I wanted to be popular so badly that I let my life get out of control.
I’m not exactly sure when I realized my life was spinning out of control. Maybe it was that night in the police car. I’d just been caught shoplifting, and they were taking me down to the police station.
Maybe it was the night my parents found an empty wine bottle in my closet. They’d suspected I’d been drinking, but when they found that bottle, they knew it was serious.
Or maybe it was the day one of my friends caught me throwing up. No, I wasn’t hung over. I was just obsessed with being thin; I wanted to look good for my friends, so I’d fallen into a cycle of binge-and-purge, eat-and-vomit.
It was disgusting. And I was disgusted with myself.
How had it come to this, anyway?
I’d grown up in a Christian family. I thought I had my act together … until I hit high school. That’s when things started happening, things that led to some major changes in my life—and some bad decisions on my part.
First, we started building a new house, and the only time we could work on it was on weekends. We stopped going to church regularly. Eventually, we spent less and less time praying and reading the Bible.
Second, my best friend moved away the summer before I started ninth grade. I felt really lost and alone, so when school started that fall, I was desperate for some new friends. And it was that desperation, my intense desire to “fit in” with the right group, that ultimately led me down the path of self-destruction.
I met Kathy during the first week of ninth grade. She was one of the most popular students, so when she befriended me, I was pretty excited. I’d never been part of the “in” group before.
It wasn’t long before Kathy invited me to spend the night with her at another friend’s house. But that night turned out to be much more than I’d expected. It was a major party, with lots of alcohol.
I’d never been to anything like that before. And before the night was over, I started feeling excited about everything—the sense of freedom, of having no limits, of trying something new and grown-up.
I didn’t get drunk that night, but a pattern had begun. Before long, I was partying and getting drunk every weekend. I was staying out later and later. And since our house was still under construction, we didn’t have a phone. So I would stay out as late as I wanted, then I’d lie about where I’d been. What could my folks do? They couldn’t say, “Well, you should have called.”
By that time, I wanted to be as thin as the other girls in my group of friends. So I started forcing myself to throw up after meals. In fact, I became so obsessed with my weight that when I was at a party, I’d drink until I’d get sick and throw up, just so those calories wouldn’t be in my body.
And then there was shoplifting. Since it was a part of the “fun” my friends were into, I felt I had to join in, too. I enjoyed the thrill of getting away with it. At first, I mostly took small things that didn’t cost much. But soon, I was taking clothes and other expensive things.
So there I was, a freshman in high school, a common thief with a drinking problem and an eating disorder. And all because I wanted so badly to “fit in.”
As much as I loved being part of the in-crowd, I knew my life was out of control. I wanted things to change, but I couldn’t do it on my own. If I said I wanted to change, my friends would immediately dump me. But secretly, I wanted to get caught. I felt that would be my only way out.
Then it happened.
First, my folks found the wine bottle. My mom and I were up all night yelling and fighting.
Then I got caught shoplifting. One of my friends who’d never shoplifted asked me to teach her how. She really wanted a bathing suit. We found one she liked and she took it. When we got outside the store, she asked if I would hold the bathing suit, because she was nervous.
Well, I got caught holding the goods, literally. It would have been easy for me to tell the store clerk that my friend took it. But for some reason, I covered for her.
The cops came, and took me away in the squad car. I had to call my parents to come and get me at the police station. The ride home was awful. My mom and dad sat together in the front seat, holding hands and crying. I sat by the window, staring outside, not believing what had just happened.
How could this be? I wondered. I felt so ashamed.
Shortly after that, one of my friends caught me throwing up. She called my parents to tell them. Even though I was angry at my friend for squealing on me, it was the best thing anyone could have done. My mom confronted me, and we really had it out that night. At that point, my mom realized my problems weren’t going to go away on their own, and that I was really putting myself in danger.
My mom made an appointment for me to see a counselor, and I thought it was a good idea. Those counseling sessions helped a lot. We talked about the drinking, the stealing, the bulimia, my friends, how I was feeling, and what I wanted my life to be like.
I later learned how much my folks had worried about me and loved me through all the garbage I was doing. I found out my dad had been getting up at 4 o’clock every morning to pray for me. I cried when I heard that.
I knew I needed to make some changes in my life. I wanted to stop the drinking and throwing up and stealing because I was scared for my health and safety.
Also, I wanted to stop living a lie. I’d been lying to my parents all along. I’d been lying to my friends about what kind of person I was. And I’d been lying to myself about what was important to me. I was ashamed of the way I’d been living, and I knew it wasn’t what God wanted for my life.
I had some big fears about changing, though. I knew I’d have to find some new friends who wouldn’t pressure me to act a certain way. I was so afraid I’d end up with no friends at all. But God was already working on that. Within a short time, I met a group of girls who accepted me and cared about me for who I was. They also shared my Christian values, so I was free to be myself.
But sometimes change is slow. A year later, I decided to attend a party with some old friends. Even though I knew there’d be drinking, there were a few girls I really missed, so I decided to go. I decided I’d be careful and I wouldn’t drink. I even felt like I could be an example to my old friends.
But things didn’t turn out the way I’d planned. I wasn’t at the party very long before I started drinking, and after a few hours, I was really drunk and sick. The only way I could get home was to call my dad, which was humiliating, especially after the promises I’d made.
In the car on the way home, my dad was really quiet. The only thing he said was, “You’re old enough to punish yourself, Colleen.”
Dad was right. I punished myself by refusing to go out—with any friends—for a long time.
Dad also suggested I start reading my Bible again.
He was right again. So I started reading it faithfully. And all over again, I could see how much God loves me, how much he cares for me, just the way I am.
That party incident was the last of its kind for me.
A couple years have gone by. I’m not interested in the party scene any more. My shoplifting days were done after that run-in with the police. And after a lot of counseling, I’m no longer fighting my eating disorder—though I still struggle with how I feel about my body.
I’m so much happier now. I’m hanging with a good group of friends, people who love me for who I am—not for somebody I’m pretending to be. And even though I care and worry about my old friends, I’ve decided not to spend time with them. I’ve learned the hard way that I can’t handle it very well.
When I last saw my old friends, one of them asked me, “What happened to you? You used to be so much fun at parties, but we never see you any more. You should hang out with us again.”
I just smiled and said, “No thanks. I’m much happier now.”