With nearly fourteen years of clean time under his belt, Russell Brand understands recovery quite well. He speaks on it often, offering revolutionary messages of hope and change. From time to time, he even involves himself in politics, fighting for greater access to treatment and an overhaul of laws that punish addicts rather than help them. So it comes as little surprise that he would eventually disseminate his understanding of recovery in the form of a self-help book.
This book, Recovery: Freedom from Our Addictions, approaches the topic of addiction recovery from two directions. Not only does Russell Brand offer insights into the 12 Steps utilized by most support groups, but he also uses the 12 Steps as a springboard to discuss his own unique perspective on recovery. Those who remain wary of the 12 Steps may find that they can relate to Brand’s particular take on them with relative ease.
Initially, some of his views may seem incompatible with the messages you hear in the rooms. In truth, however, Brand cuts right to the heart of the spirit behind the 12 Steps. Based primarily on principles with only minimal focus on orthodoxy, he presents a program of recovery that anybody can utilize. Below are just a few points of discussion that we found particularly thought-provoking.
Recovery is for Everybody—Including Non-Addicts
When we say that anybody can utilize the teachings in this book, we mean just that—anybody. Early on, Brand makes the point that we all suffer from inner turmoil in one form or another. And while those with tangible and easily defined addictions may require help more urgently than others, a program of self-discovery and transformation can benefit anybody who feels ready to change.
You may sometimes hear people in anonymous meetings declare their pity for non-addicts who do not benefit from the teachings of a recovery program. This rubs some AA and NA members the wrong way, coming across as arrogant and judgmental. Yet in his writing, Russell Brand makes a very similar point while explaining it in terms that make quite a bit of sense.
Remarking that “we are all in prisons of varying categories,” Brand believes the fortune of the addict lies in a greater desire to escape that prison. Our addictions readily apparent, we benefit most from their consequences. We know what rock bottom feels like, whereas others who feel dissatisfied with their lives may never suffer quite enough misery to spark their desire for change.
“No one likes going through withdrawal or delirium tremens, but it does have the advantage of being easily identifiable. The problem of denial is hopefully easier to confront. If you’re chugging through life in a job you kind of dislike, a relationship that you are detached from, eating to cope, staring at Facebook, smoking and fruitlessly fantasizing, you can sit glumly on that conveyor belt of unconscious discontent until it deposits you in your grave.”
Russell Brand defines addiction not merely as compulsive behavior, but as behavior performed explicitly for the purposes of providing instant relief. We know that drugs and alcohol cause great harm when used in this pursuit. But those who find themselves in cyclical relationships with “bad relationships, bad food, abusive bosses, conflict or pornography” may not recognize their patterns as easily. He therefore suggests that you needn’t be an extremist to seek a better way of living. You need only be a human being who feels that something is missing, and that there must be a better way of finding it than the method you’re using now.
Our Addiction Begins Before We Start Using
Throughout the early chapters in Recovery, Russell Brand references a duality of self. A multiplicity, really. He mentions the Jekyll and Hyde complex understood by most addicts and alcoholics, but also suggests the existence of another. A better, higher self that we’ve yet to realize.
“All the while I was rattling around on my picaresque excursion, causing damage inside and outside, there was another version of me waiting to be realized. We are, after all, an organic entity, like a tree, with a code stored in our embryonic form that is set to grow to completion. A tree doesn’t face the kind of obstacles a highly socialized mammal does, it might get chopped down, or aggressively pruned or have some wire wrapped round it, but no one is going to say it’s too fat or that it’ll never amount to anything. But in your life you’ve faced obstacles, inner and outer, that have prevented you from becoming the person you were ‘meant to be’ or ‘are capable of being’ and that is what we are going to recover. That’s why we call this process Recovery; we recover the ‘you’ that you were meant to be.”
Before we can realize this person, however, we must often get in touch with our dark side. Furthermore, upon seeing the light inside of ourselves, we must work to nurture it. Because while we may keep the darkness at bay to the point of never hearing from it again, our base nature never truly disappears.
“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.”
Russell Brand notes that we cannot come by this new self through our old way of thinking. In the same way that Jekyll created Hyde through misguided ambition and bad science, our pre-addict selves were in fact the same people who sought escape. We may harbor dreams of becoming our old selves, but we cannot—not successfully, at least. Whoever we were before we started using, we can never be again. Our sobriety depends on the acceptance of this truth.
We Don’t Need to Understand Our Higher Power
Brand’s spiritual views take up a lot of page space. While not religious, he does agree with the need for a Higher Power. He notes, however, that we needn’t define it fully. Many of us get carried away trying to find the Higher Power that works for us. Is it God, science, our home group? According to Russell Brand, we can take a broader approach to the issue. In fact, doing so may even open our eyes to the greater presence that pervades all facets of the world around us.
“The music of Mozart (or Moz), the Sistine Chapel ceiling, George Best – all these allude to some Power that is greater than me. The chances that I have had in life, the people that have loved me and been there for me. There are many examples of a Power greater than myself, alone, with my addiction and my thoughts.”
All we really need to understand is our own patterns of thoughts and behaviors. Russell Brand illustrates this point by removing God from Step 3 entirely. Without this reference, all that remains is recognition that our previous way of life has failed us. We may wish to accomplish recovery through self-will, but that never worked in the past. Why would we expect it to work now? We need help.
Authenticity Brings Us Closer to Others
Many of us hesitate to enter recovery due to the stigma we associate with addiction. But even after entering recovery, we sometimes feel the need to hide. Yes, we all share this one unfortunate trait. But what of anxiety, depression, self-harm, eating disorders, etc.? How do we tell others about the thoughts and feelings that continue to bother us long after you remove the drugs and alcohol from our lives? We know intuitively that we must address these issues if we wish to truly recover; however, we also know that we need a support network, and fear that people will leave us if they see the true darkness of our struggles.
Russell Brand talks about this core fear quite often. The fear of being abandoned, left alone and possibly unable to take care of himself. He notes that Step 5, sharing his inventory with another addict, helped him to get over this. Not simply because he got things off his chest, but because someone found his authentic self worthy of both acceptance and understanding.
“The main thing was there was nothing I said that was too terrible or too trivial to shock or bore him. He identified throughout and through this practical communication an unexpected thing happened: the veil of separation that I had lived my life behind lifted. The tense disconnectedness that I had always felt lifted. It is commonly understood that the opposite of addiction is connection. That in our addictive behaviours we are trying to achieve the connection. Think of it: the bliss of a hit or a drink or of sex or of gambling or eating, all legitimate drives gone awry, all a reach across the abyss, the separateness of ‘self’, all an attempt to redress this disconnect.”
To Russell Brand, who characterizes all addictions as stemming largely from this disconnection, this sense of acceptance proved vital. Over time, he found others with whom he could open his heart without fear. Likewise, others began trusting him in return. He believes this sense of connection under the banner of shared authenticity benefits more than our recovery. He believes that, were all human beings to adopt these principles of total honesty and mutual understanding, the world itself would become a better place.
We Do Not Need to Completely Reinvent Ourselves
While working through the “action steps,” we often think the goal is to become a new person. To some extent, this bears truth. However, Russell Brand links the transformative power of the action steps back to the multiplicity of self discussed earlier. As in the tree analogy, we do not reinvent but rather simply discover ourselves.
Some believe the 12 Steps incite negativity, focusing too much on character defects and the shadier moments of our past. As Russell Brand points out, however, they also tell us to hope for a restoration to sanity. And that hope only exists if we accept ourselves capable of a better lifestyle. We learn this when we identify our character defects through Step 6 and seek humility in Step 7. Humility cuts through the lies we tell ourselves and straight to the truth of who we are inside. We should not see this as negativity, but rather as a more narrowly directed extension of the hope in Step 2.
“Having reviewed our inventory, we have decided we want to eliminate our defective characteristics, our patterns that generated personal and general misery. We acknowledge here that we have positive attributes, that we are capable of kindness and love: we are not total s—tbags.”
We often define addiction as a symptom of something greater. So why not take the same approach to recovery? If our addiction preceded our addictive behaviors, we may just as easily suggest that our recovery preceded our positive lifestyle. In fact, the two manifest as part of the same journey. Without addiction, we may never have discovered our inner light in the first place. Recovery does not require us to construct a personality, covering up our faults with a veneer of forced moral responsibility. We must only tap into the person that already exists, and work to nurture that person. Russell Brand puts this in mythological terms.
“Whether you’re a gnarled and boisterous apprentice mechanic or a Cambridge don, solving conundrums from your high-tech wheelchair, there is in most cases a comparable inner world. If not a basic binary, a universal pantheon of inner deities and demons which, in our race to total rationalism, we have unwisely discarded. The Greeks knew these gods dwelt not on Olympus but upon the summits, crags and slopes within. This inner realm interfaces with external phenomena for good or for ill. This program, like all mythology, is a methodology for management.”
To restate this relationship between the external and internal, our behaviors stem from our beliefs. Addiction represents the abandonment of those beliefs, or perhaps the failure to see them realized in the first place. We achieve recovery by reclaiming those beliefs, and bringing them to the surface through our actions.
Our Amends to Others Will Amend Ourselves
We refer to the 12 Steps as a program of action. Perhaps no action taken in this process stokes as much fear in people as that of making amends. Many struggle with simply revisiting the past in Step 4, and find themselves doubly fearful when stating the past aloud in Step 5. But when we must again revisit the past in Step 8 and confront it head-on in Step 9, some recovering addicts and alcoholics find themselves feeling resistant. Not only must we stand up and accept responsibility for our wrongs, but this often requires us to forgive others for the wrongs they committed against us.
Both our forgiveness and our amends serve to benefit us immensely. On the subject of forgiveness, Russell Brand writes:
“It is not my job to adjudicate the world’s people and supply them with a template for how they should be. In fact it’s none of my business. There is only one human being I’m in control of and that is me, and that is where the effort must be concentrated. Forgiveness is a powerful spiritual tool, without it we are damned as individuals and as a people. Forgiveness means letting go. It means being willing to accept that we are all mortals flawed and suffering, imperfectly made and trying our best. That sometimes there is a collision of instinct.”
Russell Brand also notes how strange it is that we would ever choose resentment, given it causes us nothing but harm. Furthermore, resentment allows us to place ourselves on the high road, despite knowing the extent of our own past transgressions. This pushes people away, and rightfully so. To feign superiority when we know the error of our ways stands directly in the way of the authenticity that would otherwise bring us closer to people.
Fortunately, our growing understanding of human nature and the multiplicity of self makes it easier to accept others’ faults. And to an extent, it also makes it easier to forgive ourselves. Some will still struggle with this, but amends help by allowing us to see our evolution in progress. The better self that we conceptualized in Step 2 and discovered in Step 7 begins to take over. Russell Brand—not to mention the Big Book, in its Ninth Step Promises—suggests that this process ultimately leads to our full-fledged transformation into the higher self within.
“In Step 9 we make restitution that in our old life, our old plan, we would never have countenanced. It is a fine example of the broader 12 Step philosophical trope that ‘You can’t think your way into acting better but you can act your way into thinking better’. Under the guidance of a mentor, with the support and community of other people on the same path, you have, by following the actions suggested by this program, broken loose from your prior confinement and become a different person. Whilst Step 9 seems to be about making amends to others it is we who are amended.”
Bear in mind that Russell Brand speaks of more than self-forgiveness here. To “amend” something simply means to change it. In that sense, our self-amends actually began in Step 1, even if we didn’t know it at the time. And while we never truly stop growing as long as we continue our spiritual journey, Step 9 will be the final push we need before we can begin to focus primarily on maintenance.
Love and Awareness Complete Our Transformation
While Step 9 helps us to fully realize the trajectory of our evolution, we must still work to maintain the person we become through our journey of self-discovery. We do this through daily inventory in Step 10, spiritual awareness in Step 11, and love for others as expressed through Step 12. Love plays an especially prominent role, and Russell Brand suggests we not overthink it. We could easily list reasons for the transformative power of love, but we find it far better to experience it first-hand. As Brand writes:
“If this were a pop science book, I’d now regale you with tales of the oxytocin ballet and dopamine dance that takes place when we are altruistic or in proximity to our beloved, but this biochemical analysis amounts to a fashionable and semantically novel reworking of what yogis, sages, Sufis and saints have been telling us for millennia as the result of their limitless work in laboratories that are subtler than those forged in concrete and glass: love is the answer.”
Recovery opens the door to compassion in many ways. First, we receive it from those who help us through the steps. Our support network shows us just how important a sense of solidarity can be to our recovery. Then, we demonstrate compassion through the forgiveness and repentance demonstrated in Step 9. When we reach Step 12, we use our fully discovered sense of love and empathy to help others overcome struggles we know all too well. This sparks our awareness, as we find that we still relate to them, no matter how far removed we’ve been through our days of active addiction.
“To take someone through the steps properly…is time-consuming. Step 5 in particular is a labour of love. There you sit, hour after hour, listening to someone else talk about themselves with no intention other than to help them. Well hang on to your hats folks, but that is not the way ol’ Russ used to roll—if I was listening to someone talking it meant that we were about to have sex or they were going to give me some money. Now as I sit listening to some poor old sod unpack their life, like they’ve been selected for a random search at an airport, I am plugged into my neglected compassion, my empathy, my kindness. To feel these forces awaken within is for me to be reborn.”
Service work provides more than self-awareness. It also helps us by allowing us a simple method of spiritual upkeep. According to Russell Brand—and indeed to many mentors in recovery programs—every piece of advice he offers someone else reminds him that he must take this advice as well. We cannot tell others to maintain spiritual principles when we still put them aside in favor of earthly pursuits. The hypocrisy would be too much to abide.
Not only do we increase our awareness during Step 12, but we also find that it becomes essential to the working of the step. To “practice these principles in all our affairs,” we must remain vigilant. We may slip from time to time, but we acknowledge this using the skills we’ve developed and keep moving forward. And as long as we maintain awareness, we keep finding avenues of further growth. Russell Brand notes that in this sense, Step 12 acts not as a destination but as an ongoing source of new beginnings.
“This program is simple and it works well with complex people. It is made up of ancient but timeless principles: overcome the ego, connect to a Higher Self, a higher purpose and serve others. Step 12 is the apex but also a spur to remind us that our work is never finished, we are on a journey of discovery and service and each of us has a unique purpose to realize and an intended self to recover.”
In Recovery: Freedom from Our Addictions, Russell Brand provides more than a mere explanation of the 12 Steps. Part memoir and part self-help book, Recovery explores a long-extant program from a refreshingly modern viewpoint. Not only can most people relate to the steps as explained here, but Brand’s recounting of the personal changes he underwent while working this program will inspire many to follow suit. We thank Russell Brand for bringing the benefits of this highly beneficial program to the forefront of contemporary discussion.
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