Freedom from Addiction with Russell Brand (Part 1)

Jun 11, 2020

Or, listen on Spotify

This is Part 1 of a two-part series on recovery with Russell Brand.

Very few of us are free from some form of addiction — alcohol, sugar, sleeping pills, sex, Instagram, co-dependent relationships, the list goes on. Russell points out that all our addictions stem from a common problem: spiritual disconnection. But when we admit we have a problem, believe in real change, accept help from others, and hand over our will and control to a higher power, we can begin to find freedom from our addictions.

To hear more from Russell, sign up for his upcoming Recovery course on Commune ( or check out his Luminary podcast, Under the Skin ( @hearluminary).

Jeff: Hi, I'm Jeff Krasno and welcome to Commune, a global wellness community and online course platform featuring some of the world's greatest teachers. We are on a mission to inspire, heal, pass down wisdom, and bring the world closer together.

This is the Commune Podcast, where each week we explore the ideas and practices that help us live this healthy, connected, and purpose filled life.

The scale of our global addiction problem is staggering. An estimated 300 million people throughout the world have an alcohol or drug use disorder. Every year, worldwide, alcohol is the cause of 1 death out of every 20.

Indeed, society and culture gives us every opportunity to be addicted, particularly to alcohol. My team won - let’s drink. My team lost - let’s drink. I got married - let’s party. I got divorced - let’s drink our troubles away. I got that big new job - meet you at the bar! I got fired - pour me a whiskey.

In 2017, Doctors dished out a whopping 200 million opioid prescriptions. Is it any wonder that 2.1 million Americans are addicted to fentanyl, oxycontin and the like?

However, our addictions don’t end with alcohol, opioids, heroin and crack. There are dozens of more insidious ways we form unhealthy attachments.

According to a recent study, researchers estimate that 6% of the world's population is addicted to the internet. That’s 420 million people. And then there’s gambling, pornography, co-dependency, work, sugar, seeking the approval of others, Instagram, shopping.

In fact, my guest today, Russell Brand might argue that very few of us are free from some variety of addiction. And that the source of our addiction stems from a spiritual disconnection to a higher power. Instead of looking inward and cultivating our spiritual life, we’re looking for connection by fulfilling our desires in the material world through drinking, drugs, pornography and accumulating stuff.

In 2017, Russell released RECOVERY: Freedom From From Our Addictions, a modern, occasionally profane, and widely accessible interpretation of the 12-step program.

And, here at Commune, we are very excited to be releasing his new video course on Recovery — a 12-day program that you can take for a limited time for free. Just go to to sign up. That’s to have Russell walk you through the 12 steps and how they can apply to your life , whatever your attachment may be.

On today’s show, Russell outlines the 12-step system that has pulled him – and millions of others – out of addiction. We explore the flexibility and versatility of the program to address all manners of addictions as well as the importance of mentorship and community.

This is episode 1 of a 2-part interview with Russell Brand.

My name is Jeff Krasno and welcome to Commune.

Jeff: So when people think of addiction they think of alcoholism, heroin addiction, crack, cocaine. But you have a much broader understanding of addiction.

Russell: Yes, it was shown to me. I think it's the relationship between the inner and outer worlds. And those most obvious things, like heroin, alcoholism, substance misuse, they are merely the most evident form of addiction. I think it's an attachment, a belief that the material in the external world can somehow resolve the problems of your inner life. Put more simply, addiction is a behavior that you would like to stop and when you try to you cannot. Addiction begins with pain and it ends with pain. You are in pain, you practice whatever it is you do to get you away from the pain whether it's pornography or food or sex or drugs, and then it leads to more pain and then the cycle begins again. So I am increasingly, as I am taught more about the nature of addiction, less and less interested in the object. It's almost better to be a crackhead because if you are a crackhead, it's pretty clear what the problem is 'cause you're taking crack. So it's a good entry point into the conversation. If someone's taking crack and they go, "I don't know what my problem is." Could it be the crack? No! Only if someone's, you know, it's like saying but you're with someone, co-dependency, toxic relationships work. You know, they'll deny it all the livelong day. Think about it, I found myself getting context where various forms of my addictive behavior were lionized. You know, if you're a 20-year-old at a drama school in London, and you are a heroin addict and you drink that's an advantage. People think oh my God this guy, he's crazy!

Jeff: That's something.

Russell: Yeah, until it's not. Until it's like, yeah all right, there's a lot of sick everywhere and he's breaking all the windows.

Jeff: Whether it's a subtle insidious form of addiction like perhaps looking at myself in the mirror, just wanting to be liked all the time. Oh boy, that's exhausting.

Russell: Yeah, but it's good isn't it because it's a signal that there's something in you that wants to be fed and nurtured. And the good news about the 12 Steps, and that sounds kind of Christian, the good news is the answers are coming. The Lord is present, he is within. The resurrection will happen and it won't be over there, it will be in here. It will rise again.

Jeff: So do you think then that addiction is really sort of a spiritual affliction on some level? Because it is so broad and it addresses so many pieces of our behavior it's, in essence, like we're chasing this desire, this need. But it's based in the material world and the material world can't make us happy so then we must keep going back for more. Is that your understanding? Is that your belief?

Russell: Yes.

Jeff: Yeah, and so what then is recovery look like?

Russell: For me recovery looks like the 12 Steps. It looks like an admission of a problem, the belief that the problem and your attitude towards it can change, a willingness to accept help both from other people and to hand over your will and your control, and in my case a kind of belief and acceptance of a higher power, a different type of consciousness. It looks like making an inventory and sharing that inventory with someone else, being willing to admit that you have problems and being willing to have those problems removed. It looks like Step seven we're at now, humbly asking for those problems to be removed, a sincere commitment to change. Then an inventorying process that is no longer about the self, about others, people that have been harmed and a willingness to make amends to them. And then 10, 11, 12, the final three Steps, remain conscious and aware at all times. Your life is in the moment that you're living in. Step 11, conscious contact with a higher power through prayer and meditation, we connect with our own understanding of God. Because as we have discussed already, although it may be only in mine available subtitles that the solution to this problem is a spiritual one, a connection to a higher power. Having had this realization, and this is significant and where a departure from most insular and I would say somewhat narcissistic theology or practice is pertinent, is Step 12. Having had a spiritual awakening, we carry this message and we serve others. So for me, that's what recovery looks like. There are translations and interpretations and there are tweaks, but for me the principles not only apply in 12 Step methodology but also I've seen comparative ideas in Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, even sort of secular and materialist ideologies. In the end, that's the biggest sort of, or even psychiatrists say, an acceptance that there's an aspect of yourself that has to be overcome.

Jeff: And right now for you personally, are you living in the vibration of Step 12? I mean, I see what you're doing, you're putting yourself out there to essentially help others. Is that what provides meaning on the other side of recovery?

Russell: I don't see myself as being so far down the path of recovery that I am in this luxurious position of being able to help others. In many senses, I'm in the same position I was in when I was a crack and heroin addict. The program works so I continue to work the program. I suppose, in a way, because I've got a particular set of skills I am now alloying those skills with what I've learned. I mean pose primarily as a communicator and a entertainer. Communicator's a good word to mispronounce, huh? So, you know, I don't see myself as evolved or advanced beyond the 12 Steps because, in a sense, there was nothing that needed to be evolved or advanced. I just needed to recognize that what I fought was a yearning for heroin or other people's approval or fame or money, was this requirement for a connection to God. As someone, a teacher of mine, once said, "All forms of desire are the inappropriate substitute "for the desire to be at one with God."

Jeff: Yeah, it's beautiful.

Russell: It's good isn't it? And he told me that when I was quite young and it took me ages to listen. I was 27.

Jeff: And so you wrote a quite brilliant book on mentorship.

Russell: Thanks.

Jeff: I enjoyed it. I've listened to it in the car on my trips. And obviously you've taken this quite seriously because here you are, you know, working with groups of people on a regular basis, trying to help them essentially realize these things that you have been fortunate in some ways enough to realize. Can you talk about the importance of mentorship a bit and how it's baked into the 12 Steps, what it means for you?

Russell: Whilst the 12 Steps can be worked in isolation, the intention of some of the original forms of literature of 12 Step philosophy was that it could be worked in alienation and isolation for people that were just geographically isolated. In my experience, and I think this is common to people that have a 12 Step program, is best worked communally for a number of reasons. One, the acknowledgement that other people have got lives and problems and the sort of belief that your own life and problem is the center of the galaxy is a peculiar if understandable one due to the way that the senses work. But particularly having someone as it were upstream, a mentor, a teacher, or in my case malpaul. But one in particular with the 12 Step program is like the acknowledgement that I don't run the show of my life anymore. If I had like, look all of these things for me is a process of negotiation and going backwards and forwards and thinking no, I can do it the old way again. I still have the problems that I've always had, to a degree. That's what's somewhat complex about this philosophy. But when I'm afraid or I feel inadequate or like I've got problems and I'm thinking, oh this is what I'm going to do to solve these problems, I talk to someone else and I say, "I've got this problem, I'm thinking about doing this. "What do you think?" and my sponsor or mentor, without fail, will say, "Well, you know, I don't have any advice or an opinion” but my experience "is that when you do things like this X X X X." And it's usually boils down to, "Don't fucking do that, you idiot."

Jeff: So it's a bit of an ego check?

Russell: Yeah, and yeah, an ego check and sort of an acknowledgement of the limitations of the ego. You know, of like, maybe I don't know enough about psychiatry to use the term 'ego' accurately but whatever is sort of the parameters, the circumference of the ecosystem of my intelligence, the kind of decisions that I make, the kind of relationships that I form, the kind of mistakes that I make. If I am to order that, it's good to have some external input. One from people that are further down the path than me, people that have been clean and sober for longer than I have and two, from a system, a program, a method that runs at odds and is applicable to my condition but it's entirely distinct from my condition. So when I'm thinking about this is what I want to do, I check with sponsor, I check with program. You know, like what is beautiful about this, and as I learn more about it, as I'm taught more about it, what I recognize is whatever it is that's happening in my life that is problematic for me I can apply this system. I can acknowledge there's a problem, believe that it can get better, ask for help, inventory and see what's going on, what patterns of thought in our language defects of character have taken part? I can make a sincere commitment to change. I can list people I've harmed, be willing to make amends to them, and the process goes on. 10, stay aware, 11, increase conscious contact of high power, 12, be of service. What I feel like the 12 Step program does is it takes you from unconscious, unaware and places you in conscious and aware. And it does it again and again. In the cloudy, murky mess of drug addiction to not drug addict. Obsession with other people's approval to not obsession with other people's approval. That's something that's as subtle and as behaviorally and socially acceptable as it's and indeed encouraged as other people's approval. I can come in and out of that, but at least now I know where I'm meant to be. And a sponsor and a mentor is a great place to go. I've had this experience, it made me feel like this, and he knows, you know, where the bodies are buried. He's seen my Step four and five. He's seen my big inventory of my past and he's able to say, "Well, if you're thinking "of getting into a relationship like this, "you might want to consider how that compares "to this relationship that you were previously in."

Jeff: Yeah, no, it's interesting. I mean, once you've done some degree of work, right? You've read and you've meditated and you've studied, you know that you should be living from this place of love, from your infinite soul, from your diving nature all the time. And you wake up and you're like, okay, well I'm going to do that, I'm committed to doing that. I know that that's going to bring me true happiness, contentedness or at least that's what I think I am. But everyday we're drawing into this, you know, ego vacuum of, okay, well no, actually I am what this person thinks of me. I am what I do. I am my job. I'm disconnected from others. I'm in competition from others. I'm separate from God. And in a way, your mentor can check that. That behavior.

Russell: Yes. It's a vital component to have. It really is, to have people that you trust, that you've selected, you know, prudently that have a program of their own. Because it is said, I was taught, if you are listening of somebody else and what they're telling you doesn't come from the program, you are listening to a drug addict. You know, so me without this program, I'm a drug addict. That's what I am. My solution to the problems of life: I'll take drugs. Life is painful, trust no one, take drugs. With the program I am be of service to others, we are all one consciousness. Hey, I'm a different person but that guy is still in there, you know? So like Churchill said, "No plan survives human contact." So don't be disappointed when this program doesn't immediately turn you into Saint Francis of Assisi. You know, I'm still me. But what I know is that I know there's enough direction to go in. I know that the solution isn't, oh if I could just get everyone to like me then it's going to be okay. I've tried that, it doesn't work.

Jeff: Yeah, one thing you talked about, your first mentor, I believe his name was Chip Summers.

Russell: Yes, Chip.

Jeff: And I found it actually really really interesting how you described sort of the ideal conditions for mentorship to thrive. Can you talk about that a little bit? Like what are those ideal conditions for mentorship to be successful?

Russell: I would have to say that the ideal conditions for mentorship to thrive is surrender, and acceptance, and honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness. These are the ideal conditions. When I'm dealing with people with addiction issues, in a sense it becomes a relief once you're in the program, once you're on the other side because I go, "Oh, you're a heroin addict are you? "Well here are the things you need to do." I don't want to do that. Okay. So what about you, have you got a problem, yeah? 'Cause like, this is not me. This is not my idea. This is, you know, relatively new for a theology that's going to become as influential as I believe it's going to become. It's, you know, 70, 80 years old. It's derived, of course, as I'm sure you're aware, from the theology of William James' psychiatry of Carl Jung first century Christianity as inspired by Emmet Fox and there are some linguistic and, I would say, nomenclature problems, as the result of that. I'm interested in the order in of the vocabularies so it becomes more appropriate and acceptable. I'm not about demystification but re-mystification. God is present in this. There's nothing without God in this. But it's a heavily cargoed word these days.

Jeff: I think your point around the attitudes that a mentee must have is honesty, open-mindedness, willingness. You also, I think, describe the 12 Step at least as a very conducive to mentorship because there's a clear end result, right?

Russell: Yeah man, I mean there's a clear end result. From taking heroin to not taking heroin is a pretty clear and pretty radical transformation if you know what it's like to be addicted to heroin or anything. The other thing is that whilst the principles can be loosely worn and can be practiced in accordance with the individual to a degree, you know, they are protean, they are not rigid. Like anything that's real, it's got proper balls. It's not going to fall over as soon as there's a stiff breeze. It also, what I've realized, has got built into it a sort of protection against the cult of personality or whatever. You know, like me continually, I'm acknowledging all that I know. I don't know nothing, it's the principles that are important. You'll notice, being as we're having this conversation in Los Angeles, that a lot of cults don't go that way. A lot of cults start with "Hey man, peace and love", and end with "Let's put some poison in the salad bar." A lot of cults start with "peace and love" and end with, "I want to have sex with all of the people "that are in this cult." Now, what I now know is there are kind of certain absolutes that might job is to be of service to others. That don't mean I'm going to spend my whole life being of service to other because I'm flawed! But I know that if I'm not being of service of others, the results are not guaranteed now. We're out of the territory that I know I'm safe in. So if I'm thinking in a situation I want this, I want this, okay, good luck, 'cause we've tried that method. You know?

Jeff: Yeah, so the last genre of questions because I know that you're hosting a big group. I want to talk a little bit about yoga. You know, sort of spiritual and embodied practices because the 12 Step was obviously very very influential for you from a spiritual perspective but I wonder what the relationship is between the 12 Step and yoga and a little bit about the importance of yoga in your personal healing journey?

Russell: Step 11 of the 12 Steps is increase conscious contact with God of our understanding. The point of yoga is to prepare the body, you know I'm talking about Asana yoga, prepare the body for meditative state. So there's an obvious corollary there around Step 11. My personal experience is I started doing yoga when I was in treatment to get off drugs the first time. Not at a place, the place I got clean wasn't that, I'm proud to say, fancy. But I started doing the yoga classes outside so it took over. My mom always said, "You should be doing yoga." I got sort of dark memories of people always telling me the answer was going to be meditation for me and sort of spirituality but I plowed on with that heroin and crack and other people's approval and all that stuff. So yoga, why I like yoga, is because it's an embodied, physical practice and this, the body is part of it and increasingly I think that the line between consciousness, the body, the spirit and the mind is an imaginary one. I mean, I can't find an exact point where neurology is distinct from the nervous, you know, I know know where that line is. I don't think there is a line. So for me, yoga, I know your man's into the Kundalini. I love that stuff, I was well into that for a while. I've not done it so much lately. I've not done as much anything lately because I've got two very young daughters and my--

Jeff: That's a form of yoga right there.

Russell: Yeah, for the patience and the surrender. Yeah, there's a lot of that going around, I tell you. But what I do, I in some senses neglected my body in the first part of my life. I didn't know how to inhabit it. My personal practices now, some yoga always. I'm glad that I did enough Ashtanga yoga that I'm now, it's always a place I can go. I can practice on my own, primary series, and if I'm in somewhere that has yoga, I like to do yoga with others. Kundalini, I love it. I love the, you know, the Kundalini experience is without introducing pharmaceuticals or plant medicine, is sort of, you know, and there are certain types of breath work. I know you're familiar with Wim Hof and stuff but I like the Kundalini experience. I've had moments of sensation of self. Like moments of voom, voom, like oh my God I am not me and then oh no I am me, it's me that's remembering I am not me. I've had that induced by Kundalini before so I like it. I also like Brazilian jiu-jitsu. That's why I'm a fan and a student of Heron Gracie, and who is here for this workshop today. Because, elsewhere, Ricardo Wilk and in my country, Chris Cleere. All various black belts under the Gracie system because jiu-jitsu for men, it puts you in your, and women, for anybody I suppose, but I'm talking from a personal perspective. It puts you in your body, it for me means contact with people that's nonsexual submission. And it's full of so much amazing stuff and I'm very interested in developing that which is curious because it's like I'm a white belt. So I'm not really-

Jeff: You're on the other side of the room.

Russell: Oh man, I'm not going to be leading that particular charge.

Jeff: So, because, you know there was I think one point five million people in the United States anyways that got into treatment for alcohol and drugs this past year. But after 60 days or so there's 80% of those people relapse and I wonder if you think maybe the combination of yoga, jiu-jitsu, physical practices can help sort of stem that relapse. 'Cause I wonder where we're going wrong a bit with our recovery.

Russell: I don't know. I don't know. I would be very open to that I would imagine that you have done more research into that than I have. What I feel is necessary is a deep personal connection with God, and for some people it might be people who are physically unable to do yoga and Brazilian jiu-jitsu and why should they be excluded? But for me it's like how are you going to concede to your innermost self that your construction that you've been living in is not going to work for you. Not that you're a bad person, you need to be admonished, but you've got to get deep. And part of my deal is yoga. Part of my deal is Brazilian jiu-jitsu. But the only things that I would, sort of would confidently pass on in okay is 12 Steps. That's the only thing, because that's the only thing that I've 100%, sort of has, like it works for me. But I feel that there's as many versions of recovery as there are addicts and I think we're all addicts to some degree, and I think these 12 Steps, they're like Shakespeare, they can handle interpretation. They can handle people going, "Well I'm Buddhist "and I want to do it this way. "Well I'm an atheist, I want to do it this way. "We're radical feminists, we want to do it this way." Whatever it is you want to do, this can handle you. That's why I like it.

Jeff: Thank you for doing what you're doing.

Russell: Well, thank you for providing this wonderful location and this wonderful platform. It's a real privilege and most serendipitous.

Jeff: Yeah, you're bringing a lot of people that I think would be otherwise intimidated or afraid into the fold.

Russell: Good!

Jeff: Being able to look more deeply into themselves and find that God.

Russell: Thanks man, 'cause I feel strongly compelled to do it in a way that's almost indistinguishable from the mad, frenzied wanting of my addiction. It's something, I want God bad. I want people to be healed. But I know, you know, that must mean there's more surrender in me to do.

Jeff: Thank you sir.

Russell: Thanks man.

Jeff: If you feel like, "My life's fine. Every day is great, and I've got nothing to worry about," then, by all means, carry on.

However, if that's NOT the state you're in, if you are, perhaps, riddled with doubt, anguish, and concern about the state of the world and the state of yourself in the world, then I highly encourage you to check out Russell’s new Commune course on Recovery. Just go to to sign up for free for a limited time. That’s

Thanks as always for tuning into the Commune podcast. Please leave us a review on your podcast platform of choice or send me an email at [email protected]. We’re always experimenting with new show formats and guests, and would love your feedback.

I’m off to pick some pomegranates, because it’s that time of year around here.

I'm Jeff Krasno. Until next time.

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