In a recent piece for The Guardian British comedian Russell Brand pulled back the curtain on his struggle with drug and alcohol addiction. It is an troubling read, or I anticipate it will be to many. If my post yesterday was revealing to those for whom depression is not an issue, this will likewise be for those of us who have no struggle with addiction.
Brand’s piece is also surprisingly eloquent. He seems to write less to gain sympathy for himself than to gain empathy for those walking his path in his shoes.
Here are some excerpts:
The last time I thought about taking heroin was yesterday. I had received ‘an inconvenient truth’ from a beautiful woman. It wasn’t about climate change (I’m not that ecologically switched on). She told me she was pregnant and it wasn’t mine.
I had to take immediate action. I put Morrissey on in my car and as I wound my way through the neurotic Hollywood hills my misery burgeoned. Soon I could no longer see where I ended and the pain began. So now I had a choice.
I cannot accurately convey to you the efficiency of heroin in neutralising pain. It transforms a tight white fist into a gentle brown wave, and from my first inhalation 15 years ago it fumigated my private hell. A bathroom floor in Hackney embraced me like a womb, and now whenever I am dislodged from comfort my focus falls there.
It is ten years since I used drugs or drank alcohol and my life has immeasurably improved. I have a job, a house, a cat, good friendships and generally a bright outlook.
But the price of this is constant vigilance, because the disease of addiction is not rational. Recently, for the purposes of a documentary on this subject, I reviewed some footage of myself smoking heroin. I sit wasted and slumped with an unacceptable haircut against a wall in another Hackney flat (Hackney is starting to seem like part of the problem), inhaling fizzy black snakes of smack off a scrap of crumpled foil. When I saw the tape a month or so ago, what was surprising was that my reaction was not one of gratitude for the positive changes I’ve experienced. Instead I felt envious of this earlier version of myself, unencumbered by the burden of abstinence. I sat in a suite at the Savoy hotel, in privilege, resenting the woeful ratbag I once was who, for all his problems, had drugs.
Drugs and alcohol are not my problem — reality is my problem. Drugs and alcohol are my solution.
If this seems odd to you, it is because you are not an alcoholic or a drug addict. You are likely one of the 90 per cent of people who can drink and use drugs safely. I have friends who can smoke weed, swill gin, even do crack, and then merrily get on with their lives. For me this is not an option. I will relinquish all else to ride that buzz to oblivion. Even if it began as a timid glass of chardonnay on a ponce’s yacht, it would end with me necking the bottle, swimming to shore and sprinting to Bethnal Green in search of a crack house.
I looked to drugs and booze to fill up a hole in me. Unchecked, the call of the wild is too strong. I still survey streets for signs of the subterranean escapes that used to provide my sanctuary. I still eye the shuffling subclass of junkies and dealers, invisibly gliding between doorways through the gutters. I see the abundantly wealthy with destitution in their stare. I have a friend so beautiful, so haunted by talent that you can barely look away from her, whose smile is such a treasure that I have often squandered my sanity for a moment in its glow. Her story is so galling that no one would condemn her for her dependency on illegal anaesthesia, but now, even though her life is trying to turn around despite her, even though she has genuine opportunities for a new start, the gutter will not release its prey. The gutter is within.
It is frustrating to love someone with this disease. A friend of mine’s brother cannot stop drinking. He gets a few months of sobriety and his family bask, relieved, in the joy of their returned loved one. His life gathers momentum, but then he somehow forgets the price of this freedom, returns to his old way of thinking, picks up a drink and Mr Hyde is back in the saddle. Once more his face is gaunt and hopeless. His family blame themselves and wonder what they could have done differently, racking their minds for a perfect sentiment wrapped up in the perfect sentence, a magic bullet. The fact is, though, that the sufferer must be a willing participant in their own recovery. They must not pick up a drink or drug. Just don’t pick it up — that’s all.
Even as I spin this web I am reaching for my phone. I call someone, not a doctor or a sage, not a mystic or a physician, just a bloke like me — another alcoholic, who I know knows how I feel. The phone rings and I half hope he’ll just let it ring out. It’s 4a.m. in London. He’s asleep, he can’t hear the phone, he won’t pick up. I indicate left, heading to Santa Monica. The ringing stops, then the dry-mouthed nocturnal mumble:
‘Hello. You alright, mate?’
He picked up. And for another day, thank God, I don’t have to.
Much of Brand’s writing is surprisingly biblical. “The gutter is within”? Whether Brand knows it or not, this is a paraphrase of Jesus. “Reality is my problem”? That is absolutely true; he simply does not seem to know how God defines that particular reality. “I see the abundantly wealthy with destitution in their stare.” Because we are not redeemed with silver or gold, but by the precious blood of Christ as a lamb without spot or blemish.
Both Brand and Craig Ferguson (below) allude to “self-medication,” to the use of drugs and/or alcohol to numb the realities of life. Sometimes I wonder if the church has not anesthetized herself against people like Brand and Ferguson. It is easier to rail against the evils of “demon liquor” than to be the person who will receive a phone call at 4:00am. It is self-medicating to my pride to keep a Russell Brand at arm’s length. We will not be the person who gets the call until we are the person who is the friend.
Several years ago late-night TV host Craig Ferguson opened up about his own addiction. This is incredibly open and personal. If you do not have time to watch the entire piece, skip ahead to about 3:30. (Two or three swear words.)