Russell Brand's battles with addictions and fame have played out in the public eye—sprawled across news reports, the internet, and tabloids. But he wants everyone to know that it's possible to be happy—even more so, that you deserve to be happy. Even if you are "a bit fucked," as he likes to say, there is time to "unfuck yourself."
The English comedian, who rose to megastardom in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him to the Greek and was married to pop superstar Katy Perry for two years, has struggled with his own inner demons. But now, he finally feels that he's reached a plateau, free from his past insecurities, self-destructive tendencies, and indulgences. Brand currently spends time as a political activist campaigning for reform, utilizing talk-show appearances, meetings with government officials, and his general celebrity status to address issues like economic equality, addiction, capitalism, and the decriminalization of drugs.
Now in his 14th year of sobriety, he finds himself at peace, and in his new book, Recovery: Freedom from Our Addictions, Brand lays out the program that has worked for him. Immersing himself in the recovery world—with his documentary From Addiction to Recovery and his involvement in London's Trew Era Cafe, which provides a safe environment for recovering addicts to work—Brand has become a noted expert on the subject. I spoke with the star about why he wrote a self-help book, how being addicted to heroin compares with being addicted to your smartphone, and what recovery specifically means to him.
VICE: Why did you decide to write a self-help book?
Russell Brand: Because we spend all of our time talking about problems—Donald Trump, contemporary life, capitalism and consumerism, ideology, the loss of personal connection, the breakdown of economic distance—and not much time talking about solutions. On one level, the solution is about very simple things like connectedness and kindness, and addiction is a really convenient metaphor for addressing the need for transition and awakening. If that happens on an individual level, I think it will happen on other levels as well.
You've been upfront with your addictions. Which do you remember with the most trepidation?
Crack and heroin are difficult because of the consequences—lots of police or hospitals, and the fear and inconvenience of getting them. Addiction in any form makes you feel lonely. When you're addicted to certain relationships with people, that can be really insidious. I'm really glad I'm currently in healthy relationships and not dependent on continual contact with strangers for my self-esteem. That's less easy to observe, but it feels bad when it's happening.
Can you compare being addicted to heroin to being addicted to your phone?
The impulse is the same—to get out of yourself. When you feel sad and you unthinkably pick up your phone, staring at it and realize that it's not making you feel good by looking at social media—the driving force behind the action is the same, I believe. It's an attempt to medicate a feeling. Obviously, I'm not saying you can cause yourself as much harm with a phone as you can with heroin—but if you spend all your life on the outside evaluating your worth according to what you're doing in the world of social media, you spend no time in mediation, reflection, or contemplation. You're not having a very rounded experience of being human.
How can the program you outline in the book help people that are struggling?
It gives you a system to change the way you think, feel, and relate—it can bring about total change in anyone who does it. If you're in an extreme case of addiction, you obviously need additional support—medical, psychiatric, etc. But if you're using this book because you're just generally unhappy, you do what's in there—becoming a part of new communities and willing to put the service of other people ahead of your continual self-fulfillment—then change is very simple. It's just like exercise, meditation, or yoga. It alters your consciousness in a very holistic and simple way, helping you unpick your previous way of being and giving you an opportunity to access a new one.
What surprised you the most as you looked back while writing this book?
How seemingly trivial feelings of resentment and disturbance are rooted often in deep neurosis. With this program, you have the ability to diagnosis and amend that. You might think, Oh, I'm just a bit pissed off because my girlfriend has said something—but when you break that down and analyze it using the tools in this program, you see that it relates to deep feelings of loss or lack of self-worth that you can't put right by controlling another person. You can only put right by surrendering yourself.
What do you think of the debate between the disease model and the behavioral model? Is it different for whoever you are?
In a sense, the disease model is a metaphor, but everyone recognizes it in an official capacity. I'm more interested in finding a solution than continually reframing the problem semantically. If someone thinks it's a disease, that's cool—as long as you believe there's a solution. If someone believes it's behavioral, that's cool—as long as you think you can amend behavior. My personal feeling is that it's an extreme condition that's present in everybody.
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How has your career helped or hindered your own struggles in recovery?
In a way, they're inexplicably linked, because I'm the kind of person who gets off on attention. There was probably a point when I was less conscious about what I was doing and my addictive nature was informing the choices I was making. I think they're all one thing in the end, and the categories start to disappear under theories. The deeper I get into recovery, the more I think of my career as something that's potentially useful to me and others, but not that important.
Lately you've talked about drug decriminalization in the UK. How feasible of an option do you think that is?
It seems to be the tendency. It's probably what'll ultimately happen. It's been tried in countries like Portugal and Switzerland with a great deal of efficacy. If you look at some of the brilliant documentaries coming out of your country—like The 13th—the criminalization of drugs has never been about protecting people. It's been about controlling people. If you accept the disease model, criminalizing people for having a certain mental affliction is kind of crazy and cruel in itself. Decriminalization and proper regulation of substances is the sophisticated and civilized thing to do.
What does recovery mean to you, specifically?
It means recovering the person that you were intended to be. If you haven't gotten caught up in your own individual psychosis and neurosis, you would've become something. There's something in you that's trying to realize itself—a sense of purpose and connection. It has a spiritual component to it, rather than, Oh well, we're just here on this planet—just try to get as many blow jobs as you can and see you on the death bed. It presumes that there's something unique and beautiful in a human being who wants to realize itself.
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