Prior to lockdown I attended Russell Brand’s 12 Steps Retreat based on his latest book, Recovery. I had attended a couple of Russell’s live shows in Slough and as a wonderful consequence was invited to attend his first one day 12 Steps Retreat. I had been saying for years, that the 12 Steps should be accessible for all, not just for those with the more obvious addictions.
At last the universe delivered, Russell Brand made the 12 Steps available to everyone! Most people will have heard something about the 12 Steps programme, and understand it to be for people struggling with an addiction. Whilst addiction is most commonly associated with gambling, drugs, sex, alcohol and nicotine, it is possible to be addicted to just about anything. There are many more addictions that people are coping with that the 12 steps can help with, including anxiety, self-esteem issues, and the more prevalent new age addictions that have reared their heads in the 21st century such as an increased dependency and overuse of on mobile phones and social media.
12 Steps is a system for dealing with any type of addiction. Alcoholics Anonymous was founded in Ohio in the 1930s by Bill Wilson and Dr. Robert Holbrook Smith to help people who were struggling with alcoholism. The Steps were soon adapted to be able to help those struggling with drug addiction. The 12 Step programme has come along way since then and opened up its doors to many more addictions and is available in most towns and cities in the UK. Russell himself has been committed to the 12 Steps for 16 years, he was introduced to it to help with his drug addiction, and has since gone on to apply it successfully to all areas of his life.
The 12 Step programme is there to help you first acknowledge you have an addiction and then to help you believe it is possible to change. Self belief being the true beginning of your journey to change. The steps involve an emotional and spiritual practice which helps you get to the underlying reasons (traumas) behind your addiction(s) and simultaneously arms you with the tools to work through each trauma you have experienced, in order to live a happier and more peaceful life. Russell has described it as “a system for living , to work on your very own flaws, traits and attributes.”
As this was Russell’s first retreat, the main purpose of this particular retreat was to give everyone an introduction and understanding of the 12 Step Programme. Further retreats are planned for the future which will delve deeper into the programme. The retreat started with Russell sharing some personal insights into the 12 Steps programme. (There is a confidentiality policy in place to keep all participants, including Russell safe, when sharing personal life experiences, therefore I will not be sharing any personal information other than my own in this article). Russell managed to keep the heavy subject light and humorous, which made for an interesting and engaging morning. He then went on to explain how he wanted everyone to be able to have access to the 12 Step programme. Therefore, Russell decided he would personally adapt the original 12 Step list, update it to reflect modern times, so that everyone could benefit from something that has changed his life so dramatically for the good.
New steps, with the corresponding original steps in italics:
Step 1: Are you a bit fucked? We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
Are you a bit fucked? We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
Step 2: Could you not be fucked? Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Step 3: Are you, on your own, going to “unfuck” yourself? Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
Step 4: Write down all the things that you are fucking you up or have ever fucked you up and don’t lie, or leave anything out. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
Step 5: Honestly tell someone trustworthy about how fucked you are. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
Step 6: Well that’s revealed a lot of fucked up patterns. Do you want to stop it? Seriously? Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
Step 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. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
Step 8: Prepare to apologise to everyone for everything affected by your being so fucked up. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
Step 9: Now apologise, Unless that would make things worse. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Step 10: Watch out for fucked up thinking and behaviour and be honest when it happens. Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
Step 11: Stay connected to your new perspective. 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 that out.
Step 12: Look at life less selfishly, be nice to everyone, help people if you can. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
Next, we were introduced to the 6 moderators who were volunteers to support the participants throughout the day. Each moderator had been through the Steps themselves and their stories were inspiring and motivating. I was assigned to Jeff’s group! Jeff was such a great guy, passionate about helping his group understand the 12 Steps, whilst having compassion for each and everyone’s personal reasons for attending the retreat.
Prior to heading outside with Jeff, Russell’s final morning message to us all was to encourage us to work on something specific when doing the group exercises, to pinpoint something specific that we wanted to change about ourselves. I started to scribble down in the workbook provided by Russell a number of things that I would like to change, suddenly feeling like I needed a much longer retreat!
We returned to the main hall several times throughout the day so that Russell could impart more of his knowledge and wisdom about the Steps. He also welcomed a couple of brave participants to work with him in front of the group. As soon as he mentioned this my heart flipped. I was torn between thinking this could be a great opportunity to face my fear of social/performance anxiety, however my fear of being judged was much stronger, so by the time I had found the courage to put my hand up, he had chosen someone else. It was interesting to hear other peoples stories and a source of comfort with the realisation that we all have issues that we are working through (or not!). We were all functioning people, going about our daily business, holding it together so that we can work, parent, socialise, all managing to conceal our individual hidden issues that others seem so blissfully unaware of.
The retreat culminated in us writing down those behaviours, which no longer served us on a piece of paper and offering it up to the fire. The concept is that fire will physically eradicate the behaviour, providing closure. Each person walked forward one at a time and placed the piece of paper in the fire. I stepped forward and put my piece of paper in the fire pit, only for it to remain just out of reach of the flames. Story of my life …… I stepped back into the centre of the circle until my “behaviour” was reduced to ashes ☺ I was not taking any chances!
Russell’s retreat was well organised, the attention to detail was apparent from Russell’s knowledge of the 12 Step Programme, to the delicious vegan food provided at lunch, to all the wonderful volunteers. Russell is passionate about paying it forward and helping others. Since the retreat, Russell has been in touch a couple of times via email, (not just with me personally but with all participants). He promises more retreats to come and other interesting events alike.
Creating a community…..
It would seem that Russell is looking to create a community, where people are willing to support one another through difficult times. I for one would like to be a part of this community and be of service to others. I hope he succeeds and the 12 Step Programme for everyone, continues to grow and evolve.
If you are interested in learning more about the 12 Steps, and like me, do not appear to fit the criteria of the already established groups, such as Alcoholic Anonymous, then it may be worth checking out Russell’s website, reading his two books called Recovery and Mentors, listening to his podcasts, or even jumping right in and signing up for his next retreat.
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