My Name Is Tim And I Have A Garden Gnome Addiction

Just over 10 years ago I had two discs in my neck removed at C4 and C5.

At the time I knew I had problems with other discs lower down and further procedures were probably going to be necessary at some stage.

I started having some discomfort a few months ago and made an appointment to see a spinal specialist.

During the consult he asked me about my previous surgeries and said, “I see you had a discectomy and spinal fusion in 2003.”

“No” I said, “I didn’t have a fusion, just the discectomy”

He looked at me blankly for a moment and then nodded slowly whilst saying, “Well we wouldn’t do that now, we’re a little bit more advanced thankfully”.

I’ve worked with a fair number of clients over the years who have experienced alcohol and other addictions, a good proportion of whom had been through the 12 Steps process via organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous.

When Does Recovering Move To Recovered?

Every single one one referred to him or herself as a recovering alcoholic, including one man who hadn’t had a drink for close on three decades

“When are you a recovered alcoholic” I asked him.

“Never” he replied almost triumphantly.

I have to be careful what I say here because AA and 12 Steps have helped hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people recover from alcohol addiction the world over.

Except they haven’t.

They haven’t helped anybody recover.

They have helped people move into remission

Remission is most definitely a preferable situation than the alternative, (just ask an oncology patient), but it’s not the same as recovery.

When 12 Steps started over three quarters of a century ago there were no fMRI’s, no PET Scans and as such very little known about the workings of the human brain other than conjecture through observations of behavior.

That’s not the case now. Now we understand that one of, if not the, biggest factor in making change, is the power of the human belief system.

Accepting There Is a Problem Is Always The Starting Point

Admitting that you have an addiction, whether it’s with alcohol, drugs or molesting garden gnomes is without doubt the first part in making change.

People in denial seldom change their circumstances.

However, declaring again and again you have an addiction even when you haven’t molested a garden gnome in 28 years can be counter-productive.

Your brain likes to be right almost as much as anything else. As such when you have a strong belief about something it will sift for information to support that belief. And it will find it.

Therefore, each declaration has your brain looking for and finding evidence that you still have an issue with white- bearded, brightly colored garden ornaments.

But what would happen if instead of the current 12 Steps approach it were changed to reflect what we now know about the workings of the human brain?

Sure if you have an addiction and you are still coming to terms with it, own it, at least to begin with. But don’t make it part of your identity forever.

A Change For The Better?

Perhaps after a year of staying away from the opening introduction could be:

“My name is Tim and I used to have a problem with garden gnomes, but now I’m better and looking forward to help other people recover from the clutches of the Devils playthings”

That statement does a number of positive things.

  1. It pushes the problem into the past and creates distance from it
  2. It helps the brain look for evidence to support the new belief rather than vice versa
  3. It presupposes that the problem won’t be an issue moving forward

Let me be clear about one thing. I know this won’t work more effectively for every person and that some people may use it as an excuse to slide back.

But the current way of doing things doesn’t work for everybody either, in fact far from it.

I’m merely playing a numbers game and saying science suggests it should be more likely to elicit the desired results than the current way of doing things.

I made a full recovery from my surgery in 2003, but that doesn’t I’m not delighted that if I ever need similar surgery the chances of success are even higher because science has moved forward.

Note: This post is absolutely NOT an attack on any 12 Steps program or organization committed to helping people with addictions, I’m merely throwing ideas out there and would welcome your take.