Carol Hall remembers when the abuse began.
"I was 9 years old when my father came home from Vietnam, and he immediately began prepping me for the abuse to come," she said in a recent interview about the incest that plagued her early years.
Her father prepped her by asking detailed questions about how her private parts were developing, by showing her how to kiss on the lips and by calling her into his bedroom and asking her to let him take pictures of her nude.
He began encouraging her to read books he'd brought home from Vietnam. "As it turned out, they were books full of words I wasn't allowed to say and most that I didn't know what they meant," Hall recalled. They had father-daughter titles, she said, and she quit looking in her father's duffle bag.
"Many levels of incest continued until I married at the age of 18," said Hall, adding, "Although the physical side of the abuse ended at that point, the emotional and mental abuse continued until Daddy died."
Hall is a member of Shedding Our Secrets, a support group for incest survivors that is part of the ministry of Chattahoochee Valley Episcopal Ministries. Shedding Our Secrets offers survivors of incest an opportunity to find the courage to shed their secrets, to give themselves permission to speak out, to conquer their fears and shed the shame and to refuse to live in the shadow of their victimhood.
The group was inspired by the legacy of Frances Morris, who had been a victim of incest since childhood. When she died in 2001, she left her estate to CVEM with the request that support be given to victims of incest.
CVEM is a 30-plus-year-old outreach ministry of the Episcopal churches in the Columbus region. Its services include financial assistance, youth empowerment, advocacy, scholarships and a partnership in the Beallwood community.
Hall said she joined Shedding Our Secrets because "I felt I would benefit from a support group of other incest survivors."
She found the group helpful, and later became a member of the directing committee. She helped set up a Facebook page for Shedding Our Secrets, which has been viewed by people from all over the world. Hall uses the page to provide links of interest to survivors of incest, she said.
She also helped design the Shedding Our Secrets brochure, which includes conditions that are common among survivors of incest, such as:
Aggression or bullying
Anorexia nervosa or bulimia
Disassociate identity disorder
Insomnia or other sleep disturbances
Lack of self confidence
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Although Hall had sought professional help from counselors, she didn't reveal her secret to them, still protecting her abuser, she said. Many incest survivors keep their secrets all the way to the grave, she said. They fear the abuser will be taken away to jail, and still protect him even though they are hurting inside. Hall suggests keeping a journal about the abuse if the victim absolutely doesn't want to tell someone.
"I'm here as an example the healing process continues. I not only intend to survive, but I intend to thrive," Hall said.
Hall said her faith in God helps her to recover from her abuse. Even from a young age, she knew someone was with her. She thinks she's fortunate that, on his death bed, her father confessed what he had done to her and asked her forgiveness. Many victims never get that, she said.
For more information on Shedding Our Secrets, contact Vicky Partin at Chattahoochee Valley Episcopal Ministries, 706-327-0400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.