Authors Cecil Murphey and Gary Roe explain how they found emotional healing from childhood sexual abuse and how a wife can come alongside her husband who's experienced similar trauma to offer him love and support. (Part 1 of 2)
Listen online, or purchase the download.
Jim Daly: Cec, let me ask you this. How did your wife react when she first found out about your background, your childhood abuse?
Cecil Murphey: She said, "You know, I don't understand this. I don't know anything about this, but I love you and I'm with you.
John Fuller: Well, those must have been reassuring words.
Cecil: Oh, yes, yes. That's exactly what I needed her to say.
End of Teaser
John: Well, we're covering a topic today of childhood sexual abuse and how that follows you into your adult life and affects your marriage. And it's a heavy subject, one that parents, you'll want to listen to privately and as we talk about this, please be in prayer for those who might really need to hear this. Maybe that's you. Our host is Focus president, Jim Daly, and I'm John Fuller.
Jim: You know, my heart goes out to every man and woman affected by childhood sexual abuse and the numbers are staggering and I think they're under-reported. One in 3 women, 1 in 6 men, when they were children were abused. I personally think it's much higher.
It's uncomfortable for people to talk about it. I know some of you are gonna say, do we really want to talk openly and publicly? Yes, we do, because the enemy of our soul—and I've said this so many times, John—the enemy gets away with taking away such a precious gift that God has given us and that is our sexuality in the context of marriage. It's His wedding present to us and we need to reclaim that for children, as well as for all Christians and hopefully, culture.
John: Well, this is something that we talked about just a few weeks ago from the perspective of a wife who was abused as a child and the effects that that had on the relationship. And if you didn't hear that program with Dawn Scott Jones, stop by www.focusonthefamily.com/radio to find it and to listen to that.
Now our two gentlemen joining us today have been through some sexual abuse as children and they're very willing to share their stories, knowing that God can use the trauma they went through to help maybe you. The first is Cecil Murphey and he's known affectionately as Cec. He's the one who answered the first question there from Jim at the top of the program and he's been a pastor, a missionary. He's authored or co-authored some 135 books … 137 books ( Laughter).
Cec: (Whispering) Thirty-seven. (Laughter)
John: It's an amazing journey that you've had, Cec and he was a mentor to Dawn Scott Jones. I mentioned her a moment ago. Gary Roe is also joining us. He served, as well, as a pastor and a church planter and an entrepreneur. And Jim, they have strong personal testimonies that you can find hope and healing from past abuse.
Jim: Well, and that's the goal here, John. In part, what we want to do at Focus on the Family is talk about a subject and open everyone's heart to maybe some of their own past and to offer help. We want you to call us here at Focus on the Family if this is describing you or someone you love. Call us here at Focus on the Family and let us guide you through the next steps that you need to take. And John, you'll give those details in a moment. Let me welcome both Cec and Gary to the program finally. Welcome.
Cec and Gary Roe: Thank you. Great to be here.
Jim: Cec, what gives you confidence that healing is possible for husbands who've been abused? I would say mostly in the culture, boys and men, it doesn't tend to come under "abuse." It's like the machismo thing; you've conquered something. We don't see it necessarily as abuse.
Cec: Yes, I think our culture militates against it and particularly for men, I think if we start talking about being abused the tendency is for somebody to think you're gay and of course, we can't stand that. Or the ideas that boys can't be abused. And boys, we think if we, if I were a real man, real boy, no one would ever do anything like that to me.
But I know healing is possible, because I've experienced it and I've worked with a number of men. I have a blog for a lot of men just really spill their guts, some anonymously, some use their name. But these guys are really out there, dealing with their pain.
Jim: Gary, how about for you, that healing aspect? Some people are gonna be hearing the program, going, can I get there? They're not living in a place that's healthy right now.
Gary: Yes (Clearing throat), they can get there, but it's not easy. And only, I mean at least for me, it was a deliberate choice. There was, in my situation, I had no conscious memory of the childhood sexual abuse until I was in my mid-40's and then flashbacks just started invading my life.
Jim: What triggered that? Why did it take so long?
Gary: I think at least from sources, especially Dan Allender and talking with him and reading his book—
Gary: --that it seems to be the closer the perpetrator was to you and the age at which that happened. But me, it was very early, age 3 to 6, 7. And the perpetrators were very close to me. That tends to go underground for a very, very long time.
Jim: It's a coping mechanism.
Gary: Yes, the child almost has to dissociate and block it out in order to survive, in order to have some kind of semblance of childhood, because how would a 3 to 6-year-old process that?
Jim: No, I agree and you know, so often we in the Christian community can be critical of psychology and you know, so many people call it "psychobabble." But it really is the study of how God has wired us.
Jim: That's the way I like to look at it.
Jim: And I think of those things as mechanisms that God has put in place to actually help and save a child—
Jim: --the fact that you can forget about these things and give you a chance to regroup and recover. I think it's a God-given thing.
Gary: I do, too. You know, I guess it kind of talks about the horrific nature of childhood sexual abuse, that it takes 40 years for a person to be – I'll say God in charge of the process, you know, especially for a believer and that He knows when they're ready to handle it.
Gary: Now, ready to handle it? No. Ready to handle it with Him? Yes.
Gary: Because when my flashbacks started, my thought was, No. 1, I'm crazy.
Gary: But people confirmed that that was not the case. That this is really reality. And then I had to make almost a conscious choice and I felt like in my situation, God was almost giving me a choice. Do you want to continue to go down this road of healing? It is going to be painful. You are not going to like it. Or do you want to stay the way you are? The reality was my life didn't totally make sense. I always had these missing gaps and missing pieces. And once I began to have flashbacks, my life sadly, made sense.
Gary: I now understood why I struggled with X, Y and Z. And I thought, what other road is there but healing?
Jim: Yeah. Let's put a place mark there because I want to come back to your story after we've uncovered some of these triggers and hear from Cec on it. Cec, talk about your childhood. What was happening? Did you go through that same process that Gary went through?
Cec: Mine's a little different, somewhat, but the same. My first perpetrator was my mother. So it was an incest situation. My father was also physically abusive. I was beaten very regularly. And I will tell you that I think my pain has come as much from the physical abuse as the sexual. I don't know how to separate the two.
Jim: How did it manifest? How did that pain manifest itself?
Cec: Well, first the thing that really made the difference for me was when I was about 10-years-old. My father would beat me till I cried. And I decided he would never hear me cry again. And so, I stopped feeling the pain and I was 51-years-old before I ever cried again. I'm a runner and I've been a runner for more than 40 years and one day I was running, took an extra-long run and I just started weeping uncontrollably. The memories started coming back and that's kind of how it went.
And you know, there were days when I really felt I wanted to die, it was so painful. And this – my intense pain probably went on, oh, seven or eight months. But you know, it's been many, many years since and I still uncover things.
Jim: Yeah. Talk about that early childhood. What age were you when your mom—
Cec: Well, I don't know—
Jim: --began to abuse you?
Cec: --I have no idea when she started. The best I figure out is somewhere the first three, four years of my life. I have two younger brothers and I'm quite sure they were sexually molested by her, as well. I found out many years later that she was molested by her father, so that—
Cec: --makes a lot of sense. My brothers became alcoholics and died of the disease.
Cec: And they never dealt with their issues. I, like Gary, I lived in denial and they said to me, were you ever abused or physically beaten, anything like [that]? I would have denied it, because I didn't remember it—
Cec: --till it just poured out.
Jim: You know, we often ask, what was the mom doing when it was daddy doing those things to a daughter? What was your … your dad doing? Did he know about it?
Cec: My dad was a functional alcoholic. Did he know? I have no idea.
Jim: You never talked about it.
Cec: Oh, this is a conspiracy of silence. We never talked about anything. And by the way, when I was about 6 or 7, we rented a room to a man who was a pedophile, we learned. And he abused my older sister and me. She told and I didn't. And I don't know why I never told. I have a feeling that I didn't think anybody cared. I didn't think it would've made any difference. And he was the first person I remember seeming to me to be kind. He was grooming me, you know, called me "special." He hugged me. He listened to me. I'd never had anybody to listen to me before.
Jim: Ah. And at the same time you're getting that affection that you weren't getting from your own father. That was a trap. I mean, that was –
Jim: He was setting a trap—
Cec: Of course.
Jim: --for you.
Cec: Yes, of course, that's [what] a groomer do (sic) … they groom you that way. And you know, call you "special" and he put me on his knee and hold me and run his hand through my hair. I still have very vivid memories of that.
Jim: You know, I have a chilling experience of my own in that regard and it was one of those cases and I want to parlay this into the question for you. I was probably 9-years-old. I was living in foster care. I was gonna take a bus to see my dad. It was just after we had been reunited and connected, but I hadn't moved in with him yet.
And so, he paid for me to get a bus ticket. And it was probably about a two-hour bus ride. And there was a man that had gotten on the bus. There were probably three children on that bus unaccompanied, ironically. One boy was on the bus with his older brother and this man went and talked with him and tried to groom him in that way, grab his hand and or takes his hand. It was gentle. And the older brother was incensed by that rightly, mentioned it to the bus driver. I think the bus driver then was just watching him.
So, I was near the back of this bus and he came back and sat next to me next. And he, you know, was very kind and said, "You know, I used to have a son like you, but he died." And do you mind if I hold your hand? I'm 9-years-old! And I [said] "If that makes you feel better." Kids are so innocent, aren't they?
Cec: And needy, it's the neediness.
Jim: Right. And so, he held my hand and thankfully, that bus driver saw that in the mirror. We were both in the opposite aisle seats and he caught that in the mirror. He pulled that bus over and kicked that man off the bus. Threw his luggage off the bus, right off the freeway! And it may have saved me from something like that. Now here's the question. Where is God in this for you? For me, I'm referring to it as God saved me. Thank You, Lord, for sparing me that. You didn't have that experience.
Cec: See, I didn't have a religious background. I'm an adult convert. And my mother actually became a believer much, in fact, both my parents much later.
So, God wasn't a question then. But let me tell you where I see the beauty of this. Now that I'm on the other side of this, I've wrestled through most of the pain, I actually thank God. I don't want to go through this again. The pain was pretty intense, but I thank God, because I think it's made me a better person, made me more open and sensitive to other people. And I can reach out and help others. And a few years ago, here's something that came to me. I write little maxims for myself and here's one of them.
I serve a God of presence and not a God of protection. By that I meant that God was with me during that whole time obviously, but never promises that we won't go through difficult places. But what I also know is, that God takes us [through] awful, terrible, painful, horrendous experiences and if we're following Him, turns 'em around for our good.
John and Jim: Hm.
John: Well, that's a great insight and I think we should let our listeners know, Jim, that this is "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly and our guests are Cecil Murphey and Gary Roe. And they've each written a book. Cec's book is called When a Man You Love Was Abused: A Woman's Guide to Helping Him Overcome Childhood Sexual Molestation. And the book that he wrote with Gary Roe is called Not Quite Healed: 40 Truths for Male Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse. And if this is resonating with you, I encourage you to call us or to go to www.focusonthefamily.com/radio to find out more about these and other helpful resources.
Jim: Cec, I've gotta push you a bit to—
Jim: --help those that maybe aren't seeing it the way that you just described it, that it's been a difficult journey, one you wouldn't want to go on again, but that you see the fruit of that pain. There are many people that are gonna be shouting at the radio at you saying, "That's ridiculous. How could you say that?" Because they've not felt that healing, they have not seen the end of the journey yet, they're still at the beginning. They're at the one-mile marker, not the 50-mile marker. What do you say to them? How do they get from that—
Cec: Well, I …
Jim: --bitterness and that anger?
Cec: Yeah, yeah, I would tell 'em not to even think about what's gonna happen later. To realize that God is with them. God's presence is there, whether they're aware of it or not. God is with them and they just have to go through the pain.
There were days when I'd [cry]. You know I told you I hadn't cried before that one day. And there were months when I cried day after day after day and thinking, will I ever stop? But that, and as Gary said, you know, that's what we have to do is, have to go through this pain.
And then, those things change, like forgiveness. And I think a lot of us have to forgive ourselves, even though we weren't guilty; we were innocent. We thought we were bad because something bad was done to us. And so, we have to learn to forgive ourselves.
And one more thing and I think this is also important. What we often fail to realize is, if parts of the body are stimulated, they feel good. Because they feel good, it means to us that we must have done something bad. We, like Gary said, we're too young to process that. So obviously, when perpetrators say, "Well, you really wanted this," or "You asked for this," or "You just kept after me." See, then we are caught in that—
Jim: Right, and you feel—
Cec: --awful …
Jim: --like a co-conspirator.
Cec: Oh, yes.
Jim: Gary, let me ask you though, you had a different kind of experience, both sexual abuse. I don't mean to differentiate in that regard. But you had family members who knew what was going on. How did you reconcile that nobody came to your defense?
Gary: (Clearing throat) There was a lot of anger about that for a number of months. And one of the things that I finally realized was, as simple as this sounds, and as almost dumb as it sounds, God knows our hearts, right? And so, He knew I was questioning, how could You let this happen? Where were You? And yet, I knew He was, and this is tough to say, I knew He was there the whole time. And I knew in some senses, back to the protection angle, for me, I really knew that He was protecting me the whole time.
Now I think God protects us all the time from things that we're not even aware of. And we don't know it, because they never happen. In the same way, I'm aware of the sexual abuse that happened. I am not aware however, of how He protected me within that, and all that He protected me from outside of that.
Jim: Let me ask you though. How did you feel protected, when it's happening? I mean, that doesn't sound like protection.
Gary: I think at the time, you know, it's tough to go back to 3- to 6-years-old and figure out, you know, what did I really feel like then? That may be impossible. But this is gonna sound a little ethereal, but my counselor that I was working with at the time working through this issue, when the flashbacks were just taking over my life and so, he said, "I would like you to try an experiment. The next time you have a flashback, I want you to invite Jesus into the flashback.
Gary: So, the next flashback I had, and I would have repeated flashbacks, same thing over and over with a little bit more playing out each time.
Jim: How would that work, to help us that have not had that flashback experience? Does it mean you're occupied and all of a sudden, you're in the moment? It's captivating your memory and you stop doing what you're doing in the moment, and you're just thinking about that? What did that look like?
Gary: A little bit of both. Yes, mine were unpredictable. In other words, they weren't coming at any particular time of the day. They seemed to be random. Many times however, it's interesting, they would come during my devotional time in the morning.
Jim: Huh. And was there a wave of emotion that came with that or just a memory?
Gary: Usually. The pictures just began to come, even though I can have my eyes open and be looking at you right now, but all of a sudden, I'm somewhere else. I'm very much here and I very much can still see you, but it's like I'm seeing something else at the same time.
Gary: If it's intense enough, yes, I had several while I was driving. [I] pulled off to the side of the road until—
Gary: --it … until it dissipates.
Jim: Yeah, it's hard to imagine if we haven't experienced [it], which I had not anything like that, what you (sic) actually go through. Paint that picture though. I know you want to be discreet about family members—
Jim: --and things, but help our listeners see that picture of you being taken through the living room and what was going on without naming names or giving titles? Can you describe that for us?
Gary: Okay. When the flashbacks originally began, I was being dragged by my arm down the hallway to the master bedroom of the house. And the first couple of flashbacks ended right at the doorway. And in fact, the door was shut in the flashback.
And then finally, the door opened and the scene continued to play itself out, of being dragged to the bed and of, after that, being unclothed and everything that happened after that. Back to inviting Jesus into the flashbacks, that was the flashback that played back next. And so, at one point, I kinda came to myself and I just cried out, "Jesus, where are You?"
And this is very difficult to describe, but all of a sudden in that flashback, He was there. I am myself in the flashback. I'm not watching myself. I am myself in the flashback. He is there with me in that bed, surrounding me with His hands around my heart. Everything else is still playing out, but He is there with His hands around my heart. And I knew from that moment, that the protection somehow had to do – it had to do with my heart.
Gary: And I can look back in my life and see all kinds of struggles as a result of what happened to me. But I can also look back and say, this didn't happen and this didn't happen and I did not become this and I did not do this. And there's no explanation for that for me other than the fact that Jesus had His hands around my heart in the midst of that.
The next morning in my devotions, I'm in the book of Daniel and where am I? Boom! I'm Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, being thrown into the fiery furnace.
Gary: God did not protect them from the furnace. God protected them in the furnace. And when they emerged from the furnace, unlike sexual abuse, they had no smell of fire upon them. We have the smell of fire upon us (Laughing). We have stuff that we have to deal with. But that does not mean that we weren't (Sound of sniffing) protected in some very sovereign ways that are so intimate between us and Jesus Christ. It's just –
Jim: I need to ask that question that I asked Cec. I mean, it sounds right. It lines up with Scripture, that God loves you in that way. And you 're wiping tears from your face even as we talk right now. Yet at the same time there are many people who haven't gotten to that place yet. And what would you say to them when they're still saying, "I don't feel Jesus wrapping me up. I still feel like that dirty little boy, that co-conspirated in this and it felt good, but I was ashamed." And they're angry and they're bitter and they haven't asked God to show it to 'em in a way that makes more sense to them—
Jim: --if you can make sense of this at all.
Gary: Yes. The first thing that I would say is, that God knows our hearts, so don't bother hiding your anger from Him. He's a big boy and He can handle whatever we throw at Him. And I would say, figure out a way to express your anger and express it to God. I know that if I had a daughter or a son who was angry with me for some reason I would want them to come to me and tell me about that and to let it out so we could figure out where we are in our relationship, so we could move forward from there. That would be the first and biggest thing.
The second thing is to just (chuckling) Cec said something similar. Don't try too hard to figure this out, but instead, what's the next step of healing for you—
Gary: --whatever that might be. And I know it's not this. I know it's not to isolate yourself and think about this some more.
Jim: Well, let me ask you that – at what point did either of you talk to somebody? Cec, you mentioned that you did not; your sister did when you had that boarder in your home that abused both of you. When did you actually talk to somebody?
Cec: When memories and the flashbacks started coming, that very day I called my best friend. He's been my best friend now for 37 years. And he and my wife were the first two people I ever felt loved me unconditionally.
Jim: So, you could say anything to them.
Cec: Absolutely. And my wife – when my wife came home from work, I just told her and you know, I didn't know what she was going to say, but she was there. She just hugged me. And one of the things I think with many of us, and it certainly true with me, is we go numb—
Cec: --because our feelings were so overwhelmed. Like for instance, one time my wife was dying and she recovered, but I was in the emergency room. They didn't expect her to live through the night and I was standing there looking at her and I could feel nothing. And here was the most important person in my life and I could feel nothing. And I think a lot of men [are] in this – the post-traumatic stress, that kind of thing. But because I'd been so overwhelmed in childhood, I couldn't feel.
Cec: And so, therefore, I was defective. Something's wrong with me.
Jim: Well, and that can manifest in a lot of different ways. I mean, I think men generally are not connected. We tend to be loners by nature. And that's one of the starving things that their wives need, is some intimacy emotionally. And so, we start from a deficit, I guess is my point. And then when you have this happen, I can relate to that, because of my own childhood. There were times that Jean needed me in a bigger way and I didn't show up in the way that she needed me and I regret that. And that's what you're talking about.
Jim: Well, Cec Murphey and Gary Roe, we've talked today about the abuse that boys, too, can go through. We often talk about girls, which we did a few weeks ago, John—
Jim: – with Dawn Scott Jones. Today we're on that subject of boys going through that. We do need to come back next time and talk about practical ways that your spouse, your wife, can better understand your situation, your childhood and what you can do to help your husband continue to grow in Christ through the abuse that they experienced. Can you stick with us and come back?
Jim: Okay, let's do that.
Cec: Of course.
John: I really appreciate the candor that we've heard from our guests today and trust that God's gonna use this conversation to bring some healing to you. Um...and that if you know someone who has this kind of a difficult past that you'll share the discussion with them and help them know that we care here at Focus on the Family.
Now our Counseling Department is probably one of the best resources that we can offer you if you're hurting. And if you'd like to speak to a caring Christian counselor, just call 800-A-FAMILY. 800-232-6459. And while we might have to take your name and number, know that we do want to reach out and assist in any way we can. So just call that number during normal business hours.
Now, whenever we air a program addressing a sensitive topic like this one we hear from people who say I've never told anyone or, for years and years I've struggled and I've never been able to get over the difficulties. Please know that because of our counseling and the various tools we have we know many people are going to benefit from today's broadcast. And I'm gonna encourage you to pray with us toward that end.
And if you can, to donate to the ongoing work of Focus on the Family. And when you give a generous donation of any amount today we'll send either a copy of When A Man You Loved Was Abused or Not Quite Healed: 40 Truths for Male Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse. It'll be our way of putting a good tool in your hand for your reference, perhaps a friend, or maybe a church library. And also, to say thank you for supporting what we do here and for making a difference in the lives of hurting people worldwide.
Donate and get resources and help when you call 800-A-FAMILY or at focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family. And on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back next time. We'll continue this conversation with Cecil Murphey and Gary Roe and offer more trusted advice to help your family thrive.
Featured Broadcast Resource
Receive a copy of When a Man You Love Was Abused or Not Quite Healed for your donation of any amount!Give Now (Available to U.S. residents only)
Recent Focus on the Family Broadcast EpisodesGo To Most Recent Episode
Cecil MurpheyView Bio
Cecil Murphey is the bestselling author of more than 135 books including the hit title 90 Minutes in Heaven (with Don Piper). Cecil's books have sold millions of copies and have been translated into more than 40 languages. He has also written hundreds of articles that have appeared in a variety of publications and travels extensively to speak on topics such as spiritual growth, caregiving, significant living, recovery and male sexual abuse. Learn more about Cecil by visiting his website: www.cecilmurphey.com.
Gary RoeView Bio
Gary Roe is a writer, a public speaker and the chaplain at Hospice Brazos Valley located in central Texas. He's written more than 250 articles, and he has authored four books including Heartbroken and Surviving the Holidays Without You. Gary and his wife, Jen, have seven children, including three daughters the couple adopted from Columbia. Learn more about Gary by visiting his website: www.garyroe.com.