Defeating the Dragon

by David J. Halvorsen

Early Opinions Toastmaster Club # 5134-2
International Speech Contest 1997

When speaking, I try to strive for perfection, and when I say this it with pride that I can even do so today, because there was a time when this was all but impossible. Imagine, being afraid, really scared, of being called on to speak, having to answer a question, or even relaying a thought or request to another person. That was the hellish world I once knew. Like millions of others, I was a stutterer, and breaking the awful pattern of stutters and stammers would take 20 painful years of anguish and searching for answers.

My stuttering first appeared in my early teens and I began going to a chiropractor who explained that a pinched nerve in my neck was responsible for my stuttering and that regular adjustments would correct the problem. Over the next five years I received these -adjustments. The problem was that the stuttering NEVER fully ceased. In fact they always seemed to recur just about about when I was due for my next adjustment!

During this time I discovered that there were certain "tricks" I could use that would prevent the stuttering and enable me to speak fluidly. There are many forms of these "tricks", and they worked -- at least some of the time. And that of course was the problem. It was just another substitution and not a cure. But at least for the time being, jerky head motions, hand motions, rolling of the eyes and other "tricks" did seem to help.

There were many times when those tricks I used caused a great deal of ridicule and embarrassment. On one occasion I had gone into a convenience store for some cigarettes . When I tried to tell her what brand I wanted, I could not form the words. My head rolled back and shook as I tried to sputter out what I wanted to say. She thought this was quite humorous and began laughing. I went BALLISTIC, giving her a verbal barrage that was entirely stutter free! It seemed that I had hit upon something new -- When I got angry my speech was completely fluid. Of course this was an impossible solution as I certainly didn't want to go around being angry all the time.

When I enlisted in the Navy I found out just how big a problem my stuttering was going to be and it didn't take long to become apparent. Shortly after arriving for basic training I was being asked something by my company commander, who was expecting a crisp, clear intelligent answer. All I could do was sputter and try to blurt out something; which only infuriated him and increased my own frustration and embarrassment. This scene was replayed many times during my enlistment.

After the military, my problems only got worse as I tried to enter the job market. Once potential employers found out I stuttered, they were not receptive to giving me a chance, so I began concealing that I stuttered. This lasted only until I got to the interview, at which time, my stutter became evident.

Eventually, after many years of frustration, I knew something HAD to be done. Finally I found the means to defeat the dragon that had plagued me for so many years by beginning a speech therapy program at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Seattle. Over the next six months I learned more about stuttering and about the fallacy of the techniques I had been using, as well as new effective ways to permanently keep my stuttering under control. At the end of the six months I found that I could indeed communicate effectively without the slightest hint of a stutter or hesitation.

A Short time later, I called a friend I hadn't spoken with for some time. When I began talking, he asked who is this? When I told him, he couldn't believe it was me. He said, -What happened ! You didn't stutter at all. That's fantastic!

At last I was free of stuttering and could pursue things never before dreamed possible. In order to make the most of my new found capabilities, I joined Toastmasters about eight years ago. Since then, I have been able to challenge myself to achieve new heights. I am now achieving another step toward that goal today. If I can do it, anyone can !

There are still times when the dragon raises it's ugly head and my stutter tries to return, but NOW I have the tools to keep the dragon under control.

To quote the poet Robert Browning: " Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, Or what's a heaven for?"

David J. Halvorsen
(not to be distributed without consent of author)
April 1997

added with permission of author, February 3, 1998