OK, so here are some events in my life that helped a lot:
1. ROLE MODELS: I met some interesting people who had accepted their life in totality, with no regrets or shame. Kumar, my mentor, was one such person. He had been a flower child (Hippie) and had led a wild life in the west- before returning to India and starting a NGO in the Himalayas. One day, he laughed and casually said: Let me think. My syphilitic brain is bound to come up with a solution… (I don’t know if he ever had syphilis – but for him to just talk like that, was a big thing for me!)
On another occasion, he said very calmly: My family was very confused till I was 20. You see, someday I will return home with a girlfriend and someday I will come home with a boyfriend..
He is no more. He died in 2021. I often think of him with much gratitude because from him I learned that we need not be ashamed of anything- that we can accept and respect ourselves, no matter what the world thinks of us.
Another such encounter was in Uttarkashi (Nehru Institute of Mountaineering): atop a glacier, with cold winds blasting in our face, we stood at attention in front of our very experienced instructor. He said in a matter-of-fact way: Look, feel free to ask questions. I stumble on words like hell. I don’t want you to disappear in a crevasse. Ask questions…
And we did!
Of course, there were many more such people in my life, spanning six decades, who impressed me with their sincerity and their great sense of “To hell with the world!”
2. SETBACKS: In my professional life, around 2001-2, I had some serious setbacks: While working as a consultant, I received some feedback. The feedback itself was quite harmless: Dr Srivastava- you conduct the workshop very well but some of your words are not very clear..
Since I had been running away from my stammering and since I was coping with it by denying it and hiding it, I found this feedback very painful (“OMG- they have found out that I stammer! What next?“) and therefore I over-reacted: I just dropped the assignment and came home! (like a whipped puppy!)
But I kept thinking, analyzing, and reviewing my attitude, my situation. After a couple of such episodes, I began to see that the only person who needs to change is I, myself.
Looking back, I realize that I did not deal with these setbacks in a maladaptive manner (tranquillizer, withdrawal, shame, denial). Instead, I displayed some courage- and that set me out on a different path.
3. SPEECH THERAPY: My encounter with speech therapy: Sometime in 2002 I went and had my first (and last) meeting with a very capable SLP in Pune. Till then, as a covert stutterer, I had NEVER talked about stammering with anyone- not even my mother or wife! The interview lasted about 2 hours. At the end, he asked me for his fee- Rs 3 k. I paid him happily, thanked him, and left. I was in a very happy frame of mind since for the first time, I had unburdened myself to someone.
But after about a month, I began to have different thoughts. As I dug deeper into the nature of my problems, I began to see that he (the SLP) could not do very much without my help: it was not like a neurosurgeon, who anesthetizes you and then, without any help from you, operates and removes your brain tumor and you become alright for the rest of your life. More I thought about it, I discovered that as a covert stutterer, I had to take a few decisions and implement them, if I wanted to change my communication, my inner life. Yes, some technical information was needed and all that was available in the public domain freely. This realization slowly but steadily pushed me on the path of self help..
Human change is a non-linear, mysterious process, often spanning decades. WE may learn new information, but implementing it takes time because we are not machines. We evaluate, visulaise, run it through many scenarios in our head, we evaluate others life and take first step only wehn we are ready inside, may be after years. The good news is: we do change after all. You too can.
Sarve santu niramayah..