A man, reawakened
Drugs, sex, food – Russell Brand knows more than most about addiction, but he’s now conquered his demons, become a father, and gained a new understanding in his relationships with women
Russell Brand on reconnecting with himself – and women – post addiction
Red. Red, the colour of blood, love, passion and danger; the colour of womanhood, the biological symbol that separates women from men and girls. I have fixated on women for much of my life. I have always unconsciously seen women as the solution to my loneliness and emptiness, assuming that within your mystery my salvation lies.
I felt this when I was a child, watching my mum’s friends, aunts as they were colloquially known, trying on clothes at her ‘clothes parties’. My single, working mum would drive up from Essex to the Commercial Road, east London, and buy wholesale clothes, which she’d sell at these gatherings. I remember still her business cards; ‘Special Lady’ they read; pink italics on a grey background.
How can the familiar retain its exoticism? Only, I suppose, by being somehow unknowable and therefore unobtainable. Glance at the Old Testament and see how the word ‘know’ is used to describe coitus there. Perhaps this need to ‘know’ drove my promiscuity because my childhood intrigue with women merely graduated, never abated. I really wanted to know women. In my new book, Recovery, I explain how my addiction to drugs morphed into my obsession with sex, and how, in fact, the sexual obsession may have been there prior, lurking and latent, installed in Grays, Essex, at those clothes parties of my mother. How, in fact, addiction, in my opinion, is not determined by its subject but by the yearning that drives it. It doesn’t matter whether you’re craving crack or Cadbury’s, smack or Snapchat, it is the feeling, rather than the means by which you satiate it, that is important.
I believe too that we are all on the addiction spectrum, that we all have behaviours and traits that we use to distract and anaesthetise ourselves from vague and unaddressed disconnection. I always had it, this feeling. I became a drug addict because, for a while, it was a successful way of managing life without connection. Of course the consequences eventually become untenable, the arrests, the conflict, the fearsome places you find yourself when you are a drug addict. Frightening places with wounded people bleached in orange light, scored by sudden screams and sirens.
Thankfully I had ‘recovery’ imposed on me by people who knew better. My book is called ‘Recovery’ because of the belief that when we are free from active addiction we can ‘recover’ the person we were intended to be, that we can fulfil our potential. Of course, if we don’t address the disconnectedness that drives addiction, just its symptoms, the addiction will simply morph and attach to another object. In my case, when I got clean from drugs, my dormant problems with eating re-emerged and my promiscuity became overwhelming. Both these manifestations of my addiction were easier to live with as they are, to a degree, socially acceptable – at least they’re not criminal. Anyone who has – or knows someone with – an eating disorder knows how devastating the condition in this form can be and sex addiction, unremedied, is similarly destructive. But in a culture where male promiscuity is lionised and celebrated
I became a drug ADDICT because, for a while, it was a way of managing LIFE without connection
I’ve heard FATHERS say, ‘I never knew I had such LOVE in me.’ I always knew, I just didn’t KNOW what to do with it
this behaviour can continue unchecked for quite a while. Like all forms of addiction though, it is ultimately ineffective and lonely and eventually has to be addressed.
I began to realise that until I dealt with the feelings of disconnection that underscored my addiction, I’d never have a family and I’d never know true intimacy. The work I’ve done in 12-step programmes is what has made my new life possible. The 12 steps, conceived to tackle problems with alcohol and drugs, have subsequently been adapted to tackle many forms of obsessive and destructive behaviour – everything from sex to shopping, gambling to excessive phone use and hoarding to co-dependent romantic relationships. There are literally hundreds of varieties of 12-step support groups all over the world. Through the transformative gift of this programme I am able, one day at a time, to live a healthy life. This is how it works; first you admit you have a problem, then you consider that you could live differently, you accept help, you become aware of your patterns and habits – in meticulous detail. You share them with another person you can trust, you become willing to live differently, then faithfully commit to this new way. You address the damage you’ve done in the past and then commit to living consciously, connectedly and to help others when you can. Whilst this sounds simple it is actually quite difficult and, for me, amounted to a complete change of perspective.
I can’t recall a time when I wasn’t encapsulated in my aquarium head, trapped by the claustrophobia of my endlessly thinking mind, never able to see beyond the fulfilment of selfish wants. As a boy it was chocolate, as a teen, porn and attention. Then the affection of women, then drugs and alcohol. And when they became untenable, the earlier part of the cycle was zealously revisited. Now, while I am still some distance from perfection, my life has radically altered, solely because of this programme. Without this programme, I wouldn’t have been able to commit to my current partner, I wasn’t conscious of my tendency to get into fraught relationships with incompatible people. I thought relationships were supposed to be tense, I found it exciting. This relationship is calm and fun and loving. Curiously, my partner and I knew each other 11 years ago and went out briefly then, but I was about to hurl myself face-first into a tumble drier full of adrenaline and glamour and was in no state to accept domesticity and harmony.
This programme meant that we are able to create an environment together in which it was appropriate to have a child. I’ve wanted children for a long time and, secretly, I always hoped I’d have a daughter. When my girlfriend, that morning in our bathroom, held up that fast-acting oracle, a tiny white stick called something like ‘Claire Bloom’, that announced with a smiley, circular face that she was pregnant, my body sank to the floor and my heart soared. For days I walked with the giddy knowledge of our secret news, unable to tell anyone and unable to think of anything else. Scans and tests and apps that show the steadily developing foetus, comparing it always to fruit and veg, for some reason: “it’s as big as an avocado now”. Weeks of sacred euphoria.
In a way I’m still on that bathroom floor, still giddy, and even though she’s born now and anyone who sees me with her would surely be able to see how strongly I feel, to me it’s still secret. The depth, the purpose, the quiet vows and new certainty. I’ve heard fathers say before the birth of a child, “I never knew I had such love in me.” But
I always knew, I just didn’t know what to do with it.
When I saw her I knew her and I knew what to do.
Without the awakening this programme has given me, that anyone who works it is capable of achieving, I would never have been in a position to know, never have been able to become the man I was meant to be. Recovery: Freedom From Our Addictions by Russell Brand (Bluebird, £20) is out now
Brand’s new book (left) and new baby (below, with girlfriend Laura Gallacher) mark a change in his life and outlook