I was thinking today about how my brother George faced a huge adversity in his life shortly after he got sober. His life changed abruptly after a small non-healing sore was diagnosed in his mouth as cancer and two weeks later, he was at M.D. Anderson preparing to have his jaw and soft palate in the roof of his mouth removed. He went overnight from a man who was very handsome to one with a sunken jaw and a changed voice and it was several years before he agreed to have reconstructive surgery where they took a bone from his thigh to recreate a jawline for him. He also wore a prosthetic in his mouth for the rest of his life so his voice was more normal.
I sometimes wonder how George handled that dramatic change in his appearance and his voice. I don’t recall him ever speaking of the change except to marvel at his reconstructed face many years later and say, “I surprise myself now thinking of how hesitant I was to get that operation. I’m glad I did.”
Facing adversity in his late 30s after only a couple of years sober, I can’t help but wonder how in the world George was able to fight off relapse. He would be quick to tell me that it had everything to do with “working his program,” meaning following the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Step 1: Honesty. “We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable.”
Yes, nothing can make life feel more unmanageable than a cancer diagnosis with a treatment of radical facial surgery, followed by radiation therapy.
Step 2: Hope. “Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
As someone who had battled substance abuse since his teenage years and was actively pursuing a life of sobriety at the time of his diagnosis, George had the benefit of having experienced that “power” that had restored his life to sanity.
Step 3: Surrender. ““Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”
George had already surrendered once when he admitted that he was powerless over alcohol and drugs. Surrendering a second time seemed to come a good deal easier.
Of course, there are 9 more steps on the 12-Step path but these first three are critical in starting on the road to recovery. I use these in my own life when I am facing challenges that feel beyond my ability to handle. I admit I am powerless over the situation and that my life has become unmanageable; I remind myself that there is a power greater than myself that can bring “sanity” back into my life; and I turn my life and will over to God as I understand him.” Over and over and over.
It helps me that George provided such a strong model for moving beyond the insanity of the moment by accepting the grace that comes from surrender. Opening my heart and mind to a power greater than myself helps me to navigate life’s challenges, one moment at a time.
Thank you, George, for modeling such healthy and life-affirming behavior. You continue to help us all through your fine example of humility and surrender. Your actions still radiate hope today and I am grateful to have you as a guiding light even years after your death.
Yes, you would say that it is easy. “Just turn it all over to a power greater than yourself and then work your program, one baby step at a time.”
George, Rachael, Sarah, and Brother Sam