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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I am responding to "Lost Mother in the Midwest," who ran away from her family and now yearns to return to the fold. She should see a counselor immediately and begin to climb out of the horrible pit she is in. I have been there and recognize the words "unneeded, disrespectful, ignored, my fault," and "don't deserve their forgiveness."

Her self-confidence is bankrupt, and professional help can guide her through rebuilding who she is. She must learn to care for and love herself before anyone else can love her. She must learn to confront and halt abusive treatment. She deserves better. Life outside the "pit" is worth living.

I wish her the joy I now have. -- FREE IN GAINESVILLE, FLA.

DEAR FREE: I received some criticism for calling what "Lost Mother" did "irrational behavior." While I do not believe that her leaving was irrational, I do take exception to the WAY in which she did it -- leaving behind her clothes, mementos, friends and even her mother for a year without a word. She could have achieved the same effect without isolating herself. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: If that woman had been in a work setting and her boss had talked to her in irritated tones, and her co-workers were disrespectful or ignored her altogether, she would have cause for filing harassment charges.

Were she in a school setting and the teacher always spoke to her in irritated tones, and her classmates were disrespectful or ignored her altogether, you would have advised her to take the teacher to task and be concerned that her classmates were harassing her.

Is that behavior more acceptable in a family setting because the perpetrators are her husband and sons? Absolutely not!

It appears she was at the breaking point and escaped the only way she could. Many people have chosen suicide at that point, but she chose to run away from home.

She should seek counseling, but only to see if she would really care to go back to an abusive situation. -- DISAPPOINTED IN NEILTON, WASH.

DEAR DISAPPOINTED: I did not advise her to return to an abusive situation. I told her to seek counseling to be sure she was strong enough to face what might lie ahead. Once she was on firmer emotional footing, the counselor -- or a clergyperson -- could mediate and facilitate the family reunion. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: Had her family been supportive and seen to it that she had been evaluated physically and mentally, maybe she would owe them an apology. But as it stands, the husband and the sons should be begging her for forgiveness. She should not return to them until the entire family has completed therapy. Only then will they deserve HER forgiveness. -- ROBYN IN TACOMA

DEAR ROBYN: On that point I certainly agree. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: I would like to say to "Lost Mother": Get help, get strong -- and THEN tell your kids how much you love them. It may take a while for them to fully understand why you left -- but in time they will. Also, don't go back to your husband unless he is willing to admit that he was wrong and agrees to go to counseling, too.

Good luck. I'm rooting for you. -- BEEN THERE, TOO

DEAR "TOO": I hope "Lost Mother" sees your letter -- and that she knows we are all rooting for her.

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