Excerpt from the five-day writing retreat I’ve just returned from. Day four…

The universal human need to be needed.

The basic human rights of love, care and acceptance.

The intimacy of belonging to community.

These are the emotional truths I wish to explore. How my needs, rights and sense of belonging have, and have not, been met. The consequences to me, and to everyone I connect with, from my lack of self-love.

The story of victimhood I carried for so long and the story of recovery I tell myself I am learning. The emotional truth of my story is love and acceptance. As so many – if not all – of us are damaged as small children, my job is to go back and take the hand of the little girl with the golden curls. The freckles on her nose and gap in her straight white teeth. The little girl who learned to smile for the camera while inside her wild spirit was slowly whittled away, until nothing was left but the desire to die. It took just ten years to kill that spirit. She felt the arrogance of false strength, buried the truth of her own emotional experiences, and crafted a carapace of fake courage around her being that was so thick, she couldn’t tell the difference between truth and lies.

The emotional truth is mothering. To be mothered. To mother. To be cared for. To care. To be loved to love. To all of us whose roles reverse as parents age, we learn to mother our parents. Buried deep inside my broken carapace is a little girl who was never mothered – never received the unconditional love, acceptance and freedom to dream a million dreams. I want to take her by the hand and walk her through the flames – burn away the hurts and lies. Scorch the fears and false beliefs. Crack that shell and let out the tears and tantrums. Joy and jest. Depression and anxiety. Tell her how to deal with life – all the shit that’s flung around like a monkey high on ecstasy. That it’s okay to eat when she’s hungry. It’s okay to stop when she’s full. There’ll be food when she wants it. Sit with the feelings, surf the urge, and ride the waves of all the other clichéd emotional coping tools. I want to teach the little girl to do no harm – to herself. That her needs and value, are as valid as anyone else. That while it feels good to give, it’s okay to receive.

The emotional truth is life is precious. It’s gifted to us – whatever religious or spiritual belief each one of us may or may not hold – it doesn’t dispute the fact that this life is gift. Don’t waste it. Don’t wish it away. Learn to love it and be in it. Learn to accept it. Learn to be okay with disappointment and failure – to yourself and to others. Learn to walk away from things that don’t serve you, and grasp with two hands those things that nourish and feed you. And for fuck’s sake – learn to tell the difference.

Let that little girl be seen for who she is. Not as a reflection of her parents or siblings. Not as a middle-class white girl. Not for her body or skin colour or hairstyle. Let the little girl be seen. Her wild spirit that wants to break the rules and fly free. Her love of the ocean and wind in her hair. Her need to run and run and run and feel the freedom of being alone. Her courage to face any obstacle that stands in the way of her dreams and climb it at any cost. This little girl is feisty and fiery, and her spirit doesn’t need to be destroyed – it needs to be nurtured and loved and accepted. A little taming perhaps – but she wants to please people. And that’s okay. But teach her not to give of herself to her own detriment. Teach her she’s beautiful on the inside and nobody cares about the outside. External beauty is a fleeting, subjective opinion. Inner beauty grows exponentially the older we get and holds so much more value than facial symmetry and high cheekbones.

Perfection – forget it. You’ll never get there.

Beauty – who cares? It holds no value.

Social status – why? Money and power aren’t preferable to kindness and courage.

This book is the story of a girl with an eating disorder. But an eating disorder is but the symptom of a hunger in the soul that no amount of food or starvation will ever satisfy.