Kathy Scott writes about the 'shame spiral' she found herself in around the Irish language and how she she found a healing path back to relearning the language.
What if this ancient language alive on the island of Ireland had a role to play in our cultural wellbeing? Reclaiming our mother tongue might be a step towards healing cultural trauma and experiencing post traumatic growth.
'Trauma is not what happens to a person, but what happens within them as a result of it. In line with its Greek origins, trauma means a wound—an unhealed one'. - Gabor Mate
Healing trauma is a delicate process of unlearning and relearning that sometimes requires some barefoot detective work. I became aware of my own trauma symptoms when I began to trace the invisible force that has shaped my relationship with my Irish cultural identity. The scattered trail of breadcrumbs led me to my motherland, my mother line and especially my mother tongue.
The Irish language was honoured in the home where I grew up in Co. Tipperary. My people came from 'good stock' and my parents were committed Gaeilgeoirí. I secretly loved ‘an Ghaeilge’ at school but kept that hidden as it was considered backward and very uncool. By the time I emigrated to London and became immersed in the Cool Britannia wave of the late 90’s I had completely lost it. I became at best ambiguous and at worst ashamed of my Irish identity. I lived in a self-inflicted exile for many years not knowing where to call home.
Some years later I found myself on the Lower East Side of New York at the Irish Tenement Museum when I came across a series of cartoons caricaturing the Irish as apes which shook me to my core. As I looked at these images of Irish immigrants cast as depraved drunks, violent and savage I felt a wash of shame and nausea creep over me. This visceral feeling stayed with me for days and weeks. It visited me in my dreams, I couldn’t shake it off. Part of me realised this was some kind of inherited cultural trauma and an internalised shame spiral.
So after years of travelling nomadically around the world practicing yoga and chanting Sanskrit mantras, I realised that I needed to return to my roots in Ireland. I felt a pull to rewild and connect to my own lineage. I slowly climbed back into my body. I found belonging on the land and in the sea. I found meaning in mythology, music, theatre, poetry and art. I found connection alone and in good company and it turns out that these are all part of the medicine we need to heal trauma.
Those moments of epiphany eventually propelled me on a road to Damascus or to be specific a road to Jerusalem to study with renowned teacher Thomas Hübl as an Irish delegate in The Pocket Project. This training was designed to raise awareness of the effects of trauma in our cultures and to train in the tools that enable trauma integration. After many subsequent learning trips to Israel and Palestine I began to understand that to witness trauma involves meeting the past in the present moment.
Exactly 100 years ago, Ireland was in the midst of a bloody ‘war of friends’ following a long legacy of trauma that encompasses and includes waves of invasion, occupation, famine, emigration, occupation, resistance, rebellion and the eventual civil war. The transmission of this trauma lives on in the lives of millions of people today like a ghost in the machine. The Decade of Centenaries commemoration activities have presented many cultural moments of reckoning for Irish people particularly against the backdrop of multiple crises that we are experiencing as global citizens today.
I decided to continue with the detective work through research, interviews, and further studies with global experts to develop a practice and embody a set of skills and competencies in this field. I recently enrolled in a professional therapeutic training in Compassionate Inquiry with Dr. Gabor Maté and am continually amazed at our innate capacity for transformation and healing as individuals, communities and societies.
One of my key learnings in the field of trauma studies is that simply being a human alive in the world today means to carry a trauma imprint. This may be with a large T or a small t – the spectrum is wide and deep. We all experience trauma in our lives but not everyone is taken hostage by it.
I have also learned that the ability to respond (response-ability) and heal trauma is possible. Not only is recovery available but so is the human capacity for post traumatic growth. As the essence of trauma is disconnection from the Self, resolution lies in reconnection, from the inside out.
Another huge revelation is the understanding we are not our feelings. In order to heal trauma we need to recognise our feelings but we do not have to identify as them. Yes we host and experience the feelings but they do not define us.
This resonates beautifully with the expression of emotions (na mothúcháin) in the Irish language. ‘Tá áthas orm’ literally translates to ‘there is happiness on me ’ rather than plainly stating ‘I am happy’. ‘Tá brón orm’ means ‘there is sadness on me’ versus 'I am sad’ in the English language. The Irish speaker connects to a temporary state emotional and can embody a greater sense of impermanence around that state of happiness or sadness.
To be born in Ireland or of Irish lineage is to be born into a tangled trauma pattern. There are implicit and explicit intergenerational effects on people living in Ireland now as well as the Irish diaspora. Just as the language was beaten out of our ancestors it was subsequently beaten back into them generations later. The original shame felt for speaking the language has now been translated into the shame that we internalise for not being able to speak it, or for speaking it inadequately. This is part of our inheritance. We can perpetuate this trauma through imitation of behavioural patterns and epigenetics, or we can create new pathways so that we can become better ancestors-in-training.
So, what will our legacy be?
There are many routes to restoration and pathways to connection.
We can find better ways to connect to ourselves, each other, and this place we call home. We can catch our breath and return to our senses. We can slow down and live in our bodies. We can practice wonder and awe. We can tell stories and sing songs. We can dance. We can laugh. We can build community. We can be better ancestors-in-training. And we can speak our mother tongue.
Scoil Scairte is our offering - a 9 week immersion in Irish cultural heritage that weaves language, place, identity and wellbeing.
Bí in éineacht linn - Join us.
Scoil Scairte begins on 6th October, for more information and booking see www.thetrailblazery.com