As the saying goes, you never forget your first time. But for Russell Brand, the memory of his first encounter with heroin at 19 is too agonizing to dwell on.
“I can’t think about it too much because I start to miss it,” Brand, 14 years sober, exclusively tells Us Weekly. “If you’re in pain, psychological pain, you feel like you have a knot in your tummy. If pain is a fist, heroin dives into it, opens it up and relaxes you. It feels so beautiful. It feels like a cuddle, like comfort, like being in your mother’s arms. It’s so sweet and perfect.”
But that sensation is fleeting. Quickly. Already “smoking too much, drinking too much, doing cocaine, taking quite a lot of acid and looking at too much porn,” the comedian, 42, says his world began to unravel. “There were terrible, terrible moments of loneliness in a flat where all I had were drugs,” he recalls. “That was all I needed. I had a job at MTV. It went. I had a radio show. It went. Everything was going. My friends left me. Girlfriends left me. It was very scary.”
But fear only drove him further into his abyss. Every day for nearly fours years, heroin was the staple holding his life together. That is, until his then-manager and also his friend Chip Sommers stepped in to help.
“I was getting bad quickly, getting into trouble with the police for shoplifting and public disturbances, minor crimes,” explains Brand, who has been sober since he was 27. “But it started happening more often. I was really lucky with the point where people intervened. Chip Sommers said, ‘If you keep doing this, within six months, you’ll be in prison, a lunatic asylum or dead.’ In retrospect, he was right. I was six months away from a lot more trouble. I got out before I got too desperate.”
And yet, another challenge awaited: Brand, who split from wife Katy Perry in December 2011, was struggling with a sex addiction.
“The situation got out of hand when I was clean,” he admits. “If you don’t deal with the source, the condition will migrate and morph and attach to something else.”
His saving grace: The 12-step program and a community of mentors there to guide him at all hours. Now, Brand is returning the favor. In his new book, Recovery: Freedom From Our Addictions, he lays out his own, no B.S. program to conquer all.
“It’s like I’ve been to a college of mental illness and now I’ve graduated,” the addiction mentor admits. “I want to help more people get into recovery. I want to help people become conscious of their addictions. I want to help people look at the world differently and pursue goals that are for their benefit and not to the benefit of other people.”
Over a vegan burger and sweet potatoes in New York City, an encouraging Brand, who welcomed daughter Mabel in November with wife Laura Gallacher, bares all with Us.
Us Weekly: Why write this book now?
Russell Brand: Addiction is defining our culture. We think we can make ourselves feel better by buying stuff, eating stuff, wearing stuff. Obvious addiction, like drug addiction, is just the extreme of something that a lot of people are suffering from.
Us: In the program, what’s the biggest hurdle?
RB: Recognizing you have a problem and being willing to change your perspective. Most people don’t think that they have a problem. We’ve been trained to live in pain. To get up, work all the time, be in s–t relationships. The biggest challenge is going, “Hold on a minute, I don’t want to do that. I’m not going to.” And it’s not about being a selfish person. It’s about listening to your feelings and responding to your feelings.
Us: You’ve struggled with bulimia, drugs, sex. What was your biggest vice?
RB: Drugs then sex then caring too much about other people’s opinion of me. Drugs are just the obvious one. If someone is a crack addict or a heroin addict, they get into problems real quickly. But if you’re obsessed with what other people think about you or you’re obsessed with social media, it consumes your life.
Us: When you turned to heroin, what were looking for?
RB: By the time I took heroin, I was just a person who really liked things that affected the way I felt, that changed the way I felt. And it felt good. People don’t take drugs because drugs are bad. People take drugs because drugs are fantastic. The problem is that drugs don’t deal with the root problem. It doesn’t treat the pain. You can’t take heroin all day everyday like I did. It got me into trouble.
Us: You write, “I was very fortunate that people intervened in my enthusiastic rush to the gutter.” What was your gutter, your rock bottom?
RB: Rock bottom, I believe, is the point where you say, “I can’t do this anymore” and you start going upward. I had terrible moments of self harm. I was doing a stand up show in Scotland. On stage, I broke a bottle and cut myself. Then, I got into a fight with security and was thrown through the door. I had to get stitches in my leg and the doctors said if the cut had been one inch to the left, they would have had to amputate my leg from the knee because it would have done major arterial damage. There is still a scar there to remind me.
Us: Do you think fame and Hollywood brought your sex addiction to light?
RB: When I became sexually aware as a teenager, I got very obsessive about sex and women and pornography. So the problem around sex was present back then. I was very uncomfortable with my body, so my problems were around porn and food. Then I took drugs between 16 and 19 and then heroin. I lost a lot of weight and moved from the suburbs into the city. Women were now attracted to me. I went sort of crazy with that. The sexual addiction, for me, was worse when I was clean. I think for about five, 10 years it was really bad. Listen, I’m lucky. I was famous. I’m heterosexual. I’m attracted to adult, human females. It’s not complicated. I don’t have any weird tastes. It was a good position to be in if you have that particular problem.
Us: You’ve clearly grown a lot. How is your marriage today different than your first?
RB: I’ve changed a lot in the last five years. I don’t compare my relationships now to previous relationships out of respect to my present wife and to Katy Perry. I think I’m an easier person to be with now. I’m also in a very different situation. I’m dependent on my wife. In relationships, there is always going to be a level of dependency. But I try not to project my problems onto other people and perhaps I’ve not always been like that.
Us: How has fatherhood changed you?
RB: It has made me recognize that what I want and what I need is not important. It’s what she wants and what she needs. That’s a good thing because I can be a very self-obsessed guy.
Us: You dedicate a chapter to her birth. What went through your mind when you first held her?
RB: She was so beautiful. She came out perfect. It was like a drug in that it changed my consciousness in a way that I could not have anticipated. By the time I held her, I felt like an animal in a cave. I felt such strong feelings of protectiveness and love that I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want anyone near her. The feelings were extremely intense and to be honest they haven’t really gone away.
Us: When she grows up, how are you going to address your past with her?
RB: I’m going to bring her up using the program. It’s the only thing I know that works. I’m going to encourage her to talk openly about her feelings and identity. I’m sure all parents think this. I’ve already argued with friends of mine like, “I’ll be able to reach her!”
Us: Mabel is almost one. What is her personality like?
RB: She’s very, very active. She’s domineering, a powerful, strong person. She’s charming and wants to talk to other people. She’s her own person already. It’s really amazing
Recovery: Freedom From Our Addictions is on book shelves now.
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