A guide to all kinds of addiction from a star who has struggled with heroin, alcohol, sex, fame, food and eBay, that will help addicts and their loved ones make the first steps into recovery
“This manual for self-realization comes not from a mountain but from the mud...My qualification is not that I am better than you but I am worse.” Russell Brand
With a rare mix of honesty, humor, and compassion, comedian and movie star Russell Brand mines his own wild story and shares the advice and wisdom he has gained through his fourteen years of recovery. Brand speaks to those suffering along the full spectrum of addictionfrom drugs, alcohol, caffeine, and sugar addictions to addictions to work, stress, bad relationships, digital media, and fame. Brand understands that addiction can take many shapes and sizes and how the process of staying clean, sane, and unhooked is a daily activity. He believes that the question is not “Why are you addicted?” but "What pain is your addiction masking? Why are you runninginto the wrong job, the wrong life, the wrong person’s arms?"
Russell has been in all the twelve-step fellowships going, he’s started his own men’s group, he’s a therapy regular and a practiced yogiand while he’s worked on this material as part of his comedy and previous bestsellers, he’s never before shared the tools that really took him out of it, that keep him clean and clear. Here he provides not only a recovery plan, but an attempt to make sense of the ailing world.
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Are you a bit fucked?
Step 1: We admitted that we were powerless over our addiction, that our lives had become unmanageable.
This is an invitation to change. This is complicated only in that most of us are quite divided, usually part of us wants to change a negative and punishing behaviour, whereas another part wants to hold on to it. For me Recovery is a journey from a lack of awareness to awareness. Let me tell you what I mean using my own vanilla experience as a bog-standard drug addict and alcoholic.
I always felt I was rather too clever for something like a 'program for living', certainly one that had any religious overtones. It's not that I thought that religion was 'the opiate of the masses', if it was, I would've had some, I loved opium. It's that I thought it was dumb. Drab, dry, dumb, shouty, hysterical, dumb. Small-town dumb. Foreign dumb. Take Christianity, either it's so medieval and swathed in pageantry that it's droning and ridiculous or they try and modernize it and make it cheesy. Bad guitars, jumpers and knowing, sympathetic looks. No. Thank. You.
I had two serendipitous licks: one, I was introduced to the 12 Steps by a seriously committed atheist and two, I was privately desperate. I was broken. I had run out of ideas and juice and was only kept moving by inertia. I'd given up thinking about why I felt sad, or different, or hopeless, I just knew I did, and I left that knowledge parked to one side in my mind, unaddressed, ignored, rotting. Meanwhile I drank and used drugs to keep me upright and functioning, to stop the sadness running over. If you had ever tapped me on the shoulder and said, 'Hey Russell, what's your plan?', I may have reflexively spouted some cock-eyed optimism about 'waiting for my break' or 'this time next year I'll be a somebody' but deep down I knew I had no plan. I ask you now, do you have a plan? You don't have to answer me now, in fact, there's very little point in answering me at all, given that I'm not there (you're now alone, reading this!), but can you, in what ought to be the sanctuary of your mind say to yourself: 'I have a plan. I know where I am going.' My way of coping with the quiet anxiety of uncertainty was to find distractions and pleasures. I was never still. I was seldom reflective. I sustained myself with distraction.
Here is a clinically accepted breakdown of the cycle of addiction. If this model is reflective of the aspect of your life that you'd like to change, it's likely that the 12 Step model will too. Let's see:
A 5-point guide to the cycle of addiction
2 Using an addictive agent, like alcohol, food, sex, work, dependent relationships to soothe and distract
3 Temporary anaesthesia or distraction
5 Shame and guilt, leading to pain or low self-esteem
And off we go again. I'll tell you how this applies to me and you can mentally keep track with its application to your problem – and don't let yourself off the hook if I seem crazier than you, that's my qualification for writing this book, remember. I was in pain. As long as I can remember, I didn't feel good enough. Now I'm a little older I think, 'What does that mean, good enough?', compared to what, when, where, how? But back then, in my gurgling and nervous childhood and rash and frenetic teens I just felt inadequate, incomplete. Not good enough. And it hurt. I looked out at the world as if from within an aquarium and it felt lonely. I also had no technique for addressing that feeling so I had to invent some. That is number 2 on the 5-point guide. I used an addictive agent and in my earliest incarnation of addictive behaviour I used the innocuous toxin, sugar. Chocolate. Food. I put stuff in my mouth and I felt better, what's wrong with that? Forgive me if I'm patronizing you here, I want you to understand a few crucial points: I was managing my feelings through external means and the object is not in itself bad. There's no point in demonizing chocolate biscuits, they of themselves are not the problem. They won't of their own volition kick down your front door, shine a flashlight in your face as you sleep, drag you from your bed and jam themselves down your throat. The participation of your consciousness is a prerequisite. For some people a chocolate biscuit is a harmless treat. For some a wee drop of rum or saucy nip of smack is a tonic. The heroin will ferry you to crisis more quickly than a chocolate Penguin biscuit but the key point is the function of this external agent in your life. Number 3 is a temporary numbing, the moment of grateful exhalation and relief, post-biscuit, post-coital, post-gratifying text from the object of your obsession, post-whatever it is you're fixing on. Point 4 is 'consequences', what is the price paid? I used to feel awful as a kid after I'd snaffled my way through a week's worth of biscuits in one absent-minded sitting. I don't think there's a person alive who doesn't reproach themselves momentarily after an orgasm achieved in solitude. And after using drugs, when I was coming to the end of my sojourn into substance misuse was the only time I could countenance quitting. Number 5 is 'pain' and we're back to the start of the cycle.
'You don't have to not drink for twenty years today. You don't have to give up white bread for all eternity, right now. This "one day at a time" cliché when taken plainly is no less profound than any "be in the moment" Eastern wisdom I've since encountered. Today is all I have.'
As Eckhart Tolle says, 'addiction starts with pain and ends with pain.' Here we can see that dissected. As the cycle of addiction goes round it gathers momentum, like an out-of-control carousel, like the spinning of my nauseous head when drunk. The legal age to drink in the UK is eighteen, by the time I was nineteen medical professionals and the teachers at my college had identified I had a problem and were telling me I needed help. In retrospect, it was evident much earlier, in the way I ate, related to people, thought about myself and my sexuality. I wish I could've identified these patterns, this tendency sooner, so I could've begun to apply the methods outlined in this book. For me though things had to get worse, I had to repeat this pattern for ten years with consequences increasing with each vertiginous whip. I didn't know there was another way. I was a kid, then I was an addict and by the time the idea of working a program had reached me, which with substances means abstinence and with behaviour and food means structure, I was twenty-seven, a heroin addict and in serious trouble.
'I was a kid, then I was an addict and by the time the idea of working a program had reached me, which with substances means abstinence and with behaviour and food means structure, I was twenty-seven, a heroin addict and in serious trouble.'
Step 1 invites us to admit that we are using some external thing, a relationship, a drug or a behaviour as the 'power' that makes our life liveable. It asks if this technique is making our life difficult. By admitting we are 'powerless' over whatever it is, we are saying we need a new power, that this current source of power is more trouble than it's worth.
I have made this admission many times and I make it still each day. It began with the admission that I was powerless over drugs and alcohol, they were the most obvious and troublesome power sources that I was using. The 'unmanageability' here meant the negative consequences in my life were stacking up and importantly, once I start with drink and drugs I don't know when, or if, I will stop. The very act of drinking or using sets me on a course that I am unable to reliably arrest. It is admittedly more subtle when applied to pornography and overeating but it is still clear that I have to structure my thinking around these behaviours and that the structure can't be based on compulsive behaviour.
To return to my point about 'two minds', a divided self, my experience of that was as follows. When I first heard about the program and the idea of abstinence was explained I thought both 'fuck that' and a kind of low resonant thud of acceptance that abstinence would be my path. One of the many paradoxes of the spiritual life I encountered here lies in the trite maxim 'one day at a time', as in 'just try not to drink today', 'try not to eat unhealthily today' and 'try not to act out sexually today'. I knew they meant 'you can't ever drink again', 'no more chocolate. Ever' and 'you are now celibate'. 'Your ballroom days are over baby.' And they do mean that. If you are a serious alcoholic, you cannot drink. If you have food issues you will always need structure around eating. We have to accept it. Where the 'one day at a time' homespun, thanks Nan, wisdom kicks in is with the rather Zen and incontrovertible truth that life is experienced in the present, beyond today your projections of life are conceptual. You don't have to not drink for twenty years today. You don't have to give up white bread for all eternity, right now. And if you do make it through today, and wake up tomorrow, what does it really matter that you didn't act out yesterday? I mean, you're not accumulating tokens for punitive pleasure. This 'one day at a time' cliché when taken plainly is no less profound than any 'be in the moment' Eastern wisdom I've since encountered. Today is all I have.
Now that I'm fourteen and a half years clean, one day at a time, I like to riff on this concept like I'm Charlie Parker or Foucault. When I feel like I want to act out sexually, I surrender it, I don't act out. Then the next day, or even an hour later I think, 'Imagine I had done that? It would be over now anyway and I'd've detonated my family'.
Step 1 means you can change. It means surveying the landscape of your life, your family relationships, your working life, your sexual behaviour, your eating, your use of your phone, drugs and alcohol, the way you spend money and asking, 'Am I happy with this?' 'Is this how I want to live?' If there is a behaviour or problem that lurches out garishly, some glaringly obvious looming catastrophe that this surveillance reveals, then it is here that you can take Step 1. I am 'powerless over this and my life has become unmanageable.'
This unmanageability concept is interesting too and as well as the more obvious interpretation of chaos and disorder there is a deeper, scarier meaning. The first aspect in my case was plainly observable: unpaid debts, hospital visits, jobs lost, relationships lost, friends holding up their hands and reversing out of my life. I was creating chaos. I had followed another well-known 12 Step trope, 'First my using was fun, then fun with problems, then just problems.' The positive aspects of my character were becoming redundant, it didn't matter that I was bright, or kind or talented, these traits were being diluted to the point of irrelevance by the seeping negativity of my addiction. The unmanageability though has a disturbing and, in my case, demonstrable clause: when I yield control to that part of myself, when I drink or use or say 'fuck it' around any destructive behaviour, I don't know when I'll get my life back or what state it will be in when I do. The unmanageability at its heart means that there is a beast in me. It is in me still. I live in negotiation with a shadow side that has to be respected. There is a wound. I believe that this is more than a characteristic of addiction. I think it is a part of being human, to carry a wound, a flaw and again, paradoxically, it is only by accepting it that we can progress.
I took Step 1 when I 'admitted I was powerless over my addiction and that my life had become unmanageable.' That I didn't have control, no matter what I said to myself and others, and that it was getting worse. I knew there was no way out, that I had fear and shame that I didn't want to face, that I hoped I would never have to. That I would be able, through my will, to bend the world into making me feel alright somehow.
When I met Chip Somers, bloody ridiculous name, I know, who ran the treatment centre where I got clean, he was the first 12 Step person I spoke to. He never mentioned 'God' or 'Higher Power', as I say he's a hardcore atheist, he makes Richard Dawkins look like Uri Geller, he just told me straight, 'You are fucked. If you carry on using like you are, in six months' time you'll be in prison, a lunatic asylum or a grave.' And whilst I was a little shocked, I knew he was right.
You might not be addicted to crack and heroin as I was and the above might seem comfortingly alien so I should tell you, I've since worked Step 1 many times. With food, I am powerless over food; if I start eating chocolate, I don't know when I'll stop. With sex, if I make sex the panacea, the salve to this pain we discussed earlier, I will soon lose control of my sexual conduct and I'll end up in more pain. Or work. Or my relationship. In fact I now work this program and therefore this step in a 360-degree fashion. I have no power at all over people, places and things, and if I ever for a moment mistakenly believe that I do – and act as if I do – pain is on its way. If there is something in your life that is causing you a problem and you're aware of it, I bet you've tried using will, crystals, hypnotism and pills to placate it. My suspicion is they haven't worked and my experience is they never will. Oddly, counterintuitively, in our culture of individualism and self-centred valour, it is by surrendering that we can begin to succeed. It is by 'admitting that we have no power' that we can begin the process of accessing all the power we will ever need. I've heard it said that we have the '-ism' before we have the addiction. I now attest to the presence of a conflagratory condition that awaits the substance to ignite it. Now with fourteen and a half years drug- and alcohol-free I cannot clearly say whether it was in sex or drugs that my addiction found its truest expression. Certainly drugs and alcohol have the power to decimate your life with greater efficiency. But my escalation through so-called recreational drugs to hard drugs was underscored by a uniform pain. Many of the associated problems that addiction evokes are caused by their criminal status and poverty. What doesn't change, regardless of the manner in which addiction is materialized or the economic conditions of the afflicted, is the presence of pain.
Pain is a signal, it's some aspect of us that's beyond our somewhat narrow conception of 'self,' communicating. A pain in the leg means 'don't put pressure on this leg'; a pain in the mind means 'change the way you live'. With earlier manifestations of the same condition the signals were not easy to read.
The impulse that made me eat too much chocolate when I was a kid was the same impulse that led me to heroin addiction in a child-friendly, socially acceptable disguise. Or when I was watching too much TV, even then as a little boy, I was using external resources to medicate because I felt uneasy inside. My personal circumstances may have contributed to this, my mum was ill a lot and I had a tense relationship with my stepdad, but these biographical details are less important than the sense I had that something was missing.
When I was a kid, knelt in front of the TV in the post-school, pre-Mum-home hinterland, I believed I had a solution to the problem of being me with every Penguin biscuit I jammed into my gawping trap. The distraction of the taste, the ritual of unpeeling them like a Buffalo Bill victim, the scraping of the chalk-brown custard guts, enough to occupy me, to fill me up. So the 'treat' of a perfectly enjoyable chocolate biscuit sandwich-wrapped in foil became an emotional necessity, a survival tool. Alone at home they toppled like a row of calorific dominoes into the hungry void. I already had a sense of shame and solitude around this behaviour. There was already something other than the simple eating of biscuits at play.
'For me, today, on this planet I thankfully aspire to more than brief interludes of numbness through food, sex and the acquisition of delightful tight trousers with unpronounceable names; particularly as I now know they are all ciphers, poor facsimiles of the thing I'm actually seeking.'
When through the storm of puberty I graduated to porn, in those charming sepia, stuck-together pages of yesteryear, it was – I know now – the same impulse that led me to the chapel of the lavvy for masturbatory distraction and temporary connection and relief.
God help the trainee perverts of today as they stand Kleenex in hand on the brink of a Niagara of every conceivable kink, accessible with any smart device they can cram into their clammy palms. Porn is a clear example of how our culture is feeding the disease of addiction. The natural impulse to have sex becomes a compulsion to masturbate. The attraction to connect is culturally translated by pornography into a numb and lonely staring strum at broken digital ghosts. The most physically creative thing we have, reduced to a dumb shuffle that'd embarrass a monkey.
Excerpted from "Recovery"
Copyright © 2017 Russell Brand.
Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
The Twelve Steps
1. Are you a bit fucked?
2. Could you not be fucked?
3. Are you, on your own, going to ‘unfuck’ yourself?
4. Write down all the things that are fucking you up or have ever fucked you up and don’t lie, or leave anything out.
5. Honestly tell someone trustworthy about how fucked you are.
6. Well that’s revealed a lot of fucked up patterns. Do you want to stop it? Seriously?
7. Are you willing to live in a new way that’s not all about you and your previous, fucked up stuff? You have to.
8. Prepare to apologize to everyone for everything affected by your being so fucked up.
9. Now apologize. Unless that would make things worse.
10. Watch out for fucked up thinking and behaviour and be honest when it happens.
11. Stay connected to your new perspective.
12. Look at life less selfishly, be nice to everyone, help people if you can.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Brand puts his intelligence and heart into this powerful book as a means it seems to help the world at large get its soul back.
The aurjor could have toned down the Made for Britain writing. There were numetous instsnces wherw it was hard to discern Btitish slang. Otherwise, it is a very well argued, thoughtful reworking of the 12 Steps!
Russell Brand has hit on something more than just the struggles with addiction. His truth at times will make the reader wince. My only experience with addiction was when helping a relative through his own addiction. A car accident and lock up in a behavioral health institute (that I'd never sent anyone to ever again). Drugs used to manage addiction. The root of the problem was never addressed. How was that a solution? How did that bring about healing? Things were taken care of, like his car, but he wasn't. He went to AA a couple of times, then quit. Three months later, he relapsed. That's when he entered Salvation Army's ARC program which uses the 12 Steps and expands on it to include counseling, skill building, resume assistance and job placement. They not only look at the present but also to the future. And they include the family in the process. I attended the family meetings weekly in order to earn him hours for family visits. Why was it so important to me? Just like Russell says in his book, it's all about connection. We crave connection, we need it. Maybe deep down I realized that. Without the connection to his family, would he have finished the program? So why would I want to review this book? Though I don't drink, smoke or do drugs, I do have my own addictions. They're just considered more of a norm as far as society is concerned. For example, I crave sugar. It's an obvious addiction. One sip of a McDonald's coke and I sigh in blessed relief. The point is, we all have some sort of addiction or something that has a hold over us. Russell offers not only a guide on how he went through each step but also makes those same questions and mantras available for the reader’s personal use. Sure, there’s some language in it and he can be a bit crude, but he’s real, painfully so. I can’t imagine how he feels now that it’s out for the world to read. He really opened himself up and his addictions are laid out. I think that’s courageous. If he hadn’t shared his past, how could the reader relate? Advice includes moving from self-centered to a serving others kind of attitude. An elevated sense of connection, purpose, meaning, and empathy. And when he covers step 8, ouch. This could really apply to any of us, not just those struggling with addictions. “I cannot control the past but I can control the present through forgiveness.” Wow, forgiveness. Not an easy thing to do, but once done leaves you free from the pain of the past. Now I’m thinking that though this book is to help in addition to the 12 Steps, perhaps we all need to use it, the idea of changing our mindset and perspective from what the world is constantly pushing on us with the “me attitude”. I received a complimentary copy in exchange for my honest opinion. Thank you to Henry Holt and Company for the opportunity. Russell Brand’s Recovery makes the reader think and self-evaluate. Recovery isn’t a replacement for the 12 Steps book, but I see it more as a supplemental guide for those that still aren’t getting it. Russell, in his own unique way, lays it all out plainly and intelligently. He’s encouraging yet truthful. It’s hard work, but it’s worth it. I hope this book finds it’s way to those that truly need freedom from whatever chains bind them.
He inspires you to look inside and find your true self and potential. I really feel like this book will help anyone working through ones addiction(s). Brilliant, cheeky and entertaining as always.
If you have addictions and want to make a change in your life, read this book! It is truly inspiring.
Love Russell Brand and love his writing style. Great book!
If he got a shave and a haircut. Who wants advice from a Charles Manson lookalike?