Russell Brand on How the 12 Steps Helped Him Overcome Addiction and Childhood Abuse: 'Happiness Is a Possibility'
Russell Brand has written a book on recovering from all types of addiction. His qualifications? He’s “worse” than you are.
“Because I had the ‘gift of desperation’ because I had f—ed my life up so royally, I had no option but to seek and accept help,” the 42-year-old comedian writes in Recovery: Freedom From Our Addictions, which releases on Tuesday.
In an exclusive interview with PEOPLE, Brand says the book presents his version of the 12 steps for recovery used in programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (his interpretation of Step 1: “Are you a bit f—ed?”).
Throughout the chapters, Brand — who has been drug and alcohol free for more than 14 years — also reveals various childhood traumas that were sources of his discontent: abuse (by an unnamed adult), a mother stricken with cancer, and a distant father (his parents divorced when he was a baby and he was raised by his mom).
“[Now] I don’t struggle with [addictive] urges because the program I live by helps me to remain serene and prevents those urges from arriving,” Brand says about his daily experience with addiction. “If I feel those urges — even though I don’t feel them so often because I’m working the program — I talk to other people and I do stuff for other people and I meditate and pray. There’s a whole sort of series put in place for when I feel those urges.”
While he’s now able to manage his addictions (to drugs, porn, alcohol, food, and sex), it was a long process to unearth the true source of his pain. In Brand’s book he describes the numerous uncomfortable confrontations he’s had – both with himself and with other people — to reach his current state of serenity.
According to the book, during Step Four he spent two straight days writing down everything that had ever “f—ed” him up. Some of the more serious issues were abuse, his mother’s cancer diagnosis when he was a child, and his relationship with his father and stepfather.
“I was touched as a child and I felt the warping, like flexed glass, not entirely unpleasant, it was, after all, attention, but I knew it was a glitch, like a memory I was waiting to have, like a stone on the path that I knew I would not pass but pause to pick up and carry with me, uneasily in my pocket,” he writes. He doesn’t reveal his abuser.
“Finding ways to incorporate this transgression into my understanding of the world, stitching it into the fabric of my understanding. ‘Mum is ill a lot.’ ‘They say I am bad.’ ‘My dad does not like me.’ ‘I am not safe.’ ‘I don’t like school.’ ‘I don’t belong.’ ‘People don’t like me.’ ‘I made Mummy ill.’ ‘I am bad,’” he continues, “Until chocolate and porn and self-harm seem like sanctuary from the gentle unbearable pain. And as we walk along we collect and collate the familiar, the path appears before our feet as we walk and we move further from home until we are too far away to recall that we ever had a home.”
While these experiences were difficult, Brand doesn’t think any one particular occurrence sent him catapulting into addiction.
“I don’t know whether or not events in your life send you into addiction because a lot of people have had very different lives and haven’t become addicts, so I think it’s difficult to say,” Brand explained. “The one thing I feel young people need in order to not become addicts is a connection with people who will speak to them honestly and truthfully — ongoing, open relationships with people where you can talk honestly about your feelings. I feel if you don’t get that as a kid it can be quite difficult.”
“I’m also careful to not sound like I’m judging my parents who did a good job,” he continues. “I was the sort of person who was likely to have addiction issues. I have that type of personality. I also think that there were lots of personal circumstances that meant that I felt alienated, which created a sort of perfect crucible for addictive tendencies.”
Brand shares in Recovery that through the program he’s been able to make amends with his parents and stepfather (as he’s done many things for which he’s had to ask forgiveness). This is especially important because his mother is currently undergoing chemotherapy for her sixth cancer diagnosis.
“The reason my relationship is a lot healthier with my parents now is because I don’t really have any expectations. They are what they are – lovely, flawed people like me,” he explained. “I’m much more available [to my mum] than when I was using drugs or even when I was sort of consumed with fame. I’m much more present for her and able to be of use to her.”
Now Brand writes that he is less self-focused and can better “commune with [his] feelings” because he’s surrendered himself to belief in a “Higher Power.” This change has also allowed him to reach out to ex-girlfriends.
“My amends to my parents and a number of ex-girlfriends … consisted of a frank, quiet apology and a commitment to be a different man going forward,” he writes.
He doesn’t reveal if one of these exes was Katy Perry, whom he divorced in 2012 after 14 months of marriage. In a 2013 interview with Vogue, Perry said that their relationship ended partly because Brand couldn’t handle that she was his equal.
According to Brand, he’s “changed a great deal” as a partner since then. He married Laura Gallacher last month in an intimate ceremony with their baby daughter in attendance.
“I don’t think I’d be able to have the relationship if I didn’t have the program because I wouldn’t be in an emotional and spiritual position to commit to family life,” Brand says when asked how the program has affected his relationship with his wife and their daughter. “[The program helps me to] look at my wife as an independent person. It’s not her job to take care of me emotionally or physically. I don’t take stuff personally.”
“In the past I thought relationships were about making me feel good, or making me feel punished, or warped ideas like a lot of people [have],” he adds. “Now I have a guiding template, a guiding form, that I’m aiming towards. It means that in my relationship I’m a lot less selfish than I’ve been in past relationships. As a parent my job is to nurture and to be sometimes unbelievably patient.”
Despite new fatherhood (he dedicates a full chapter to the birth of his daughter in his book), Brand writes that would likely still struggle with addiction if it weren’t for the program.
“I know that life is still there, waiting for me if I ever choose to go back, if I ever think there’s something left in the ashes,” he writes. “Even fatherhood would not be enough to hold me here in the blissful present if I let go of my program. Even after the revelation of my daughter’s birth.”
Though the threat of addiction remains, Brand is optimistic rather than wary and has lessons he wants to pass along to his readers.
“The idea that life is meant to be punishing has really taken hold,” he says. “The two things [I want people to know] is that pain is a signal and it’s telling you to change. And happiness is a possibility.”
He continued: “We don’t choose between having a program and not having a program. We choose between having a conscious program and an unconscious program. When you’re not working a program consciously you’re working an unconscious program – the program of your childhood, the program of your culture, the program of your media. So it’s very important to become awakened.”
Recovery: Freedom From Our Addictions is on sale now.