DEAR AMY: What happens to us in the first 18 years of our lives makes up the foundation of our lives.
Molested for many months by a close family friend when I was young, I sent all the "typical" signs to my parents and was punished by them for my behavior.
Almost 50 years later, I still carry the weight of this violation with me. I do not believe in forgiveness, and I am very distant with my mother, and she has no idea why as it is a subject that can never be brought up.
People say, "You are an educated adult; get over it; forget it," but it stays, embedded and still painful. People who molest children have no idea that it results in a lifetime of pain.
I still wish I could change this one life incident and see if there is a happy person in this body — instead of the one who inhabits it emptily now.
DEAR SAD: One legacy of sexual abuse is the sense of shame and loneliness the victim feels.
You should explore the concept of forgiveness because forgiveness is often the last step in the journey of understanding and acceptance.
I'm not talking about forgiving your abuser. But your parents, for instance, might not have understood the typical signs of abuse 50 years ago. At that time, much less was known about childhood sexual abuse.
They missed your signals. They punished you for acting out. Can you forgive them? Can you forgive yourself for being too afraid, ashamed or confused to tell them exactly what was happening?
There is another, happier person inside you. With guidance and support, you can find that person.
You can't change this incident and its historical effect on you. But you can change your present and your future by getting help for something you should not have to deal with on your own.
You can check RAINN.org for resources, information and to find a local support group.
DEAR AMY: At a small gathering of my husband's family (including children), I lost control and said some terrible things before I asked my husband to take me home.
In my mind, I was defending one of my children, but I realize now I overreacted, and I'm embarrassed.
I've hand-written notes to the other people there, but I'm wondering what else you think I should do to recover from this.
And how can I avoid loud, obnoxious screaming matches in the future?
DEAR WORRIED: Wait a week after sending your notes and call the recipients to say, "I hope you got my note apologizing for my behavior. I'm ashamed of how I acted, and I hope you'll accept my apology."
After that, the burden shifts somewhat to the other people in the group. They need to be willing to accept your apology and shake that particular Etch A Sketch clean.
The way to avoid loud, obnoxious arguments in the future is not to behave poorly, leaving the bad behavior (and subsequent note writing) to other people.
DEAR AMY: "Distressed Sister" was a 16-year-old sister of an adopted sibling whose mother required her to keep the adoption a secret.
It makes me cringe to think what that child has missed.
My son has known of his adoption since he was old enough to understand the concept.
This is what he understands: He was chosen especially by me; he has two birthdays (he brings cupcakes to school on his birthday and cookies on his "gotcha day"); he didn't have to get stuck with my short, nonathletic genes; he gets to celebrate both Mother's Day and Birth Mother's Day (the day before Mother's Day); and he's loved within an inch of his life by not only his adoptive family, but by his birth mother and her family.
He also benefits hugely by a close relationship between our two families. Being adopted is nothing to be ashamed of! It's something to be celebrated!
— Joseph's Mom
DEAR MOM: Not all adoptees have access to their birth family the way your son does, but all adoptees should be told the truth about their lives — starting in an age-appropriate way when they are very young.
Send questions via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Amy Dickinson's memoir, The Mighty Queens of Freeville: A Mother, a Daughter and the Town that Raised Them (Hyperion), is available in bookstores.