panic and try to grab hold of anything around me in the water that could offer even temporary rescue and save me from drowning. Similarly, when I anticipated disfluency, I would panic and use any “trick” I could conjure to help, to save me from stuttering.
Avoidance Reduction Therapy introduced me to the concept of acceptance; squaring up to, and embracing stuttering. First, I learned to tread water. Eventually, I found I could relax and even back float if I chose. Slowly but surely, my fear of drowning dissipated.
This notion, that stuttering and struggling are not synonymous, that I am able to stutter fearlessly, has undoubtedly changed by life. I learned that I need not remain a prisoner to old habits. I can choose to own my stuttering and decide how I want to stutter.