Learning to trust the process

I have taken to pep-talking myself through the most intimidating parts of whatever test, program, or new element I’m working on, but there is nothing I mutter to myself more than “Remember that you do this because you fucking love this.”

I’ve briefly touched on this before, but I’ve stuttered for nearly 30 years. The ways it directly affects my skating are minimal—I might trip over my tongue while chatting with my coaches, catching up with my skating sisters, or joking around with the custodian, and I am kind of shocked that no one’s mentioned that I talk a little funny, ESPECIALLY when I’m going through a nasty bout of disfluency—but it’s the perspective that it’s given me that correlates to my life as a figure skater the most. Stuttering isn’t fatal, it doesn’t hurt, and it only imposes on my quality of life if I choose to let it. It is, however, irksome at best and humiliating at worst to know exactly what you want to say but either can’t spit it out or are terrified that your own voice will betray you. And, to be perfectly honest, it is a thing I have railed against, hidden, refused to acknowledge, cursed, and blamed for any number of disappointments, frustrations, and aborted dreams.

That changed not too long after I turned 30. My then-new job was in walkable proximity to a speech therapist’s office, which ushered in one of the most course-altering periods of my adult life. What started with a speech professional assuring me that my stutter is infinitely less overt than I’ve always thought and ended with what essentially boiled down to traditional talk therapy was the beginning of finally, finally discovering what it’s like to believe that I deserve to not only be comfortable in my own skin but also start nurturing a tremendously overdue sense of confidence. It has been a long, brutalizing process to get to a place where I have stopped defining myself as a stutterer and started accepting myself as a person who stutters. And I am here now. But the odyssey isn’t over as long as there are still lessons to learn and advice to share and room to grow.

I will never be perfectly fluent, and that’s fine. What matters most is that I’m no longer mired in self-loathing and the pointless desire to rip the stuck words from my throat. It doesn’t ruin my day if I stutter—though it still catches me off-guard when someone treats me like a punchline. I am finally in a place where I can see that my stutter has given me so much more than it’s robbed me of: It’s been the greatest teacher of empathy and patience I have ever had, and it has made me a more humble person for it. I had to overcome a lot of mortification, self-doubt, and internalized ugliness to get here, and the journey has been an incredible one that I truly believe has made me a better person.

Life is filled with parallel lessons, and sometimes it takes a long time to see where those points do eventually converge. I am the most open I have ever been about owning and discussing my stutter, and it has paid off in ways I desperately wish I could tell my wracked-with-doubt younger self. Taking a “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” approach with a thing that used to be my most closely guarded vulnerability has deepened so many otherwise casual relationships, and it’s helping me educate others who have no idea what it’s like living on the inside of a thing that still eludes modern science. But, on a completely personal level, it has taught me that if I can overcome the inherent humiliation of not being able to do something as deceptively simple as speak fluidly to come to a place of peace, I can overcome anything. Especially if that something is learning a new skill in my 30s and sharing the ice with a bunch of kids who are a fraction of my age but literal leaps and bounds beyond me in talent. (Though, man, my stutter is mild enough to hide if I want to; my meddling skating is, uh… very much on display whenever I take to the ice.)

It is scary to face down a major change, whether it’s rising up to meet a new chapter or admitting that the coping mechanisms that you’ve lovingly (if not obsessively) kept alive for years beyond their effective lifespan are well past their expiration date. It took me nearly two and a half decades to finally wrest control from my stutter and reclaim my life on my terms—just as it took me years to leave my previous job’s toxic environment, just like it took years to slink back to skating, and just like I am now sabotaging myself out of a chance to progress faster at this sport that I love and hate and love. I excel at languishing in dead zones, and that is a shitty skill to cultivate.

To be perfectly honest, I’m not used to WANTING to chip away at something to be better at it: If it doesn’t come naturally, I tend to lose interest fast: I am infinitely patient with other people and I am trying so hard to extend that kindness to myself. And I’m great at getting things off the ground for the sake of being able to say that I can do it, but when it comes to maintaining it? Ungh. No thanks, time to nope on outta here. Give me an unpredictable routine and nebulous goals, and I’m one happy creature; saddle me with repetitive minutia and predictability, however, and I will most assuredly disengage at breakneck speeds.

And therein lies the blessing and the curse of skating. I still love the promise of lacing up my skates and the anticipation of the day’s first glide onto the ice, especially if I’m on a hot streak of breakthroughs and motivation. But I do not love how fickle this sport can be when it comes to reciprocal adoration: Skating, I love you, but why do you not love me as fiercely in return?

The answer, of course, is that among my stable of lifelong bad habits that I’m desperately trying to let go of, is my wholly counterproductive knack for making things way too hard for myself. I am trying so hard to learn how to stop fighting and start submitting. I make skating harder than it has to be. Both of my coaches have tried to get me out of my own head, and I feel terrible that there is such an impregnable disconnect between what I know I HAVE to do and its polar opposite that my body is hell-bent is doing instead. Reconciling the oh-so-familiar and safe well-trod nooks of my nerd brain with the nascent beast that is my athlete brain is taking so much more effort than I thought it would.

And so here I am, hissing an admittedly prodigious string of rhyming profanities that I’m actually a little proud of while my shoddy half-jumps and timid spins and sloppy footwork improve at the speed of evolution. And I remind myself that the payoff of discernable progress is so! very! close! if I just submit to the process and get out of my head. Skating might have given me a new vantage point to see where the most stubborn tangles are in my psyche, but it also stands to bolster my confidence if I just trust it to return my love at its own pace. Because I do abso-fucking-lutely love ice skating, and I owe it nothing but my whole heart for all the unexpected surprises it has given me. I’ve let myself be myself long enough: It’s time to be the skater my passion for this sport deserves.


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