Trying to write this article was particularly hard for me. The title is letting go, so you probably believe that the ultimate conclusion of this piece is the revelation that I am completely at peace with myself. Alternatively, you could be expecting a sob story about the many tragedies. I am both too human, and too white, heterosexual and middle class for any of those conclusions.
This is the story of Charlotte Riley.
I guess I should start with those events and parts of myself I am “letting go”. Like many people currently in St Andrews, I used to be driven by perfectionism. Not the constructive kind, rather the type that eats you up and spits you out the other side, more mangled than you were before. Paired with a low self-esteem, school peers I never quite clicked with, and a slightly chubbier figure, I began to restrict my calories in what seemed a very reasonable and benign diet.
I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa by the time I was 16.
The second concerns my relationships with men. This section in particular is addressed to the “good friend” who tried a little too earnestly to take advantage of me even after I said a very firm no. The man who – unprovoked, and ignoring my pushes - shoved me against the wall, stuck his tongue down my throat and started groping me in the club. To this day, I still struggle to talk about it, and can only thank the Lord that I know how to throw a not-horrendous punch.
Then there are those men who do the little things; those who have catcalled me for wearing shorts, or the male co-workers who have flippantly dismissed my points or claimed my contributions.
Of course, society has a role to play in preventing these problems from occurring. Yet how was I, the individual, supposed to deal with these life changing events? How was I ever to “let go”?
In the case of my Anorexia, I look back and tend to simplify the process. After much wailing and gnashing of teeth, I finally decided to commit. To motivate myself and others, I set up a recovery blog, which eventually hit around one thousand hits per day. My physical recovery was consistent, gaining a steady pound a week. My mental recovery was much more malleable. My mood swings were unpredictable (to put it very mildly), but after the weight gain began to even out. After 6 months at a healthy weight, I had returned to an almost normal equilibrium. My attitude towards food still fluctuated however. It was at this point I decided that focusing on my past Anorexia would inhibit my recovery; I stopped posting on my blog and began to immerse myself in university life.
At this point, I would say I have “let go” of that part of myself. My attitudes towards food, weight and body shape have finally returned to a normal level. I eat what I want, when I want. My body gains and loses weight in natural cycles. I have a curvier body and I have a positive, or at worst ambivalent, relationship with it. I’ve come to accept that I’ll never be fully happy with it, and what’s more, I realise I am better for it. I’ve learnt to live with not just my body, but myself. I’ve accepted that I am a perfectionist, but there is more to life than perfection.
However, I sometimes still struggle with relationships with men or being touched even platonically. I’ve fortunately moved past the point of flinching when my flatmate unconsciously taps my leg, or when someone hugs me a second too long. Mentally I still struggle a lot. When I occasionally dwell on it, I can feel claustrophobia. In terms of relationships, it acts as a considerable block to emotionally connecting with the other person, but intensifies particularly around the potential non-platonic. It is a block, step-by-step, I am challenging and working on.
Although I can, and have to an extent, diluted these parts of myself, I’ve also come to accept that the key to “letting go” isn’t striving to completely lose them. I will always be shaped and changed by what has happened; to try deny this has only caused me pain. The key to “letting go” isn’t just accepting that you will never be the same but challenging yourself to aim for a happiness without destroying yourself in the process. It’s about accepting all those contradictions which make you wonderfully, fabulously and perfectly you.
Modelling for Label has been part of my “letting go”, a part of my recovery. Co-directing Label, with my beautiful Caitlin Krause, will be so much more.