Written by Becky Waldron
Illustrated by Grace Biddle
“I am not writing this book because I think I am better than you. I know I am worse.”
“We simply adapt to living in pain and never countenance the beautiful truth: there is a solution.”
Russell Brand hasn’t always been someone I’ve been particularly fond of. I don’t think I’m alone in having some other words than intelligent, interesting and humble come to mind when thinking of the eccentric actor, comedian and author. I was a cynic but he’s changed a lot from his early days of self-obsession, impulsive behaviour and controversial prank phone calls… yeah, remember that?
This is just a fraction of things learned from Russell Brand’s book Recovery. Brand presents the infamous 12 Step programme used internationally by alcoholic and drug addicts, but with his own personal touch. If you’re about to stop reading this article because you’re thinking, ‘I’m not an alcoholic or a drug addict! This isn’t for me‘, then hold up.
I think one of my favourite things about the book itself is that it’s helpful for just about anyone. Forget the odd looks you occasionally get when you explain what book you’re reading to co-workers. The book focuses a lot on the psyche, dealing with pain, and of course, our addictions. Although you may not think you’re addicted to something, there’s a chance you are, or that you have external material means to alleviate a discomfort in your mind or life.
“I was using external resources to medicate because I felt uneasy inside.”
There’s an insightful discussion on how much a society of consumerism and capitalism distracts us so cleverly, and that if we achieve a certain material item we will then be “happy”, whatever that means. Yet, you don’t need me or Russell Brand to tell you it never really works, do you?
“Fame, luxury items and glamour are not real and cannot solve you, whether it’s a pair of shoes, a stream of orgies, a movie career or global adulation. They are just passing clouds of imaginary pleasure.”
Brand walks us through each step of the book explaining what it entails, accompanied with his own anecdotes and experience with the step. He also helps us to think about our own thought patterns. There is a motif within the 12 steps that suggests most with these addictions and bad habits we rely on in our lives can be to do with pain.
“Pain is a signal, it’s some aspect of us that’s beyond our somewhat narrow conception of ‘self’, communicating. A pain in the leg means ‘don’t put pressure on this leg’; a pain in the mind means ‘change the way you live’”.
Bad habits can be anything from alcohol, caffeine and sugar to self harm, Instagram and sex. ‘Bad’ habits is probably not the best way to describe these traits, but rather the unhealthy addictions or rituals that we have built up in our life that do not benefit us, or only do so temporarily.
The programme tends to focus on the pain within that might lead us to form toxic habits. After each step there are ‘step exercises’ to help us build these practices into our lives and head spaces. These include mantras, meditation and time for reflection.
As Recovery is essentially a self-help book, it is easy to dip in and out of if you don’t feel some steps necessarily apply to you.
I personally began to find the book helpful only a few chapters in. If I was eating because I was bored, mindlessly scrolling through social media sites, or drinking because I felt sad, for example, I began to question why I was doing it and if the external stimuli was really benefiting me in the way I needed.
Brand talks a lot about connection, saying we sometimes behave certain ways because we are lacking connection, whether that be to meaningful relationships, meaningful hobbies or just to ourselves. This is when I pick up my guitar, or go for a walk or call someone close to me, because you find these deeper satisfactions are what are most important.
Furthermore, on connection, there is a lot of talk of a ‘Higher Power’. In the original 12 steps, that is usually referring to God, whatever or whoever that is. Brand, however, is loose with the term and he tends to refer to a higher power within us and/or in every single living thing around us in the universe. The book is very spiritual in this sense which some might regard as absolute bullsh*t , but allow yourself to make sense of it, especially when your own thoughts can be imprisoning.
“So, ‘having had a spiritual awakening’ – that means you’ve woken up to the reality that you and your thoughts are not the centre of the universe, they’re not even true and if they’re not making you happy – it’s time to let them go and make room for ‘new thoughts.’”
The author focuses a lot on our primitive ego needs and how small and trivial our thoughts can be – but in a positive way! When it all feels too much, it is calming to know our reality is only one we have built and does not define and control the entire universe.
When impulsivity is at its strongest – and this includes impulsive emotions as well as consuming material pleasures – we must pause, breathe, observe our breath and calibrate.
“We need the pain to remind us, the ego is a subtle foe, the Higher Self gives us peace of mind and the ego takes credit and sends us back into the wilderness.”
The book does get quite philosophical and spiritual creating an invigorating and eye opening read. It’s always of benefit to ponder ideas and rustle feathers (even if you think it’s bonkers) than to never even wonder. Recovery helps to create awareness of your actions and your mind.
It is worth noting that the book is not designed to strip you of all pleasures from your life. It is not instructing you live an entirely Amish lifestyle in the middle of the Himalayas. Recovery is there to assist in helping remove the ‘pleasures’ that are actually more destructive than productive.
Drinking when you’re having a good time is absolutely okay, drinking regularly to numb yourself whilst harming yourself and potentially others is something that might need changing.
Brand does specify, if you enjoy your indulgences and gratification through shopping, eating, drugs, drinking etc. then that is fine and the book is not for you; this book aims in helping those who are not happy with aspects of their lifestyle, which can be a result of those who are suffering internally.
Before I conclude this review I just want to say I am not someone who usually reads self-help books, I have always found them a bit of a ridiculous concept. However, for me, this book was different and I am saying this in case you are skeptical like I was. The book felt really identifiable and useful, it was not some condescending text that instructed me to live my life a certain way and a load of phony other instructions about being your ‘best self!’ and so on.
Russell Brand brings humour, honesty and hope into the book. He is not a guru and he is not a psychologist. He’s just a man who fell into a dark place in his life and is trying to get through each day in this often painful world, just like the rest of us.
Becky studied at the University of Sussex and currently lives in Brighton. She specialises in musical journalism and writes poetry and songwriting in her spare time on the side of doing care work.
Edited by Stephanie Kleanthous