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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: From the time I was 2 until I was 13, I was abused by five different family members -- including my own father. At the age of 13, my parents terminated their parental rights, giving the state permanent custody of me. I lived in foster care until I turned 18.

When the caseworkers first evaluated me, it was expected that I would succumb to the statistics -- become a welfare mother, a drop-out, etc. I fooled them all and graduated from high school. Later on, I tried to reconnect with my real family, only to discover the chaotic environment my caseworkers had recognized. The saying "Age makes you wiser" is true.

I wish I could say that life has been a piece of cake, but the truth is, it has been difficult. Abuse has long-term side effects that can take a lifetime to overcome, especially the rejection by a parent who sided with the abuser. Had it not been for my faith in God and the encouragement of good people in my life, I would not be living the normal life I've always dreamed of.

Among the things I always wanted was a loving, caring family. It turns out that my friends are just that. I also wanted a loving husband. As I acknowledged -- and later overcame -- the deep emotional scars left by the abuse, and with the help of caring friends, I experienced a drastic turnaround. I met and married the man of my dreams, and my in-laws are some of the nicest people I've ever known. It's like I'm growing up all over again.

I have lived a whole lifetime in this short period. I realize now that my past doesn't have to determine my future. -- ALBUQUERQUE SURVIVOR

DEAR SURVIVOR: I congratulate you for overcoming the odds and creating the life you dreamed of. Instead of letting the past define you, you learned a valuable lesson: You cannot re-create the past. Concentrate on making the present the best it can be, and the future will take care of itself.

DEAR ABBY: Six weeks ago, I co-hosted a baby shower for a friend I'll call Angela. Her mother agreed to split the cost and I put everything on my credit card. I ended up spending more than $1,200 for food, flowers, cake, decorations, favors, etc.

I have yet to receive one dime from Angela's mother. Had I known I would end up bearing the entire cost, I would never have spent so freely.

I feel awkward "demanding" the money. Angela and I have been friends since grammar school, and I don't want to put a strain on our special relationship -- especially since she's due to deliver twins any day now. What should I do? Please advise. -- FINANCIALLY STRAINED IN PORTLAND

DEAR STRAINED: Have you sent Angela's mother an itemized accounting of what she owes? If you have and she hasn't responded, then you now know that she is irresponsible and unreliable. She should have settled with you long ago -- without prompting. For the sake of your long-time friendship with Angela, however, be prepared to write it off as tuition in the school of experience.

What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS, and getting along with peers and parents is in "What Every Teen Should Know." To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby, Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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