Imagine…Reflections on the National Stuttering Association’s annual conference

As one can imagine, joining the military and deploying to Iraq on three different occasions has had a profound impact on my life that I oftentimes have trouble putting into words.

The same can be said for joining the National Stuttering Association (NSA) followed by my attendance at the last three annual conferences, the most recent being last week’s conference in Scottsdale, Arizona.

This year’s conference featured inspiring keynotes from fellow stutterers Katherine Preston, author of Out with It, and NFL cornerback Trumaine McBride of the New York Giants.

Additionally, Morgan Lott previewed his new film, “This is Stuttering.”

It’s a four day conference. For any other group, it would likely be just two days, but I’m so thankful to be able to spend that extra time with so many amazing people.

Until recently, I referred to my fellow NSA members as my “stuttering” friends, which was a mistake on my part. They are awesome friends with whom I share a special bond who just happen to stutter.

My friend, Daniel, from Canada.

My friend, Daniele, from Canada.

My friend, Christine, from Indiana.

My friend, Christine, from Indiana.

I’m sure by the end of the National Pickling Convention that most people are just ready to go home, but it’s not like that with us. We truly hate saying goodbye.

I have a circle of friends there who inspire and motivate me throughout the year, and each year, that circle grows.

Make no mistake about it; the convention is not a pity party. On the contrary, it’s a fun and inspiring celebration filled with education, awareness, acceptance and empowerment.

Because of my upbringing and military service, I’ve always been a “suck it up and drive on” kind of guy, but by attending the NSA conferences, my eyes have opened up to see the challenges that many of my brothers and sisters face each and every day.

I’m always amazed at the attendees who assert to have never met another person who stutters prior to attending a conference. Imagine the shock and awe.

Growing up, I knew two other kids who stuttered, not to mention my brother and Bo Jackson.

Although I’d met countless stutterers throughout the years, I, too, was in shock and awe when I attended my first conference in Ft. Worth in 2011. Can you imagine a conference where close to 850 attendees talked like me?

Well, I need to be a little clearer about that. None of them talked like me. You see, a person’s stutter is as unique as a fingerprint or snowflake, as no two are alike.

Only 1% of the population stutters, so there’s a chance that I am the only one that some of you know and you might be saying to yourself that it’s not much of an affliction. Well, for me, at this point in my life, it’s not that big of a deal, although I still face many challenges. For others, however, it remains a very big deal.

Imagine not being able to say a loved one’s name.

Imagine not being able to order what you want at a restaurant.

We know that clear and concise communication is essential in most lines of work, so imagine being a super intelligent person and not being able to get your words out in an articulate manner.

For some of you, that’s hard to imagine.

Some stutter, stumble, or stammer on every word, whereas others speak fluently for two minutes straight and then get “stuck” for the next solid minute.

It’s not always a pretty sight.

Some close their eyes, stick out their tongue, or make seemingly exaggerated facial expressions, while others slobber and punch themselves in the leg trying to get the words to flow.

When I was in junior high school, I went through a phase where I stuttered so badly I had to literally beat the words out of myself. Oftentimes, I’d have bruises on my right hip and upper thigh. When having to read aloud during class, I’d often beat the underside of the desk. It was all good until I started beating my friends on their arms and shoulders during conversation.

My friends shied away from me and I really can’t blame them. Who wants to get beat up during a friendly conversation?

It’s tough being a stuttering kid.

In fact, it’s tough being a person who stutters, period, which is why the NSA is so vital.

The NSA is a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing hope and empowerment to children and adults who stutter, their families, and professionals through support, education, advocacy, and research.

The NSA helps to empower awesome kids like my buddy Nate.

The NSA and its members help to empower awesome kids like my buddy Nate from Arizona.

Next year’s conference will be held from July 2-6 in Washington DC.

I get to do some pretty cool things throughout the year, but I’m here to tell you that the convention is always the highlight of my year. It blows me away each time. If you stutter, I highly encourage you and your family members to attend.

Speech-language pathologists are also highly encouraged to attend. Not only is it beneficial from a personal stand point, but it also qualifies as continuing education.

The beautiful and “normal” Marilyn Munster lived at 1313 Mockingbird Lane along with Frankenstein, two vampires, and a werewolf, and she was the person who was considered odd by the rest of her family. The same can be said for fluent speakers who attend the NSA conference, but just like Marilyn, we welcome them in and treat them like family.

Please join us in 2014. You won’t be disappointed, and you’ll leave there a different person.

The possibilities are endless.

Imagine.

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Find out more information about the National Stuttering Association at http://www.westutter.org.

Jody Fuller is a comic, a speaker, and a soldier. He can be reached at jody@jodyfuller.com. For more information, please visit http://www.jodyfuller.com.

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Beer, Beer, Beer

When I was in basic training, one of my favorite cadences said, “Beer, beer, beer, said the private. Merry men are we…”

I was a merry man for a long time, but I recently went 40 days and 40 nights without flooding my body with alcohol. In fact, my body experienced a drought for 40 days and 40 nights, and, the truth is, I never felt better.

On the 41st day, however, I caved in and had three beers. Ok, that sounds a bit dramatic. One of my lifelong friends came over to my house to help me do some handyman work. Actually, he did the work and I just stood there, because my handyman skills are lacking.

Once the project was completed, we did what many guys do to celebrate the completion of a project; we drank beer. He brought over a 6-pack of really good, quality beers; however, we only shared three of them. No, we didn’t use straws and we sure as heck didn’t sip from the same bottle. We poured them into a couple of beer glasses that I’d acquired from microbreweries from across the country, so I really only had one and a half. Two weeks later, the other three are still in my refrigerator.

The last three times I cut the grass, I celebrated with a large glass of lemonade while sitting in the sunshine on my deck, and I’m here to tell you, it was just as satisfying as a celebratory beer.

I didn’t drink every night. Most weeks, it was only one night out of the week, but I would drink enough that particular night to keep a small brewery afloat.

Many of us have experienced those next day regrets after a night of excess consumption. Lord knows I have. At my age, those regrets spill over a couple of days, physically, mentally, emotionally, and physically.

Did I mention physically?

I haven’t quit. I never said I quit. I’m disciplined in so many areas, so I just decided to add the consumption of alcohol to that list.

I still plan on having a beer from time to time. Beer in moderation makes me happy.

I still plan on having a beer from time to time. Beer in moderation makes me happy.

Knowing that the 10 biggest regrets of my life involve alcohol has a sobering effect (pun intended) on me. I can’t take any of them back. I can only learn and move on from here. For the record, no one was ever hurt; I just made some dumb decisions.

On the other hand, the only time alcohol ever got me in trouble was likely the best thing to ever happen to me. When I was 19, I was arrested for underage drinking which ultimately led to my decision to join the Army.

I feel confident that this new me is here to stay. I’ve been in some situations recently where I was able to maintain my discipline, whereas in the past, that would not have been the case.

I’ve frequented my favorite watering hole in Opelika on three different occasions since making the decision to scale back without falling back into the trap. Water with lemon is just as good, and so are the laughs with the fellas.

A couple of weeks ago, I spent four days and three nights in Sin City, Las Vegas, Nevada, without consuming a single drop of alcohol. That’s the equivalent of a police officer going an entire shift without a single doughnut. It’s simply unheard of.

On Sunday, I began my journey to Arizona for the National Stuttering Association’s 30th annual conference.

Because of my love of quality beer and BBQ, my cross-country escapades usually involve quite a bit of each.

I drove only a short distance that first day. I stopped in New Orleans to stay with my buddy and his family. The family stayed at home, while he and I went down to the French Quarter and ate at Emeril Lagasse’s NOLA, which was an absolute joy. I did have one really good local brew before dinner, but only because we had to wait a bit before being seated. We also had Emeril’s New Orleans BBQ Shrimp for an appetizer.

One beer in New Orleans is like one pair of jean shorts to a Bama fan. It’s simply unheard of.

I had dinner with water and a friend at The Cheesecake Factory in San Antonio on day two. We had a great dinner and conversation, in spite of the absence of alcohol. In the past, that would have simply been unheard of.

On day three, I drove the final 15 hours and arrived at the conference around 11:00 PM.

I’m sure some interesting stories will arise from this week’s conference. They always do.

For example, did you know that when there are three stuttering guys in a small room that the lights start to flicker? It’s a phenomenon similar to the Northern Lights. Now you know.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that I had three beers last night, although it wasn’t entirely my fault. I ordered just one, but my stuttering prevailed and the bartender misunderstood me.

“Beer, beer, beer, said the captain,” he thought.

I’m convinced that the secret to happiness is discipline. Whether it’s beer, BBQ, fishing or women, quality is always better than quantity.

Speaking of quantity, I just realized I’ll have to cut the grass when I get home. Yuck! Oh well, at least I’ll have an ice cold glass of lemonade waiting on me afterwards.

Cheers!

PS…I didn’t really have three beers last night.

Only one drink so far at the NSA conference and that was this glass of wine.

Only one drink so far at the NSA conference and that was this glass of wine.

Jody Fuller is a comic, a speaker, and a soldier. He can be reached at jody@jodyfuller.com. For more information, please visit http://www.jodyfuller.com.