English comedian, actor, writer and activist Russell Brand is a man of extremes with a loquacious and flamboyant lifestyle. Brand struggled with drugs, sex, alcohol, food, fame and online shopping addiction for several years. In Recovery: Freedom from Our Addictions, he writes about his journey of recovery using the twelve-step program of Alcohol Anonymous framework and principles.
Initial Resistance to 12-step program
Brand was initially resistant to the 12-step addiction program, but upon further examination of the principles he found out that self-centred, egotistical thinking is the defining attribute of the addictive condition. Self-centredness is a tricky thing; it encompasses more than just vanity. It’s not just Fonzie, looking at himself in self-satisfied wonder and flexing his little tush, no.
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. The very idea that you can somehow make your life alright 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.
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.
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 find out is to not do it, and that is a novel act of faith.
The 12-Step Program
1 We admitted that we were powerless over our addiction, that our lives had become unmanageable. – Are you a bit fucked?
2 We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. – Could you not be fucked?
3 We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him. – Are you, on your own, going to ‘unfuck’ yourself?
4 We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. – 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 We admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. – Honestly tell someone trustworthy about how fucked you are.
6 We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. – Well that’s revealed a lot of fucked up patterns. Do you want to stop it? Seriously?
7 We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings – 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 We made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all. – Prepare to apologize to everyone for everything affected by your being so fucked up.
9 We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. – Now apologize. Unless that would make things worse.
10 We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it. – Watch out for fucked up thinking and behaviour and be honest when it happens.
11 We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out. – Stay connected to your new perspective.
12 Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to addicts, and to practise these principles in all our affairs. – Look at life less selfishly, be nice to everyone, help people if you can.
1: 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.
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
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.
2: Could you not be fucked?
Step 2: We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
This step is about hope. We’ve just admitted we have a problem and that our lives have become unmanageable. It’s normal to expect that this kind of admission will come as a blow to the ego. It is our ego who up until now has been running the show, with a bit of help from whatever behaviour or substance we’ve just been forced to accept is a problem.
You are not a tree
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.
3: Are you, on your own, going to ‘unfuck’ yourself?
Step 3: We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
The step, stripped of reference to divine power, becomes ‘You don’t know what you’re doing – you’d better make a decision to accept help.’ This is a big stumbling block for many addicts.
Step 3 is a chance for us to review how our beliefs are working for us. Whether the beliefs are ‘pulling their weight’. In Step 2 we ‘came to believe’ that things could be better, now we are confronted with how that is likely to be achieved, and here’s the knockout punch, it isn’t likely to be by repeating what we were already doing.
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.
Step 4: We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves
I better do what I’m told.’ Plus how much time have I given over to watching TV or staring out of windows or pursuing pointless relationships or looking at my Twitter mentions? Those hours all add up and are sadly deducted from the overall life total. They are not a break from life, these ‘harmless’ distractions, they are life. They are life and they are death.
In a sense we re-write our past. We change our narrative. We reprogram ourselves. There is no objective history, this we know, only stories. Our character is the result of this story we tell ourselves about ourselves, and the process of inventorying breaks down the hidden and destructive personal grammar that we have unwittingly allowed to govern our behaviour.
5: Honestly tell someone trustworthy about how fucked you are.
Step 5: We admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
In undertaking this process you are declaring an intention to change. Confession has its place in most faiths and is of course the bedrock of psychiatrist-led psychoanalysis. Freud and Jung listened as their patients evacuated a lifetime of perceived malady. In the original 12 Step texts it is suggested that you undertake the confession with the person who has guided you through the program thus far or a cleric of some kind or a medical professional.
Step 6: We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
As a rule, most defects of character involve some imbalance in the expression of and the experience of our most basic human needs. For example, sexuality and ambition are not bad unless our experiences of those drives are imbalanced or codependent. If we are addicted to sex or driven by ambition to the point of workaholism, these expressions have become defects we must address. Our sixth step prayers would not be ‘Make me asexual’ or ‘Take away my ambition’. Rather, we might pray, ‘Grant me a healthy expression of my sexuality’ or ‘Channel ambition into enhancing my private life as well as my work life’.
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.
Step 7: We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
Step 7 is about humility, it is about accepting the limits of our model of reality. It is about ‘accepting what we are and embracing what we could become’
All the Best in your quest to get better. Don’t Settle: Live with Passion.