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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I am a 20-year-old woman in need of help. I used to live at my grandmother's house with my younger sisters and my parents. My father hasn't worked since I was born. My mom managed a local flower shop and made good money, but she was fired two years ago after she started using cocaine with Dad and her boss found out.

My grandma and my 19-year-old sister take care of my 12- and 14-year-old sisters because our parents are broke. To make matters worse, my uncle, "Ralph," moved here from Florida last year and now lives at my grandma's. Uncle Ralph has a jail record and is verbally and physically abusive to Grandma and to my sisters' cats and dogs. The police have been called, but they can't do anything unless Grandma says she wants him out. The thing is, she's terrified of him. She told my sister she wishes he would leave, but she's too scared to tell him.

Abby, Uncle Ralph is the reason I moved out. How can I get him out of that house, and how can I get my parents help for their drug problem? Most of my money goes to help out with my sisters. I need a car and I'd like to go back to college, but I can't until this burden is lifted off my shoulders. I suffer anxiety attacks from worrying about this. Please help! -- ANXIOUS IN PENNSYLVANIA

DAR ANXIOUS: You may not like this message, but you need to hear it. You are not Wonder Woman, and you have placed far too much responsibility on your own shoulders. You are focusing so hard on other people's problems that you have forgotten to take care of yourself.

Isn't it time that your grandmother and parents took responsibility for themselves? You have already helped them as much as you can -- more than anyone can reasonably expect. There's a reason why airline passengers are instructed that in an emergency they must first place the oxygen masks over their own faces, and THEN over the faces of their dependents. It's so they don't all black out at once.

My advice is to contact Al-Anon and learn how to separate other people's problems from your own. Get back in school and get counseling through the student health center. Once you are out of school and established financially, then you will be in a stronger position to help your siblings.

DEAR ABBY: I was brutally raped a few months ago by a man I had thought was kind and gentle. Afterward, I learned that he had also been violently abusive to his ex-wife and former girlfriend.

He's in jail for now, but I will have to testify against him in court soon, and I'm scared to death.

Everyone tells me to be brave and speak out, but I just want to put this all behind me. It keeps preying on my mind, and I'm frightened at night when I'm home alone. I'm afraid I'll never feel safe again. I have these nightmares that he escapes and beats me to death. Did I do the wrong thing when I reported him? -- FRIGHTENED IN IDAHO

DEAR FRIGHTENED: No, you did the right thing. Permit me to add my voice to the chorus of those urging you to be brave and testify. By standing up for yourself, you will also heal yourself. However, you should also be receiving support from a rape crisis center during this difficult time. And when you go to court, you should have a victim's advocate by your side. Pick up the phone and call (800) 656-4673. It's the toll-free number of the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network. They will guide you to the help you need.

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