“Heathens in Recovery” by Johnny Whitebread

I am an alcoholic and an addict.



I am a Heathen.


For me, there is no separation between the two. I cannot be one without the other.


How do I incorporate my sobriety into a worldview that often involves the drinking of alcohol?


How do I incorporate my worldview into a life of sobriety and AA that, some may say, is Christian in nature?


At first it wasn’t easy. On the one hand, in AA, I had a tendency to recoil from the word God and, on the other, when I gathered with other Heathens there was often alcohol being consumed.


Desperation was a key variable. I knew that I had to do something, anything, to stay sober. I knew that I could not do it by myself. I had proven this over and over to myself. The harsh reality is that once I take one drink, I immediately lose the ability to control my drinking regardless of the consequences. I am powerless over alcohol.


I went to my first AA meeting not knowing if it would help, but knowing that I had to find help somewhere. I felt absolutely out of place. I felt bombarded by the word God and I had legitimate doubts as to the effectiveness of this program as far as I was concerned.


Initially, my willingness to try to make it work was greatly enhanced by the fact my children were in state custody in Florida and the only chance I stood of ever getting them back was to stay sober. Eventually I came to see how vital the removal of alcohol from my life was to my growing as a Heathen.


But before that moment arrived, I was angry. I was disruptive. I walked out of meetings when the topic was spirituality. I questioned. I challenged. I went through my Big Book and for the first 92 pages wherever the word God appeared, I crossed it out and wrote the name of one of my Gods in its place.


Eventually I came to an understanding that allowed me to continue working the 12 steps without feeling that I was having Christianity shoved down my throat. It occurred to me one day that the word God is such a universally recognized word, that in order to convey a particular thought to an alcohol-damaged individual, it only made sense to use it; that it didn’t necessarily mean The Christian God, but whatever any given person’s concept of a God was; that it wasn’t a name, per se, but a noun.


At this time, no one in my home group knew anything about Heathenry in general or Asatru specifically. My spiritual path was as strange to them as theirs was to me. But here was a roomful of people that had apparently found a way to save themselves from the ravages of unchecked alcoholism and that it what I not only wanted, but absolutely needed. They didn’t so much see me as a Heathen but as a fellow human being suffering from the same disease that afflicted them all.


I was still very new to Heathenry but I knew there was no way for me to incorporate the values that define a Heathen into my life if alcohol continued to be part of it.


Fortunately, my introduction to Heathenry was so profound, and came at a time where I was at the lowest point in my life, that the effect it had on me was truly life changing. Not life changing as in winning the lottery, but life changing as in being offered an alternative to certain death…or worse yet, a continuing living nightmare.


As I started to put together some sobriety, I felt more and more worthy of calling myself Heathen. As I grew as a Heathen, I felt more able to conquer this monster that had been slowly destroying me all these years. My confidence grew, which allowed me to attend Heathen events where alcohol was being consumed and not let it bother me.


Before I oathed to Jotun’s Bane Kindred, there was a period where they were a little leery of me. They obviously saw some potential in me, but initially I didn’t bring a lot to the table. Alcoholic, addict, convicted felon. But they continued to allow me to attend events. At some point, I don’t remember exactly when, it was suggested that during fainings, or any time there was a horn with mead in it going around, that a second horn accompany it containing a non-alcoholic beverage. This allowed me to actually fully participate, and made a world of difference on so many levels. Little did I know that I would eventually become part of this dynamic Kindred and that I would swear an oath of kinship and loyalty to each and every one of them. Something that could never have happened had I still been drinking.


The Kindreds that share frith with JBK have also adopted this practice, not just for me, but for anyone who, for whatever reason, prefers not to drink alcohol. Whenever I am somewhere that this is not the case, when the horn comes to me and I raise it, when I am done, I simply kiss the horn.


Today, there is no distinction between my life of sobriety and my life as a Heathen. Each one compliments and enhances the other. I have had the privilege of showing other Heathens that also struggle with addictions that they can walk both a path of sobriety and Heathenry.


Better burden bearest thou nowise

than shrewd head on they shoulders;

but with worser food farest thou never

than an overmuch of mead.


For good it is not, though good it is thought,

mead for the sons of men;

the deeper he drinks the dimmer grows

the mind of many a man.


The heron of heedlessness hovers o’er the feast;

and stealeth the minds of men.


These words are especially true for me. For those of you, and I know there are many, that have no problem controlling their intake of alcohol, or the way they act when doing so, I commend you. I cannot say that I wish I could because the life I have today as a sober Heathen is far beyond anything I ever imagined. I only hope that there are those out there who might be strengthened and encouraged to know that even Heathens can be alcoholic, but that sobriety and Heathenry do not have to be mutually exclusive.


I am an alcoholic and an addict.


I am a Heathen.


Johnny Whitebread

Jotun’s Bane Kindred

May 20th 2011



Johnny taking his kindred oath with Jotun’s Bane Kindred at Lightning Across the Plains 2010…

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