Comedian Russell Brand's guide to treating addiction

NEW YORK • I am taking a tour of Russell Brand's body.

It is not the one I might once have imagined because I am old and he is no longer a sex addict. But we are examining his tattoos. There are many.

He does not seem to mind unbuttoning his shirt, covered in galloping stallions, for a stranger.

The chakras travelling down his right arm represent "the sexual energy, the energy of the will, the energy of the heart, the energy of communication", he explained, touching each one lightly.

There is the sex-energy kundalini serpent on his right index finger.

There is one on his biceps that he and singer Katy Perry got when they married that says "Go with the flow" in Sanskrit. They could not, but it was a nice thought.

My favourite, though, is a quote that Brand attributed to playwright Oscar Wilde, in loopy script that stretches from his shoulder to his wrist: "If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh. Otherwise, they'll kill you."

Now, that is a motto for any comedian's life, but particularly Brand's. He makes people laugh, so he is alive. This was not a foregone conclusion.

Given his staggering self-destructiveness over his 42 years - he has been a junkie, an alcoholic, a bulimic and an attention addict (admittedly, that one has not exactly been stamped out) - it is quite the feat that he is still here.

Brand is promoting his latest book, Recovery: Freedom From Our Addictions, a thought-provoking explication of the 12-step programme run through the Mixmaster of Brand's verbal pyrotechnics. He believes the 12 steps have saved him. He wants them to save you too.

His thinking about addiction goes something like this: At the root of all addiction is narcissism, a constant thrumming attention to self. If you are self-absorbed, you are suffering and, if you suffer, you seek ways to stop it - through drugs, alcohol, sex and, maybe, Facebook "likes".

"We are trying to solve inner problems externally - whatever it is in our lives that is missing," he said.

"Author Eckhart Tolle said it perfectly: 'Addiction starts with pain and ends with pain.' Here is the point. Drugs, booze, sex... It's not the particular addiction that matters as much as the fact that your life is out of control because of it."

The man, whose last book is titled Revolution, lives in a multi-million-dollar Tory stronghold in Oxfordshire and admits that his way of feeling grounded in a new place is to buy himself a little something.

He grew up an only child in a grim town in Essex, a sensitive boy who was bullied, wet the bed and kept a gerbils as pets. His mother was adoring, but repeatedly in treatment for cancer, so he was often subject to the contempt of his stepfather.

His biological father was a porn aficionado whose idea of a father-and-son vacation was a holiday to Thailand to treat his son to prostitutes.

He became a bounder with growing fame; his taste for chocolate, heroin, sex and chaos was legendary and he left enemies in his wake, both professional and personal. At the 2013 GQ Awards, he noted (before he was escorted from the premises) that the sponsor Hugo Boss made uniforms for the Nazis - "but they looked fantastic".

He has been sober for 14 years.

A happy outgrowth of his recovery is what he calls the "new territory" of domesticity: his wife, Laura Gallacher, and their 10-month-old daughter, Mabel.

His daughter, in particular, is credited with keeping his self-absorption in check.

"This kid's a pain in the a**," he said happily, as he whipped out his phone to show me pictures. At 10 months, Mabel is a delicious imp, with the fair colouring of her mother and the gleeful expression of a hellion in training.

"She thinks of me as the guy that holds the screen that In The Night Garden is on," Brand said.

"That's my primary role in life. Oh, it's you, In The Night Garden Guy. Hold the screen better. So, that's very good for me, who can get very easily - hmmm, what do I want to say? Hypnotised by self and my own importance. She deflates me."

Also helpful: his dog, Bear, an Instagram star in his own right which Brand described as his spirit animal. "He is my abstracted libido," Brand said.

"He wants to eat life to death, in the most loving way imaginable. Which I identify with because that's I think what I used to want to do."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 25, 2017, with the headline 'Comedian Russell Brand's guide to treating addiction'. Print Edition | Subscribe