Russell Brand is an addict. That doesn’t define him, but it is what he identifies as, and what he has to remind himself of every single day.
Most of us would know Brand as the eccentric comedian and movie star with the slightly annoying Cockney accent. But his new book, Recovery: Freedom from our addictions, tells the story of the real Russell Brand, the man behind the image, and the one whose life was a complete mess until 14 years ago.
Identifying as a drug addict, alcoholic, sex addict, and as having various other addictions, this book reveals Brand as humble, brutally honest and a man revelling in the new life that has resulted from him vigorously living out the !2 Steps every day of his life since he came into recovery in 2002.
Brand is a unique creature, with a special language which many Christians will find offensive. But please don’t dismiss this book because of the many f-bombs that he drops in it. If you dismiss this book because of that, you will have missed the whole point of his story and message. You will be straining gnats and swallowing camels.
Brand’s message is that we all have addictions; it’s just that some of us have the more obvious ones, like alcoholism, drug addiction or gambling. But we are all addicted to certain patterns of thinking and behaving. As he says, we all have a program; and his program is now the 12 Step one.
Each chapter of this book is Brand’s own story of how he has worked each of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous in his life since coming into recovery. He tells his story in a way that is refreshing and wonderfully endearing. I found myself feeling closer to God after listening to each piece of this book on audio.
One of the points Brand makes, and how the Steps work for him, is that they are a spiritual solution for what is ultimately a spiritual problem. He emphasises various times that when we try to fill our life with ‘externals’, things like alcohol, drugs or sex, or anything else, it will never work. Recovery came for Brand when he realised that what he was doing was never going to fulfil him; it came when he saw the selfishness of his lifestyle and the hurt it caused to the people he loved.
The message that hit me most in this wonderful story was that we find the life we have always craved when we admit that life is not about how much pleasure we can suck from it, but about finding out how we can be useful in service to others.
If you’re thinking that all this sounds remarkably Christian, it’s because the !2 Step program, created by Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, in the 1930s, was based on Christian principles. They involve admitting you have a problem, coming to believe that only a Power greater than you will bring you back to sanity, surrendering your life to that Power, being brutally honest about your wrongs, asking your new Higher Power to remove them, being willing to make amends to everyone we have hurt, living a life of prayer, and serving others. Isn’t that ultimately the Christian life when our Higher Power is Jesus?
I was able to listen to this book in large chunks while driving in the car, and I didn’t want to turn it off. It made me want to be more honest myself, to be more humble, to be more loving and to be of more service to others. It drew me to want to become more Christlike.
Perhaps the most endearing quality of this book is that it is a personal story, and that makes it powerful and incredibly engaging. It is a story of hope against hopelessness. Brand is vulnerable, honest, and compassionate, as well as funny, in his telling of his story.
For anyone aware of their own flaws and vulnerabilities and wanting to deal with them, this is a book worth listening to (or reading; whichever takes your fancy!). A warning though: it might just change your whole outlook on life.
This review first appeared on Sight Magazine.