Dear my past self by Shauna O’Briain


As part of The Stories We Tell Ourselves, we commissioned 12 writers from Australia and the UK to write a letter to their past or future selves. In response to the question “Who are we now?”, these writers consider what conversations and stories need to be had and created for us to reimagine, rethink and rebuild the world around us.

Writer Shauna O’Briain writes to her past self (content warning: suicide) 

Dear Shauna aka 15-year-old me 

I get that it’s dark right now
That you are locked in a chest under the sea without a key
The world don’t make sense
Looking out the window
With cockneys screaming into a void
Onto the blocks, small rabbit hutches
Squashed on a Camden estate 

That ginger woman
As she shouts
You’re Irish in her thick Dublin accent
I get you don’t know who you are here
Eldest of four siblings
the gay one and no one knows
Expression is dangerous in ends

But Shauna
Your mum did try by
Raising us here
And I get it
The beatings
The abuse
The addictions
karma we inherited from the roots of a rotten family tree
Followed us to England

Chained in poverty
Can’t even feed the ducks
So far under the bread line
Chest heavy under the weight of what is the point of this life
Those tiny bombs
You don’t take enough of them pills in front of you for them to detonate
Suicide isn’t your fate
You have life to live young woman

All your trying to escape is no longer here
The drink took Mum eventually
Her power lives through you
Her creative spirit planted seeds for healing
You go on a journey, you’re a warrior of light
a child of the universe

You face your demons
With the sharp sword of your words
And it always hurts
You just learn to create joy in the pain
Releasing tears into rivers that cleanse trauma
Seven generations forwards and back
You’re who, your who your ancestors prayed for
Feel this 

turning your poison into medicine with poetry
found meaning in darkness
Carved it into stories you’re an artist
I promise you, it all makes sense one day 

Your anger is a force
You advocate for change
You challenge the system
You stand up for community
The tiny light you see
You turn it into a blaze
That sets many hearts alight with a passion for life
Just by being you 

You are a beautiful woman now
A rainbow goddess
You’re celebrated
For all that you are
Your road
It was not the easy road
But you’re on this path
You have purpose
Your life is connected to all life
As you change the world changes
Never give up 

And I know you can hear this
That’s why you didn’t find another box of pills to donate you off this planet
And I’m so glad you didn’t
Cause you are so precious 

Love Shauna aka 40-year-old me

Shauna O’Briain aka MC Angel is author of Moments of Significance, a non-linear memoir packed with poetry, prose, fragments of memories and mediations on life, philosophy and politics from an uncompromising voice. Told through Shauna’s personal experiences of growing up on an inner-city London council estate as a White Working Class Queer woman, Moments of Significance is an exploration of society and the political told through a very personal collage of experiences.

The Stories We Tell Ourselves is a partnership between Spread the Word, The Wheeler Centre and Melbourne, City of Literature. It is part of the UK/Australia Season; a joint initiative by the British Council and the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

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