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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: After a breakfast discussion about the obesity crisis in our nation, I saw the letter from "Worried in Rhode Island," the 14-year-old girl who is concerned about her friends who use alcohol and drugs. I've been thinking a lot lately about health and self-destructiveness. I see this as one of the major problems in our nation today.

All over the country, flags are hanging in front of thousands of homes signifying that we are united against the common enemy of terrorism. But I can't help remembering that profound line from the comic strip, "Pogo": "We have met the enemy, and it is us."

As we descend further and further down the slippery slope of addictions (which include not only alcohol, drugs and cigarettes, but shopping, gambling, overeating, sexual obsessions, and more), we are becoming a nation so harmful to itself that terrorists need only sit back and watch us self-destruct. How can we be truly strong and healthy as a nation when we are comprised of individuals who are not strong and healthy?

What can be done to institute a national campaign to strengthen ourselves as individuals with physical and emotional health? Of course, for younger people, we must use the public schools, but factual drug education and testimonials about harmful consequences have never been enough. We must discover WHY we hurt ourselves in these ways.

Seeking health and strength should be not only our personal goals, but would enable us to unify and defend against terrorists in a way that would do more good than simply waving the flag. -- AGREEING WITH 'POGO'

DEAR AGREEING: You're asking intelligent questions about very important issues. People usually engage in self-destructive behaviors because they are trying to avoid dealing with unpleasant emotions or situations -- so they comfort themselves with substances or behaviors that when used to excess can be damaging.

The first step in conquering any addiction is to admit you have one. The next step is to seek professional help. Confronting our weaknesses is a sign of strength, and admitting you have them is nothing to be ashamed of -- it's human.

DEAR ABBY: Help! My daughter is being married in three months and there's a major problem. She refuses to invite one of my sisters and her family, all because of a ridiculous feud between them.

My sister has attempted to apologize more than once. Each time my daughter has refused to accept an apology. She and her fiance are paying for their own wedding, so I don't have much to say about the situation. However, it will be very awkward at future family functions if this isn't patched up.

How do I tell my sister she's not invited to the wedding -- and what's more, explain to other family members who may refuse to attend because my sister's family is being banned?

Thanks for any guidance you can give me through this mess. -- FRUSTRATED MOTHER OF THE BRIDE

DEAR FRUSTRATED: Do not assume responsibility for your daughter's actions. Since she is (presumably) an adult, try once more to reason with her. Explain that excluding your sister from the wedding could cause a rift in the family that could have repercussions that she -- and future generations -- may regret. If your daughter is smart, she'll take that into consideration.

If your effort fails, don't worry about telling your sister. She'll know as soon as the other invitations arrive that she has been excluded. You have my sympathy.

Good advice for everyone -- teens to seniors -- is in "The Anger in All of Us and How to Deal With It." To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby, Anger Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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