All year I’ve looked forward to the National Stuttering Association conference because it would be held in downtown Chicago at the Sheraton Grand Hotel. Leading up to the conference I was sure I would have all sorts of emotions once back in my former home town, especially ones involving my old covert self vs my new stutter-positive self. But surprisingly this didn’t really happen. The thing is, I didn’t go to any of my old haunts. The conference was held in River North– A place I very rarely ever went over a decade ago when I was living in the city. I also did a lot of the touristy things I was too ‘cool’ to do back when I lived there. If I’d had a few more days (and could time travel), I’d have loved to show my friends Wicker Park as it existed in the 90’s: Earwax, The Empty Bottle, Milk of Burgundy etc.. But those places are gone– at least the versions I used to know.
Unexpectedly this conference turned out to be much more about stepping outside of my comfort zone rather than stepping back in. For instance, I was sad to not have a few of my conference besties there, but that pushed me to reach out to new people. Many casual acquaintances were solidified into friends-for-life, and I met so many incredible first-timers and folks I’d never talked to before. Having the opportunity to introduce old and new friends to places like Navy Pier, Water Tower, Millennium Park and Chinatown created memories to last a lifetime.
I have to admit that I didn’t participate in as many workshops this year. Our creative writing group held ours for the second year in a row, and it went really well. I also got a lot out of one focused on Mindfulness and one on the cultural impacts of stuttering. But the workshop that stood out the most for me involved building up resilience through repeated tasks that increase in difficulty at each level. Fluency may no longer be a goal for me, but I believe this method can be applied to avoidance reduction and desensitization very well.
Pushing my comfort zone probably peaked on the last day of the conference. I’ve always wanted to do something for open mic, but have been fearful of getting up in front of a lot of people. However, this year I took it a step further and participated in the monologue portion of the closing ceremony. I literally spoke in front of the entire conference!
Over the next year, I hope to keep this momentum going. I want to do more presentations at work, increase my involvement in stuttering advocacy and generally be more social. Stepping outside of my comfort zone seems less of a challenge now and just a place I want be.