Looking Backwards

Don McLean

In order to grasp the big picture of what occurred in November 1971 when I recovered from my stuttering, I sense that very very briefly telling this same story backwards might be of assistance to anyone who is interested. 

Looking back, it is clear that the feelings I needed to focus on to get better were my feelings just before a new stutter was likely to occur. This is the spot where the dam eventually broke. How I felt after I stuttered of course was very important; and the iceberg analogy sets out how I felt there. But how I felt afterwards played no role in my getting better. Only how I felt when I was on the verge of stuttering.

Looking back, it is clear that I felt humiliated every time I stuttered. But somehow, in November 1971, I eventually managed to make slight contact with the feeling that I am loveable just before a potentially new humiliation was about to start. Yet that slight contact was of such a powerful nature that it neutralized this potential humiliation which would normally occur when I stuttered. This then in turn allowed the words I was reading in public to flow freely, one by one... smoothly... precisely... elegantly... and without exception.... and without my intervention in any way.... The first time this happened was truly the game changer. From that point on it was a simple matter to repeat this exercise enough times to give me the confidence that the same result was always going to occur, if I were to make such contact with the feeling I am loveable just before a new stutter was about to occur. When such confidence developed, quite accidentally, the dam completely broke and joyous tears flowed for what seemed like forever. 

Looking back, the feeling I needed to feel to get over my stuttering was the feeling ‘I love myself’ or some words which amount to the same thing. My sense is getting in touch with my deep unconscious feeling of ‘I love myself’ is the most difficult feeling for me to feel. And in fact I have never been able to make more than a very faint contact with that very elusive feeling. But to get over my stuttering, it was necessary to be able to make some sort of rudimentary contact with it. And equally important was making contact with it at just the right moment—just before a new humiliation got a chance to surface to make my life miserable. But doing both was sufficient to clear the way to my healing. 

Now most importantly and most easily overlooked, the healing was so complete doing things that way that I never had to use these strategies again until January 17 2023, 51 years later, when I felt so horribly humiliated by almost not being able to draw the time on a clock I was asked to draw at my driver’s licence test.

Look-Ins: Looking back to the beginning of my story in very early November 1971, it is now clear that to get better I was going to have to learn how to listen to myself sufficiently, so that when the time came, I was in fact actually going to be able to feel what needed to be felt, at just the time I most needed to feel it. If I hadn’t learned how to feel that, and to feel it at just the right time, I never would have gotten better. So developing some minimal skill in this area turned out to be a precondition to my getting better. This is where the series of daily or almost daily one hour look-ins, for about a month before I got better, fits in. But repeatedly doing those look-ins for most of that month was not intended to have anything to do with stuttering. Rather, doing one hour look-ins was originally intended to be part of the process of learning how to listen to myself. 

The above is the essence of what I mean by ‘Looking Backwards’. However I would also like to reflect on the difference between doing look-ins in November 1971 from what happened thereafter.

Contrast between Look-Ins in November 1971 with Look-Ins Post November 1971

On March 15 2024, I found myself carefully reading the first item on the 2 pages entitled “Guidelines to Effective Living Learned [and written] in November 1971”. (see ‘A Magic Moment’ last section). I carefully read the following: ❝ I have a powerful subconscious and unconscious life. Up until now, I have been totally unaware of its very existence. Identifying and consciously feeling subconscious feelings and unconscious feelings (self-hatred and self-love) dissolves pain.❞ 

When I studied the words “Identifying and consciously feeling... unconscious feelings (self hatred and self love)”, I realized what was unique about November 1971. What was unique was that I attempted to make contact with my unconscious self. 

This was a somewhat different process from what I have done since. The process of listening to myself now involves letting whatever feelings I am feeling roll through me for up to an hour, during which time I may or may not be able to identify what they are. During that hour I try to feel... feel... feel... and to save identifying them for the most part until later. And when my feelings aren’t identified but simply felt when the hour is over, going for a short walk the next day or so usually enables me to identify them.

What was different about this approach in November 1971 was that I made an attempt to listen to what my unconscious self wanted to reveal to me about what was going on down there. My conscious self and my unconscious self were getting together. It was the whole show, from the top to the bottom of me. Thereafter, it was just my conscious self and my subconscious self getting together on a regular basis, month after month, year after year... Put in a slightly different way, in 1971 my conscious self was in dialogue with my unconscious self. Mostly with my conscious self laying itself open to whatever my unconscious self was willing or able to send up to me, with the regard to the collection of feelings which make up my unconscious self. And what was also unique about November 1971 was it was the only time in my life I ever went looking to see if I felt a new feeling, namely ‘did I feel that I was loveable?’ And it was that decision which changed everything.

The first origin of the feeling ‘I hate myself’ was arrived at by logical analysis. (see ‘For You, For Each of You’ Deliverance: Halleluiah section). More recently the most common form of it originates within me subconsciously, whenever I totally screw up, eg the driver’s licence test. This usually leads me to ask myself: “How could I have been so stupid?” But in one instance, the feeling ‘I hate myself’ originated within me unconsciously, namely in November 1971 when I learned of its existence from my unconscious self. My life history has been that my contact with the unconscious feeling ‘I love myself’ has always been very faint. It is likely that my contact with the ‘I hate myself’ feeling in 1971 also was very faint. For this would explain why I had to give a name to it, when this feeling emerged from my unconscious self in 1971. It would also explain the shock and awe I felt when this same faint feeling consciously burst within me with such an explosive force when I went looking for it in a stuttering context. (see ‘A Magic Moment’ My Stuttering Story Begins section). 

Post November 1971 look-ins were much more leisurely and sedate and not as deep and, with the exception of cognitive restructuring, not as life altering. But cognitive restructuring is a whole different personal story. 

Don McLean   May 1, 2024.

See Articles and Stuttering Exercises Written by Don McLean

For You, For Each of You

My Name... My Name... My Name is Don McLean

‘A Magic Moment’

The Day I was Finally Heard: 52 years Later

‘Stuttering Exercises’

Last updated: