I swear, I’m usually on time for things. But this particular Thursday, I had strolled in to the training session quarter after 6 p.m. — so 15 minutes late. I had looked forward to that day for months, ever since I interviewed to join the program back in July. I interviewed with a lovely girl (we’ll call her Sarah) and she told me all about the New York-based program: a center that caters to survivors of sexual assault/rape and domestic violence. I interviewed to be an advocate, so I’d be going into hospital emergency rooms to help the assault survivors with what ever they needed, whether it be a listening ear, clothes, food, explanations of hospital procedures etc.

  So there I was, walking into a room full of advocates ready to learn the ins and outs of our volunteer position and all of the details we’d need to be effective advocates for crime victims. I walked in to find one of the volunteers standing up — in front of a room of about 50 people — saying her name, occupation and what brought her there. The next person went, then the next person. And it finally hit me.

  “Wait, does everyone have to stand up and introduce themselves in front of the room?” I asked the girl sitting next to me (we’ll call her Anna). 

  “Yeah,” she replied sweetly. I’m assuming she saw the panic on my face, so she asked, “Are you okay?”

  “No, but I’ll be alright,” I said with a laugh. I usually don’t shy away from public speaking opportunities. But on that day, my stutter was being especially troublesome and I absolutely, positively did not want to put on a brave face and introduce myself to a room full of strangers and see their awkward faces as they realized I have a speech impediment.

  Maybe I’ll just pretend I have to go to the bathroom and come back when everyone’s done, I thought to myself as my turn drew near. Maybe I’ll just say “Pass” or maybe I’ll just leave and not come back, I thought. BUT THEN I REMEMBERED THAT I’M A GROWN A** WOMAN!

  I gave myself a quick pep talk just before it was my turn to go: Okay, I’m not going to be a coward. If I stutter, I stutter and the world won’t end. It’ll be okay. CiCi, get your life. Gather your edges. You can do this. You got this. You poppin.’ 

  Then I stood up and began to speak — like a BOSS! (okay, well maybe not like a boss, but you know, like a grown adult person.)

****

    When I initially interviewed for the program with Sarah, I was open and honest about my stutter — as if it weren’t obvious — and I told her to come to me with any questions, comments or concerns she may have. So I wasn’t surprised when she emailed me a few days later, letting me know that my stutter was, in fact, a concern.

“I do want to be honest that we’ll likely have to check in throughout training and just see how your stutter is coming up in the role plays. Our main concern, always, is the comfort of our clients, which I’m sure you understand and sympathize with, and I would just hate to have a survivor feel that they had to take care of you, instead of having you as their support person.”

  I completely understood. My aim had always been to help people who had experienced assault/violence. And if I would not be able to effectively help, I’d be more than happy to step aside for someone who could.

  So, months later, there I was in training, desperately trying to ignore the fact that I was, in a sense, being watched, monitored and analyzed. 

 We had to introduce ourselves in front of the group each day of training (five days total) and although I was rarely fluent, it got easier every day. And I met so many wonderful people. Sweet Anna was so kind and compassionate and I loved discussing my stutter with her and the other volunteers who were brave enough to ask about it.

  It wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine though. My stutter was pretty troublesome each day of the trainings and no matter who I spoke with, I had severe disfluencies and blocks and it was sooo frustrating. Once I even slipped away in the middle of the training and found a nearby room to have a few moments to myself. I sat down in a corner, took a deep breath, and gave myself another one of my oh-so frequent pep talks.

  I like to give my pep talks in first person, in case you all haven’t noticed: You’re so bomb for doing this, CiCi. It’s taking a lot of courage for you to be here and this is super difficult for you and you’re hanging in there and you’re rocking it! Don’t be discouraged! The world isn’t ending, and whether you’re able to complete the program or not, you gave it a shot and that’s all that matters!

  Then I waltzed back into the room with the other volunteers.

  I was feeling pretty good after the second day of training ended, but then I got another email from Sarah.

“We’re worried that a survivor might feel some responsibility to help you or to try and make you feel better or more comfortable. And I know you can understand that that’s not in the best interests of the survivor. In light of that, we think that the advocate role isn’t going to be a good fit for you.”

    I always knew this was a possibility, but I’ll admit, the email low-key broke my heart. Sarah invited me to continue the last two days of training and even told me that they’d look for another role in the program in which I’d be a better fit.

  What happened next caught me off guard. Although I was pretty bummed after reading the email, my first thought was, Okay, alright, this role may not be for me but I could do something else!  If not, I’ll just find another program! This is just a minor setback! 

  My initial response baffled me because five or six years ago, such an email would have hurled me into at least a week of depression and self pity. Somewhere along the line, my default had changed.

  My default response to negative reactions as a result of my stutter had grown from overwhelming sadness to optimism. And that’s so dope, right?!

  I finished out the training. I’ll admit, it was super embarrassing and I felt very left out as I watched all the other volunteers fill out official paperwork, take hospital ID photos and do all the things I couldn’t because my stutter had kept me from getting into the program. Embarrassed, yes. Left out, yes. Fazed, no.

  This got me to thinking, and I’ll pose this question to you all: What are your defaults? How are you inclined to react in difficult situations?

  I mean, what is your automatic or “default” response when things don’t go your way? I’m so blessed that I’ve grown in my journey as a stutterer in such a way that I automatically respond to difficult situations with optimism. It’s been a long road, but my defaults are different now, and so am I.

  No, I won’t be able to participate in the program like I had hoped, and that sucks. Yes, I was super excited for it for months and I was devastated because I felt as though the rug had been pulled from under my feet. But the world didn’t end. And thanks to my positive “default” response, I can take this experience as a lesson learned and move on to my next endeavor. 

  I’m so proud of myself for doing something so gutsy as a stutterer. And I’m so pleased with myself for having the maturity, self esteem and self love to rise above this disappointing situation and on to something new, something better.

  So, again, what are your defaults?