Russell Brand, recovered Bon Vivant! and the-dark-side-of-Benny-Hill Lady Chaser, believes the 12 step program, as disseminated by Alcoholics Anonymous, is a fitting template for wider global change. The revolution, whatever the revolution might be or what it might be gunning for, can be rooted up from the ground via its ideas and workings. The program, he says, “has the seeds in it, it has the code”. The Da Vinci Code. Move aside Marxism, Feminism, Civil Rights, Humanism, Liberalism, Buddhism (which Brand has now rejected for a less difficult but more delicious ‘higher power’)… all the tedious isms (whose harvests have been mixed, but not non-existent) don’t extend as a “Big Idea” in the way adopting a societal 12 Step Program can.
I’m not sure exactly what Brand means by any of this; I have not read the book that he is currently promoting. A book, journalist Miranda Sawyer, takes some issue with. As she says, “Brand is working hard on his narcissism, but not enough to stop him thinking he can save us all. And not enough to stop him making money by rewriting the program that saved his life for free. Still, here we are.”
As it happens, this bothers me significantly less that it does Sawyer. Without going full, head on analysation stations, the AA and its program and its culture, have always been and seemed problematic to me. Some peer reviewed research shows that it is a success for only one in fifteen of its members, and others show that most members leave after only one month. A central narrative within its yes, religious, corridors, is “Its AA or the highway”, and that without adherence to its tenets, there is only perpetual inebriation to look forward to – ended by greetings with the Cold Murky Earth. Given that this is so, one wonders what those high in number, early escapologists are taking away with them? Less than what they came in with..?
In any case, I don’t think Brand selling this as a new age spiritual solution for the world’s ills is any more meh than any other of the shinny, money hoarding books in the goddamn self help section, are meh. Its ideological precedent is neither without criticism and is certainly not sacrosanct.
Essentially, what I am saying is, if the 12 step program has not within it a capacity to ‘save’ even most of its attendees, it probably cannot save the world. But I have no real beef with Brand. Any more than any other Woke (but not to his own Joke) new ager. Bottle put downer. Relentless mirror searcher. Better penman than public speaker. Seemingly at odds with his own impending death doom. Aren’t we all?
And I am not being spectator critical here; I have had plenty of my own run ins with destructive behaviour. Impulsive, endlessly thwarted, ruthless pursuer of falling down hills, getting my heart twisted and being the obvious butt of someone’s else cruel joke. I’ve got bruises. I’ve got war wounds. I’ve got white shirts sloshed with that second bottle of red, and blim holes in my linen. I don’t know where half of my too small underpants are, swum off into the promiscuous ether.
Its just that, I don’t really believe that addiction is an either/or. A condition, other than human one. I don’t believe I should aim for perfection, spiritual high ground, seamless rhythm. And unless you have actually gone far down the toilet plumbing, rabbit hole…I think aiming for such giddy heights probably does more damage than it does good. But that isn’t the same as saying I think if you hurt yourself, or accept or tolerate being hurt by others, that you should condemn yourself to ritualistic misery. How to strike balances? How to gun for the Middle Way, in a way that is contemporarily sensible?
I think I have some ideas. Note: Don’t hold me to them. If they don’t work, you don’t get your ‘readership time’ commerce back. Its already gone.
1.We always focus on taking things out of our life, but it seems this method of self denial seldom works. Because it comes from a place of penance. Of the idea of fundamental wrong doing, and so our attempts to drink less, eat less, gossip less are riven with shame and self hatred, and the near invariable failure of such an uncompromising approach results in a solidification of shame. So what do you do?
I think its better to focus on putting more stuff into your life, body. Different stuff, more forgiving stuff. You can’t just rip out your daily rituals and then think later what you might do with the empty space. You have to force the space to change by diluting the tumult with more clear options, more treadable pathways. This insightful Ted Talk presents the argument that the obsessive compulsive behaviour of addiction lessens when we have a Rat City. Edifying or pleasurable things that getting up in the morning, wanting to explode from heavy prior consumption, would prevent us from doing. Basically, don’t stop drinking and wait for a significant time to pass before you decide to become a marathon runner. Start running already. “The whisky devil makes work for idle hands…”
2. Stop seeking perfection. It does not exist. Its a social fiction often reproduced in different ways in order to mollify, control or even exploit. And if too many people inch closer towards the fiction, the fiction goal posts more further away. Perfection is the illusion that there are people who embody it (the people usually who decide what goes on TV and into magazines) and if we only try harder we’ll get there.
I have heard women call themselves an alcoholic because they drink a bottle of Cava a night. But a bottle of not-rich-enough-to-buy-champagne a night does not an alcoholic make. It is someone who drinks, probably, somewhat too much. Stop pathologising yourself for not living up to some idea of physical purity, and collapsing the drinking over the recommended allowance barometer (different in different countries) with having a stiff gin with your Macdonald’s Happy Meal, each morning. I’ve heard women call themselves fat who barely stretch out of the 25 BMI (an arbitration method that has issues in any case) because what they mean by too fat, is that they are not like *insert slender celebrity name* – who is basically a creation of visual performance, obscuration and hard digital labour, in any case. But all you’re running towards, if you manage to stay on the hamster wheel for long enough, is that you will end having to buy slightly smaller trousers. Nothing else is going to happen. But if you don’t make it, the shame you feel, and sense of loss about some high minded ideal you have ticking about in your ego drenched consciousness (me too, me too) might only send you running back to crisp bag and bottle, only Bigger Ones.
3. We are not, and never can be, clean. No matter how much ginger tea and gut wash green grass powder we funnel in to ourselves. We are waste producing, fluxing, mucky creatures with guts full of crap and healthy bacteria and blood and marrow and acid and on and on. We are porous, growing and decaying sweat producers, who have the fantastic luck of coming with orgasm organs, and sensitivity to humour, affection, beauty and music. Stop trying to gun your fine biological self into some cold, impermeable, Athenian statue. I am not advocating ramming yourself with poison and going with out taking your outside bits to a warm water stream, or taking the plaque off of your teeth. But as Goddess Greer might well have said, “Clean enough, is clean enough.”
4. You are going to die. Rot (or burn) and disappear into what is left of the ecology. The natural world, so beleaguered due to man’s need to transcend his own mortality by filling his boots with its resources and raping its foundations to prove his godly might. But, nonetheless, after fifty or so years, no-one will remember you, or his, living self. Perhaps a great great grandchild will purloin your old photos trying to find themselves in you. That is the best you are going to get. Take that ego stick out of your back end, and learn to live with it. You might actually find your inevitable journey to the grave, somewhat less fraught and exhausting. You might even drink less.