Recovering from an Addicted Life: A Conversation with Russell Brand

You accept fallibility as part of the human condition. ¤
Artwork: Chantal Meza, Get Away II, Oil on Canvas 55×78 (2014). They can create a kind of chronic individualism. This again is the deception of secular materialism. It’s more because of some random set of coordinates and unforeseen events, which have deposited me into a comfortable life, and I’m really lucky and gracious. There is an indescribable energy there when you begin to help somebody else. I’ll find salvation if I find the true one, like your own personal Jesus. Humanity needs to relinquish the idea of perfectibility. You talk in the book of the need to confide in others about your troubles. I always find it a real honor that when I am among addicts they will often just take me for who I am. If we have an inclusive, empathetic society then by definition you don’t abandon people to the fate of forces beyond their control. Now a natural biochemical entity like the human does have a code. Maybe the label “addiction” itself is too confining and what we are actually dealing with is the human condition in motion. But the recognition that there is no need for fear because we are already one, and these things are not just philosophical tropes or empty mantras, they are things you can live by recognizing that your own suffering is an opportunity and call to break out from the imposed paradigm that reduces worthiness simply to what objects you accumulate. ¤
BRAD EVANS: We all know any book is the outcome of months and sometimes years of procrastination. How can we not be disconnected or divided, separate from everything? So why do you think then that we often act and behave against our better judgments? It teaches you to become suspicious of those feelings you know to be true. The criminalization of drugs is a useful social tool in the management of populations. There is invariably a deep philosophical underpinning to this project. When I try to find personal fulfillment in my life I still often find myself in a sort of peculiar despair. They are in fact affective. This is how addictions take hold. We are all experiencing this thing called life together as part of a shared consciousness, for better and worse. Far from it! This is not about the annihilation of the self as in the subjugation in a violent or destructive way. Just to clarify, the abuse you referred to in the passage happened outside of my family and the issue, I feel, is that it’s possible to alter our perception of the past, and in doing so we also alter our perception of the present. Nor can they be mechanized or monetized. Addiction can affect anybody, but it is certainly exacerbated by economic deprivation. They have a truth, which is different and difficult to legislate or iterate. They battered the door in of this “crack house” — which in itself is an interesting description for a deprived home — and what dwelled within was not monsters. And that is the attempt to connect with something, which in the most inexplicable but no less real ways gives meaning to this all too fleeting life. A life of unselfish purpose, empathy, compassion, all those words that are excluded from the political and social ideologies of our times suddenly become accessible through the most basic of human actions and behaviors. It’s also important to recognize it’s not the difference between having a program and no program. Am I right in saying this is truly a search for the substantive over the superficial? They don’t appear as problems but solutions in our attempts at seeking some form of human connection. And it no doubt takes a great deal of courage to put this onto paper. Don’t get me wrong — disillusionment is a good thing. It doesn’t require any science to tell me this. How do you hope these words can help in the healing of others who carry such difficult memories? It will grow a certain way, if in our case unimpeded by social, political, cultural forces. So I don’t have a punitive attitude toward those people who by chance find themselves in desperate states. We need to help people so that they are not defined by problems, which are often social problems. To begin, on an all too human level, I relinquish the idea that I am not homeless, lying in a gutter and smacked up on crack because I am now somehow a superior being literally looking down. And so if you don’t undo that program, decode yourself from the “I’ll never be good enough unless I get my hand on that object” like somebody who is leaving an all too consuming cult, then that’s the program which will come to shape your existence. Lets now connect this more specifically to your earlier work on the War on Drugs. But the tragedy is such a desire to possess things ends up possessing us. Clearly the retreat into individualism is more than self-defeating here. So when I use the term recovery I am talking more about an intended path, which doesn’t condemn us to live addicted lives and to succumb to the logics of passivity and its false material prophets. What I mean by this is the individualistic notion that you can find fulfillment by being with some aspirational figure that comes from the desire to be with some deity or earthly goddess. Or that to recover means to also accept that sometimes it’s actually okay not to be okay in life, and that all of us struggle with our identities. RUSSELL BRAND: I felt that anybody who is in recovery has an experience where the initial attempt to tackle addiction — in my case crack and heroin — ends up being utilized in every aspect of your life. To view somebody like an object that can serve you, make you feel better, and improve your social status. Ironic, I know, for a so-called post-modernist! They know my past and my fallibilities. We are socially and culturally programmed to behave in certain ways, not least the program of vapid consumerism. It is simply the individual who screws up! As you point out in the introduction, we don’t like to talk about the reality of death individually, and it certainly is not something we like to talk about publicly. But we know those forces exist. When I am kind, loving, and when I surrender I know that I am becoming a better me. These were people who were just holding their lives together. We must be reborn from a world that sees us only as a statistic. And what I realized here was that it’s precisely those programs, which take you from the individual narcissism and nihilism to forms of social care and compassion that are most needed here. Working through and following the same principles can alter all behaviors and all forms of destructive attachments. And you also start to see the real beauty of a person when they help somebody less fortunate. I start to feel lonely and disconnected. This idea I think is highly prevalent. Possibly a misplaced sense of romanticism. Yes, it is wrong that I was abused as a child but there is no reason for me to relive it, consciously or unconsciously, in the way I conduct my adult relationships. We know the material world is an illusion that is transmitted into our consciousness through the senses. And this is why I think we are all somewhere on the addictive scale. So the reason why the spiritual is important is that it is the only thing that can transcend the material and passive consumerism. And yet since Plato onward, it has been thought that to philosophize is to learn how to die. I know it works. What is substantial about the spiritual to me is its efficacy. But I have seen the techniques that I followed change lives. I know that I could lapse at any moment. When I do these things I feel better in ways I can’t explain but know are real. But this is a constant battle. This requires actually some rather simplistic shifts in acceptance and gratitude. Historically, the drugs issue has often been neatly separated into war/law versus development/health paradigms. This again is something I have only found in spiritual conversations. What unforeseen event might push me back into the depths of loneliness and despair? This is why I haven’t written this book from a position of authority. After all, who wants to be bloody illusioned! Every day I wake and I am bewitched and hypnotized by the seductive lure of materialism. And it’s in these moments that I also realize we are all ultimately connected. We have to learn to untangle the strands that bind us to materialism. He is the founder/director of the   Histories of Violence   project, which has a global user base covering 143 countries. It’s written from a position of an experience I am still living. I am no longer afraid. We live in a culture that uses as its fuel this will to acquire and possess. “My mum was doing her best, so was my dad.” Yes, people made mistakes but that’s what humans do and I am under 
 no obligation to hoard these errors and allow them to clutter my perception of the present. Spirituality is for people who have been there.” With this in mind, your book leaves me asking: How can we examine our life, to learn to appreciate its finitude and the impending death we all face by actually crossing over and looking at life from the perspective of death? I don’t have these obligations to prop up some avatar of myself, some deification that people might love or give me approval in order for me to ameliorate some inner sense of worthlessness and isolation. Primarily it is about how you relate to yourself and how you relate to others as people. The moves here from the deeply personal and tragic to the transformative are powerful. It was like booting down the door of a leukemia ward. To conclude, I’d like to end on the issue you begin with at the very start of the book — namely the big impending “D” or death question. And this is what it means I think to find out the truth about ourselves. As they say, “Religion is for people who fear hell. Recently we discussed his new book, Recovery: Freedom from Our Addictions, in which he shares the hard lessons he has learned over the years. It gives us the opportunity to reevaluate our lives and ask difficult questions. When reading the manuscript, I was trying to figure out what type of book it actually was. If we have systems that emphasize the corollary and connection between us then we will build a better society that is more inclusive. NOVEMBER 15, 2017

COMEDIAN, ACTOR, AUTHOR, and activist Russell Brand, who needs no introduction, has struggled with addiction throughout his life. I would like to read out this particular segment, not only because it brought tears to my eyes, but also because I think it really addresses what’s at stake here:
Suddenly my fraught and freighted childhood became reasonable 
 and soothed. Now I by no means do it perfectly. As Jarvis Cocker once put it, “without people we are nothing.” Recovery and spirituality are collective and communal activities. So what I felt was I’d reached a point in my life where I have gone through so many layers of disillusionment, with sex, fame, Hollywood, and the rest, and the recovery lens through which I live my life offered something. What I mean is that its effects are felt more there in terms of the experience, the treatments, whether you are criminalized or not, and often whether it takes your life. Because if we separate we are condemning ourselves to nothingness! Or, as you say, to ask serious questions about our life, our present, and our hopes from the future, while already knee-deep in the mud of our tragic and yet still wondrous condition? These things can’t be measured. And yet even more toxic I think is the commodification and objectification of all relationships. Or to put it another way, maybe it’s an embrace of something irreducibly spiritual, which only comes from certain courage to tell the truth about your existence? This was a very revelatory experience for me. And it’s when I actually think that I’ll take full control of this situation that the ego starts to reappear, armed with its desire, pleasure, and fear to send me down the wrong path. ¤
Brad Evans is a political philosopher, critical theorist, and writer, who specializes on the problem of violence. I think, in an affirmative way, it’s like an “Anti-Self-Help-Book.” And what I mean is the central message I see jumping off the pages is that it’s precisely the traits of the self-centered, individualistic, fuck-the-world-and-its-loving-sentiments attitudes that get you precisely into the fix in the first place. And you don’t punish yourself because of it. And so I see this phenomena appearing again and again in my own life. And I agree with your critique of the health model as a determinate means for reducing what is a social issue to some individual pathology. I want to push you a bit on this term “recovery,” which is used for the title. So I wanted to expound these to offer a counter-weight to the prevailing addictive ideologies of our times, which is a determined and yet unconscious self-centeredness. I don’t know what’s around the corner. And yet I know that when I go and help other people, sometimes in blatant sub–Princess Diana ways or even on a more basic human level by just listening to other people’s problems, that’s when I feel genuinely fulfilled and my life has meaning and significance. But there are different forms of deprivation too, like emotional deprivation, so it’s not like the poor simply have full ownership of this. And that’s what a recovery program means to me. They cannot be achieved by being stuck into a pod and shot into outer space. I don’t think however this goes far enough, or at least it needs to be taken a stage further. But these are just tendencies. We are only here for ourselves, surviving alone, and learning how to dominate certain situations so we can fulfill our own impulses and desires. And then it sells us solutions to our problems that come from living under the false ideals of consumerism. It is to learn to acknowledge and deal with these tendencies on a daily basis. When the self feels like it’s worthless or nothing I feel we are searching for a deeper truth. Then I remind myself. Now while the critique of the former is most welcome, too often the latter can reduce this to questions of individual pathology or deviance. I think our culture and our biochemistry can collude to become our worst allies. It was full of thin, emaciated, and broken people who were slumped and pale in chairs, denied sunlight of every variety — literal and spiritual. And yet this book seems to also be a critique of such perfectible lifestyles. This is why personal crisis is important here. It has to be related. And when I realize this I know I am not on my own anymore. But you can’t just say this to yourself stuck in some room. How might we learn to better connect the social to the individual in this context? And I feel the natural conclusion of a secular rejection of the mystical leads us to the point that we are just individuals. The way you seem to use and deploy the term here is different from more simplistic understandings, which might refer to the rediscovering of some essential self that’s been somehow trapped or frozen in time and just needs to be re-discovered. Though it would be nice for them to have exclusive control of something! Hence why I feel qualified to write about addiction is my life is like a map of addicted lines from money, crack, fame, sex, relationships, and seeking out other people’s approval. I have to work to not approach relationships in this indulgent way. What really compelled you to write this book at this moment in your life? Hence it’s not about self-help; rather it’s all about a sober and truthful cry for human connection. It’s a kind of elevated sense of human connection. A while back I went on a police raid in west London. Now I have to admit that in my case this happened all too easily. I am thinking here of our attraction to relationships and people we know to be detrimental and indeed toxic to our physical and emotional well-being. My perceptions of reality, even my own memories, are not objective or absolute, they are a biased account and they can be altered.