By Russell Brand
Actor and Comedian
Here in our glistening citadel of limitless reflecting screens we live on the outside. Today we may awaken and instantly and unthinkingly reach for the phone, its glow reaching our eyes before the light of dawn, its bulletins dart into our minds before even a moment of acknowledgement of this unbending and unending fact: you are going to die.
You and your children and everyone you love is hurtling toward the boneyard, I know you know. We all know but because it yields so few ‘likes’ on Facebook, we purr on in blinkered compliance, filling our days with temporary fixes. A coffee here, an eBay purchase there, a half-hearted wank or a flirt. Some glinting twitch of pleasure, like a silvery stitch on a cadaver, to tide you over. And you’re probably too clever to ‘repose in God’, or to pick up some dusty book where the poetry creaks with loathing for women, or gays or someone. Maybe if quantum physics could come up with some force, or web, or string or something that tethers the mystery to something solid, something measurable, you’d think again but until then there’s nothing but an empty grave and a blank tombstone, chisel poised. So no one’s going to blame you if you perch on a carousel of destructive relationships and unfulfilling work, whirling round, never still, never truly looking within, never really going home.
Because I had ‘the gift of desperation’ because I fucked my life upso royally, I had no option but to seek and accept help. Since being relieved of the more obvious manifestations of my incessant drives and appetites, I have paced backwards like a flunky leaving the Queen through a series of less obvious, and not lethal, but still bloody uncomfortable addictions. I believe that what the 12 Steps and their encompassing philosophy, which I will lay out for you in these pages, will provide is nothing less than a solution to the dissatisfaction ofliving, and dying, to anyone with the balls to do the work. And it is work. Indeed it is a personal rebirth and the journey entails all manner of uncomfortable confrontations with who you truly are. Be honest, have you ever sat down and inventoried all of the things that bug you: the childhood skirmishes; seething stings of patricidal rage; your fury with the government or traffic or global warming or racism, or Apple for continually changing their chargers? When are you planning to become the person you were born to be? To ‘recover’ your connection to an intended path? On holiday? When the kids leave school? When you get a pay rise? Tick-tock, tick-tock, chisel poised.
I am not writing this book because I think I’m better than you. I know I’m worse. I have spasmed and spluttered through life motored by unconscious drives, temporally fixing in a way so crude and ineffectual that the phenomenon is conveniently observable. e condition in extreme is identifiable but the less obvious version of addiction is still painful, and arguably worse, because we simply adapt to living in pain and never countenance the beautiful truth: there is a solution.
We adapt to the misery of an unloving home, of unfulfilling work. Of empty friendships and lacquered alienation. The 12 Step program, which has saved my life, will change the life of anyone who embraces it. I have seen it work many times with people with addiction issues of every hue: drugs, sex, relationships, food, work, smoking, alcohol, technology, pornography, hoarding, gambling, everything. Because the instinct that drives the compulsion is universal. It is an attempt to solve the problem of disconnection, alienation and tepid despair, because the problem is ultimately ‘being human’ in an environment that is curiously ill-equipped to deal with the challenges that entails. We are all on the addiction scale.
Those of us born with clear-cut and blatant substance addiction are in many ways the lucky ones. We alcoholics and junkies have minimized our mystery to tiny cycles of craving and fulfillment. Our pattern is easier to observe and therefore, with commitment and help, easier to resolve.
If your personal pattern happens to be the addiction equivalent of the ‘long form con-trick’, as opposed to a ‘short grift’, it can take ages to know just what your problem is. If you’re addicted to bad relationships, bad food, abusive bosses, con ict or pornography, it can take a lifetime to spot the problem, and apparently a lifetime is all we have. is book is not just about extremists like me. No, this is a book about you.
Do you have that sense that something is missing? A feeling in your gut that you’re not good enough? at if you tick o some action, whether it’s eating a Twix, buying some shoes, smoking a joint or getting a good job, you will feel better? If you do, it’s hardly surprising because I believe we live in an age of addiction where addictive thinking has become almost totally immersive. It is the mode of our culture. Consumerism is stimulus and response as a design for life. e very idea that you can somehow make your life all right by attaining primitive material goals – whether it’s getting the ideal relationship, the ideal job, a beautiful Berber rug or forty quids’ worth of smack – the underlying idea, ‘if I could just get X, Y, Z, I would be okay’, is consistent and it is quite wrong.
Addiction is when natural biological imperatives, like the need for food, sex, relaxation or status, become prioritized to the point of destructiveness. It is exacerbated by a culture that understandably exploits this mechanic as it’s a damn good way to sell Mars bars and Toyotas. In my own blessedly garish addiction each addictive pursuit has been an act of peculiar faith that the action will solve a problem.
In this book we will discuss, with me doing most of the talking, how we can overcome our destructive and oppressive habits, be liberated from tyrannical thinking and move from the invisible inner prison of addiction to a new freedom in the present.
What makes me qualified for such a task? A task which, in a different lexicon, might be called achieving peace, mindfulness, personal fulfillment, or yet more grandly ‘enlightenment’, ‘nirvana’ or ‘Christ- consciousness’? Certainly not some personal, ethical high ground. My authority comes not from a steep and certain mountain top of po-faced righteousness. is manual for Self-Realization comes not from the mountain but from the mud. Being human is a ‘me too’ business. We are all in the mud together. My qualification is that I am more addicted, more narcissistic, more driven by lust and the need for power and recognition. Every single pleasure-giving thing that’s come my way from the cradle in Grays to the Hollywood chaise longue has been grabbed and guzzled and fondled and fucked, and smoked and sucked and for what? Ashes.
Do you sometimes question whether you even have the optionor right to be happy? The churning blank march of metropolitanlife feels like the droning confirmation that joy is not an option. Escalators like conveyor belts to a mass grave, grey streets like a yard. Thank God, I’ve not (yet!!) been to prison but when I think about the levels of categorization from worst to least awful, I ponder freedom in general. Worst – being locked alone in a solitary cell in a category A, maximum security prison – to less awful, with increasing tidbits of liberty through categories B and C, with privileges like a kitchen job or a library job (if e Shawshank Redemption is to be believed), down to an open prison where inmates can cycle into town for a few hours. How much further along this scale of freedom is the life of a man or woman in a drab at, imprisoned by drug addiction, surviving on benefits, or anyone trapped in a job they hate, or a kid at a school
“If you’re addicted to bad relationships, bad food, abusive bosses, conflict or pornography, it can take a lifetime to spot the problem, and apparently a lifetime is all we have. This book is not just about extremists like me. No, this is a book about you.” Or my life? Or your life? I’m not saying that it’s worse to have a job in London that you hate than to be a jolly C-cat prisoner, skipping o to the workshop twirling a spanner; I’m saying that we are all in prisons of varying categories.
Hang on to your hat and grab your pistol of cynicism in preparation to gun me down here and now, because I’m about to allude to how a recent experience in my mollycoddled life made me feel like I was in a first-class penitentiary. On tour in Australia I was travelling in air-locked privilege from plane to car to delightful hotel room to arena when struck from within by a yearning to escape that I couldn’t ignore. I arrived in Brisbane at a towering and chintzy hotel and was taken to a room that blasted me with immaculate comfort but when the door closed behind the perfectly friendly guard and I was alone I couldn’t open a window, because, ya’know, these buildings are high and it’s dangerous. Presumably due to suicide. You cannot get to air, the air you breathe is packaged and one of the few commodities of our wasteful age that is fastidiously recycled.
Now I hope I’m not trying to dress up a tantrum as an epiphany here, but I felt trapped, that I had no way back to nature, nature like the sky, nature like the sky inside, there was no way to breathe, to be a human. Suddenly I felt I had to scramble to have access to natural conditions, in one jarring moment I felt the g-force of the rapid journey from hunter-gatherer to hunted and gathered. No wonder people hanker after animalism and raw thrills. No wonder people go dogging, hot real breath on a windscreen, torch lights and head lights searching, huddled strangers clutching in the dark for the piercing relief of orgasm. No wonder people use porn, hunched over a laptop, grasping and breathless, serious and dutiful like a zealous attendant clerk at a futile task. From this form of escape I am not long exempt. I usually laugh afterwards. As soon as the biological objective has been reached I am ejected from the mindless spell. I look down on myself and sometimes enquire out loud, ‘What was that all about?’, like some monkey man coming to consciousness, and I glance back transcended, ‘Was that honestly your best idea at solving the way you feel? Now get me some tissues and a bible.’
What are we doing when we’re masturbating? Or swallowingmindless food. Or swilling silly drinks? Who there do we serve? What is the plan? The feeling I had in the hotel is real. The need for connection. The feeling I had when I used drugs was real. The feeling, the need, is real. The feeling you have that ‘there’s something else’ is real. What happens when you don’t follow the compulsion? What is on the other side of my need to eat and purge? The only way to and out is to not do it, and that is a novel act of faith.
Incidentally here’s how I actually solved the ‘problem’, I left the hotel at daybreak. I wish I could say I moved into a ‘community of indigenous peoples down by the river’ where we grew our own veg and sang songs about our ancestors and an elder gave me a tattoo of a rabbit God on my groin and told me I had real spirit and gave me a tribal name, and it was then I knew my purpose – ‘to connect with the Great Unknown’, to weave the consciousness of man and the consciousness of nature into a perfect tapestry, to tell the story of oneness with such clarity that God herself would come to the aid of the good and nature would rise through torrents and branches, flames and feathers and flood, and deliver us unto heaven. The still and ever- present heaven within.
But actually I just moved to a better hotel with a balcony. Nihilism has quietly risen then, a pessimistic acceptance of point- lessness reigns in every addict, pleasure a defibrillator to jerk us along. Now, with fourteen and a half years gratefully drug-free, I identify strongly still when I hear of someone who just can’t stay clean. I understand. I remember, more than remember, I occasionally relive.
‘I know this won’t work, this x, this drink, this destructive and unlovely act but it will give me distraction from now, for now. And that is enough.’
Here’s some good news for the fallen, for those of you that are reading this in despair, the junkies, the alkies, the crack-heads, anorexics, bulimics, dyspeptics, perverts, codependent, love-addicted, hopeless cases: I now believe addiction to be a calling. A blessing. I now hear a rhythm behind the beat, behind the scratching discordant sound of my constant thinking. A true pulse behind the bombastic thud of the ego drum. ere, in the silence, the o beat presence of another thing. What could it be, this other consciousness? Just the sublime accompaniment to my growing nails, pumping heart and rushing blood? These physical and discernible bodily phenomena, do they have a counterpart in a world less obvious? Are we addicts like the animals that evidently pre-emptively fled the oncoming tsunami, sensing some foreboding? Are we attuned to prickling signals that demand anesthesia? What is the pain? What is it? What does
Now, let’s not forget in all the excitement that this is a self-help book, a guide to tackling addiction in all its forms, a guide that will encompass certain principles that, if followed, will free you from the misery, however quiet or consuming, of your condition. An integral, unavoidable and in fact one of the best parts of this process is developing a belief in a Higher Power. Not that you have to become some sort of religious nut. Well actually you already are a religious nut, if you take ‘religious nut’ to mean that you live your life adhering to a set of beliefs and principles and observances concerning conduct. Most people in the West belong to a popular cult of individualism and materialism where the pursuit of our trivial, petty desires is a daily ritual. If you’re reading this specifically because you have addiction issues, whether to substances or behaviors, you are in an advanced sect with highly particular and devotional practices, sometimes so ingrained they don’t even have to be explicitly ‘thought’, they are intensely and unthinkingly believed. ‘If I find Miss Right, all will be well.’ ‘If I can get my rocks o , or yawn down a pint of ice cream, I’ll be okay.’ What this program asks us to consider is the possibility of hope. Hope that a different perspective is possible. Hope that there is a different way.
To undertake this process, the pursuit of happiness, or contentment or presence or freedom, we have to believe that such a thing is obtainable through this, the rather grim and at times, let’s face it, bloody glamorous research of my life I’ve inadvertently happened upon some incredible people and ideas that, one day at a time, sometimes one moment at a time, lift me out of the glistening lth and into the presence of something ancient and timeless which I believe, no matter what your problem, will give you access to e Solution.
By Russell Brand