If you came of age in the early aughts, chances are you idolized Disney Channel star Christy Carlson Romano. While many of her co-stars and contemporaries have publicly struggled with the pitfalls of young superstardom, the Even Stevens actress appeared to be one of the few who transitioned seamlessly from their Disney Channel days. But in reality, she was struggling behind the scenes, which she opens up about in a powerful essay for TeenVogue.

Romano revealed that while she presented some of her character Ren Stevens’ best qualities on the surface, teen fame and life as a child star took a toll on her, which led to a period of drinking and self-destructive behavior. Calling her young life “a confusing mix of sheltered and overexposed to the public,” she wrote that her intensely structured schedule—working all day, being tutored at night, and having to make new friends weekly with whoever happened to be on set that week—led her to miss out on many of the social and emotional experiences her peers expereinced. She revealed that because she missed out on a “normal” upbringing, she became obsessed with the idea of normalcy. As her obsession intensified, it began to eat away at her.

Unfortunately, Romano’s desire for normalcy didn’t pan out the way she expected.

She stepped away from the spotlight after Even Stevens ended to attend college, but she didn’t find the sense of normalcy that she craved, so she dropped out and continued acting. Romano wrote that at 19, feeling more lost and lonely than ever, she began her path toward self-destructive behavior—abusing alcohol and self-harming—which culminated in spending $40,000 on a “life-changing crystal” from a seedy psychic.

Fortunately, Romano’s story has a happy ending.

After a decade of struggling privately, Romano returned to school, where she met her husband in a screenwriting class. Now a mom to two young daughters, she has a healthier perspective on the entertainment industry. And she has some advice for those looking to follow in her footsteps:

Read Christy’s full essay on TeenVogue and check out her newest project, Christy’s Kitchen Throwback, on YouTube on June 27th.