I couldn't wait. This was one of the few times I would hang out with the "cool" kids I thought were my real friends. I saw them as my escape, the only way I could be happy and feel love and acceptance. It was from them that I learned cuss words, how treat the "good" kids with contempt, and to be as underhanded and secretive as possible. My unwell mind desperately wanted to find my self-worth, and I thought I found it with them.
You can imagine the self image I had of myself. I wasn't a bad kid, I was just trying to find some way to escape the pain of loneliness and despair.
But I felt so guilty.
I pushed the guilt away and told myself that I wasn't doing anything wrong, every teen does this, and those who don't are losers. If you want to live life to the fullest, you had to live on the edge. That's what I thought I believed. So we snuck away by ourselves at every opportunity. We'd watch videos my parents would never allow on the smartphones they weren't supposed to bring, light gunpowder on fire, and talk about sex. In general, we caused trouble.
After my suicide attempt, I realized how much that behavior hurt me, and I wanted to stay as far away from that crowd as possible. But even though I was changing on the inside, I still looked the same on the outside (except I had my curly locks shaved off).
So my mom watched my back. If someone who wasn't good news approached me, my mom would tell me to check on my siblings or perform some other unnecessary activity, then she proceeded to have a pleasant conversation with the troubled teen. It worked. I just needed to keep my distance until I was strong enough to deal with them.
After a while, I finally told my parents that I was ready to face these teens and not worry about what they think of me or if they tried to include me in their misdeeds.
So far, it's worked. But if I feel the need to escape a conversation, I just say I have to go to the bathroom. After I go to the bathroom, I enter a different circle of friends.
This year, I'm hitting the next level.
I'm attending the same teen boys' Advent retreat, but this time as one of the leaders, and I feel confident I can be a good influence on these boys, whether they're troublemakers or just immature. All the boys that attended as campers with me have aged out, so there's no past to bring me down. This is a completely new slate.
I hope that I will be able to reach out to these boys because, as I think back to my old group of "friends", it's clear that at least a few of them exhibited signs of depression, too, but they handled it much differently than I did.
I'll be looking for those boys who separate themselves from activities and others, who disappear during free time, and who seem uninterested in participating in scheduled events or prayer. Some of the adults might think they're just behaving like teens, but I'll look for those telltale signs of something deeper.
I'll spend time with them, befriend them, be an example to them. Many of the kids in the area know my story, but some don't--and it won't matter. If I have serious concerns, I'll discuss them with my dad and the priest, and maybe alert the parents.
I hope to forge bonds so these boys know they can ask me anything and I'll answer truthfully. Sometimes it's easier to talk to someone closer to your age than with your parents.
Overall, I hope that my almost-tragic experience will help me help others before it's too late for them.
After all, I did everything I was told not to do at the camp and got away with it.
These kids can't fool me.