It’s just a photograph but one that stirs many emotions, rooted in years of feeling not enough. It brings memories of that time of my life. Breathtaking peaks and seemingly endless valleys. I’m sure there’s more of both yet to come, but this photo captures a time when some real inner work started in my relationship with me. And I didn’t even know it.

Late 2014. Willing to be photographed only because I’d lost a lot of weight and so felt ‘better’ about myself. But there was nothing better about me. I’d lost 3 stone due to stress, heartbreak and post-trauma from a horrible car accident. I was definitely not showing myself love. I was desperate to, but in reality so knocked down that I became reliant on others’ opinions, someone else’s love, in order to find myself acceptable. I clung to the idea of approval and validation. I really thought I was celebrating self love but I was completely off the mark.

The beauty of hindsight, of course, is that we continue to learn from the past well after the fact, if we are open to learning. Seeing this memory has helped me recognise just how much I’ve changed.

What’s going on inside of you is so much more important than what’s on the surface. You spend a lifetime with yourself. It’s the most important relationship you’ll ever have. Invest in it.

It is why we must love ourselves first, above all other endeavours. Love is not something you should search for in others. Self-love isn’t doing something to feel temporarily good.Unconditional self love only comes from CHOOSING to deeply and truly accept yourself as you are. You have to be willing to really look inside. At your pain. At your part in that pain. At the parts of yourself you don’t like and don’t want to acknowledge. That takes time, reflection, and persistence that most people aren’t willing to try. It is only from a deep well of self love that we are able to really give love to others.

When I look at this image now, I see strength, growth, vulnerability and hope. I feel the tangible love that I’m beginning to be able to give others the more that I am able to give it to myself.