12-step programme can help everyone says Russell Brand

Initially created to combat alcoholism, the 12-step programme can help everyone according to Russell Brand’s new book, writes Suzanne Harrington

IN 2002, a heroin and crack addicted alcoholic sex addict with food issues stumbled into 12 step abstinence-based recovery.

In recovery, he starred in Hollywood movies and married a famous pop star, but the longer he practiced the 12 steps, the more hollow and meaningless fame and glamour became to him. He divorced the pop star, (Katy Perry — by text), quit the movie business, and went to live in the English countryside, where he and his second wife recently had their first child, and where he has just written a book about how the 12 steps work. He is the comedian/author/activist Russell Brand. You’ve probably heard of him.

In 2006, another alcoholic with food issues and a previous overfondness of recreational drugs stumbled into 12 step recovery, did the Steps, and remains in recovery. That’s me, by the way — I am one of millions around the world who is part of the many fellowships based on 12 step recovery — alcohol, drugs, food, sex, smoking, gambling, shopping, hoarding, porn, destructive relationships, workaholism, debt, co-dependency, technology, you name it, there’s a 12 step fellowship for it.

So why has Russell Brand written a book, Recovery: Freedom From Our Addictions, explaining the 12 Steps, when there is already plenty of 12 step literature which does exactly that? It is possible he will be accused of narcissism and grandiosity, but his reason is straightforward — he believes that the 12 Steps can help everyone, not just drunks and junkies. That we do not have to present at 12 step meetings in order to need the 12 steps, or to benefit from their principles.

“I believe we live in an age of addiction,” he writes.

“Where addictive thinking has become almost totally immersive. It is the mode of our culture. The very idea that you can somehow make your life alright by attaining primitive material goals — getting the ideal relationship, the ideal job, a beautiful Berber rug, or forty quid’s worth of smack — the underlying idea, ‘If I could just get X,Y,Z, I would be okay’, is consistent and it is quite wrong.”

People in recovery often wish everyone else was too — that if everyone followed the 12 steps, the world would be a nicer place, and people would be happier.

Brand believes this absolutely. Hence writing what he terms a self-help book, and donating some of its profits to 12 step recovery: “The manual for self-realisation comes not from the mountain but from the mud. We are all in the mud together.”

He continues, “If you’re addicted to bad relationships, bad food, abusive bosses, conflict or pornography, it can take a lifetime to spot the problem, and apparently a lifetime is all we have. This book is not just about extremists like me. No, this is a book about you.” He translates the 12 steps into bracing vernacular: Step One (“Admitted we were powerless over [insert addiction here] and our lives had become unmanageable”) becomes “Are you a bit fucked?”. 

The original steps were conceived by the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson and Dr Bob Smith, in 1935, who were in turn influenced by Carl Jung, the founder of analytical psychology, who had the idea that an addict needed some kind of spiritual awakening in order to overcome their addiction. To date the 12 steps have saved countless lives. So how do they work?

“It’s a practical system that anyone can use,” writes Brand.

The first three steps involve realising you have a problem that you can’t sort out by yourself, and being willing to ask for help. People can be put off by all the God stuff, but really all that’s required is an acknowledgement that you yourself are not God. That’s it. Steps 4 and 5 are essentially the admin — or as Brand puts it, they help “to realign your perspective…we re-write our past, we change our narrative. We reprogramme ourselves.”

Steps 6 and 7 are about self healing, while steps 8 and 9 are about healing our relationships with others — because no matter how much we convince ourselves that our addiction only affects us, the reality is all addictive behaviours impact on those around us, from being slightly annoying to having your children taken into care.

The last three steps 10, 11 and 12 are known as the maintenance steps — you have quit active addiction, acknowledge the damage done to yourself and others, and don’t want to go back there. Plus, as a result of having moved into a more conscious way of thinking and living, you are now in a better position to help others.

It’s all about action.

“You can’t think your way into acting better, but you can act your way into thinking better,” Brand writes.

Personally it always struck me as a bit unfair that only raging alcoholics and hopeless drug addicts got to practice the 12 steps, given how they provide such an invaluable emotional toolbox — now, thanks to the vision (his critics might say the ego) of Russell Brand, they are available to all.

The 12 STEPS

(Bill Wilson, 1935)

  • 1, Admitted we were powerless over [insert addiction here] and our lives had become unmanageable
  • 2. Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity
  • 3. Made a conscious decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him
  • 4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves
  • 5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs
  • 6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all our defects of character
  • 7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings
  • 8. Made a list of all those we had harmed, and became willing to make amends
  • 9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  • 10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it
  • 11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood him, praying only for knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry it out.
  • 12. Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other addicts, and to practice these principles in all of our affairs.


(Russell Brand, 2017)

  • 1. Are you a bit fucked?
  • 2. Could you not be fucked?
  • 3. Are you, on your own, going to ‘unfuck’ yourself?
  • 4. Write down all the things that are fucking you up or have ever fucked you up and don’t leave anything out
  • 5. Honestly tell someone trustworthy about how fucked you are.
  • 6. Well, that’s revealed a lot of fucked up patterns. Do you want to stop it? Seriously?
  • 7. Are you willing to live in a new way that’s not all about you and your previous, fucked up stuff? You have to.
  • 8. Prepare to apologise to everyone for everything affected by your being so fucked up.
  • 9. Now apologise. Unless that would make things worse.
  • 10. Watch out for fucked up thinking and behaviour and be honest when it happens
  • 11. Stay connected to your new perspective
  • 12. Look at life less selfishly, be nice to everyone, help people if you can.

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