Nordic, Germanic, Teutonic-
By Lavrans Reimer-Møller
Note: Since this article was first written, more recent research has shown that alcohol abuse may be defined in two ways. The "alcoholic" may be someone who is physically addicted, and may require more help than this article proposes. The other type is the "alcohol abuser", who is not physically addicted, but drinks out of habit. The strategies for dealing with problem drinking that I have outlined are probably more suitable for the latter than the former. L RM 4/12/03)
It seems to be an accepted part of Northern European heritage to drink, and as Ásatrúar, we seem to accept that image. The custom of being able to drink all day and half the night without getting drunk or out of control is almost genetically encoded in us. A good deal of our history as we know it from the sagas and epics seems to include a great deal of drinking. Would Beowulf have gone to all that trouble if Grendel had been merely trashing the local coffee shop?
From time to time, one hears about 12-step programs for heathens, but there is something about the idea of AA that seems to me to be contrary to the basic tenets of Ásatrú. In other words, real heathens don't do 12-step programs! We don't seem to be the types to announce that we have no power over our lives, that we need to place ourselves in the hands of a 'higher power'. This "I am helpless" attitude is clearly Jehovanist, and not compatible with our practices.
So the question is, what if some of us in the Ásatrú community come to realize that we are drinking too much too often and are not in control of our drinking? Is it proper or correct to just say that we Viking-types drink as much as we want and to Hel with the consequences? Should we pay honor to the "half drunk most of the time and mostly drunk the rest of the time" way of life?
Our cultural mindset and conditioning notwithstanding, the hard fact is that we are not Vikings. We are grownups, with jobs, families and responsibilities. Uncontrolled drinking puts all those aspects of our lives at risk. Well then, why not just control it? If you really can control your drinking and don't truly have a problem, fine. But if you can't control your drinking and really want to try to quit, then read on.
I drank quite a bit for about 25 years, from 1959 to 1984. I used to say that I could quit anytime I wanted to, I just didn't want to. I won't for even a Detroit minute try to tell you that it was Hel, and that I didn't have a good time, while it lasted. When I finally used up my allotment (!) and decided to hang it up, it was largely because I had made a decision to quit. My life might not have been a whole better for the most part if I hadn't been drinking; but if I didn't quit, it was certain to get a whole lot worse!
I'm over-simplifying: there was a lot more to it than this, but I somehow managed to quit without falling into the trap of the 12-step program. Although I didn't have the advantage of being an enlightened heathen as I have since become, I can still look back and outline a few basic ideas.
I am not preaching. I am, in response to inquiries, putting forth a few ideas for consideration with the sincere hope that my personal experience may be useful to others in Ásatrú. Don't forget that the great wisdom of Odin as given to us in the Havamal contains much of the best advice about drinking, especially regarding temperance and moderation.
The first big realization that I had was that I was responsible for my behavior. I had chosen to drink; now I was choosing not to drink. There was no real "higher power', into whose hands I placed myself. I realized that I was the higher power, and took charge of my life and made my own decisions. I also rightly feared becoming addicted to those damned 'meetings', as I had seen some of my friends do. I didn't see the sense of merely trading one obsessive/ addictive dependency for another.
When it comes to alcohol, there are two kinds of people- those who are Drinkers and those who are Non-drinkers. Drinkers come in a variety of sizes: some may drink to wretched excess, while others may only have a glass of champagne on New Year's Eve; the question is how much do you drink, how often do you drink and how does drinking affect you. If you drink only on special occasions or when it seems appropriate, then you probably don't have a problem. But if you tend to drink too much too often and are not keeping the urge to get drunk under control, then you do have a problem. If you are drinking habitually for no other reason than to get drunk, you need to reassess your drinking, especially if it results in problem behavior.
If you become violent and get into fights, if you become abusive to someone with whom you are in a relationship, if you jeopardize your job or the safety of your household, if you get arrested for drunk driving: you have a drinking problem. A study done not too long ago demonstrated that those of us from Northern Europe have a genetically-encoded high tolerance for processing alcohol. So those of us who are especially good at drinking are more inclined to become problem drinkers than those who have a low tolerance for alcohol. Taking pride in our ability to hold our liquor becomes part of the problem.
Drinkers who cannot control their drinking become known as "alcoholics" and are forced into abstaining. They then transfer their compulsive-addictive disorder from alcohol to AA meetings, where they chain smoke, drink gallons of coffee and talk a lot about alcohol. In this case, you still think of yourself as a Drinker, and it is constantly on your mind. You still want it, need it, like it, think that you are better off with it and think that it's not fair that you can't have it.
Non-drinkers, on the other hand, are people who do not drink, and for whom drinking is not an issue. If one is to successfully abstain from alcohol, it would be preferable to be able to find a means to change one's own self-perception from that of "Drinker" to that of "Non-drinker." As long as you think of yourself as a Drinker, then drinking will continue to be something that you find desirable to do. You will feel cheated and deprived if you cannot drink, and you will need to find support, such as AA meetings, to help you fight off this compulsion.
The trick is to become a Non-Drinker. You will have become someone who does not drink, and for whom drinking is not an issue. You are not tempted to drink by being around situations in which others are drinking. In fact, you will come to enjoy the advantages of sobriety by being the only one at the party who is still in control of his faculties!
I should state that I am not totally clear on how I personally accomplished this; at the time when I was going through the process, I was not a committed heathen; I had only the support of my wife and friends, and a Freudian psychologist. (The support is vital; the Freudian is not. At least not to me.)
There will come to you a moment of clarity and choice. The Big Light Bulb will go off over your head, and it will occur to you that you can and will stop drinking. When the handwriting is on the wall, read it! Seize that moment! Once you make that decision to change, you will begin to feel an exhilaration, the joy of freedom. But you need a plan.
I got lucky. I managed to stumble onto some ideas which have worked for me. One was that if I wanted to do something right for once in my life, then I could validate myself by changing this aspect of the way I was living. It was matter of regaining and building up my self-respect and self esteem. I was caught in a familiar trap. I felt that I needed to drink in order to sustain and maintain myself; that drinking was so woven into who I was that without drinking, I didn't know who I would be. I couldn't imagine life without booze. I also was in that downward spiral of drinking because I was unhappy. It didn't yet occur to me that I was unhappy because I was drinking! Ask yourself that same question- am I drinking because I am a screwup, or am I a screwup because I am drinking?
I finally emerged from the struggle with a set of ideas that for me took the place of 12 steps. (I should also explain that as I have managed to avoid AA completely, I don't even know exactly what those 12 steps are!) What I did come up with was this: 5 rules.
1. I don't need it.
2. I don't like it.
3. I don't want it.
4. I'm better off without it.
5. I can't have it.
1. I don't need it. This is a matter of self-realization. What one needs is to take control of one's life. Booze or any addictive substance (tobacco, heroin, etc) is an obstacle to the full actualization of the integrated personality. Instead of pursuing those areas of work and creativity that you require to fulfill your potential, you spend your time and energy fulfilling this 'need'. What you need is freedom, not drunkenness. You have tricked yourself into thinking that you "need a drink" when in fact you don't really need it at all.
2. I don't like it. This a toughie- we drink to a degree because the best stuff is- let's face it- yummy. Well, forget it. Put it out of your mind. As tasty as a snifter of Courvoisier may seem, frankly, a glass of sparkling ice cold mineral water is better. This is a matter of self-discipline. In order to accomplish your goals, you must sacrifice something. Sounds a little like Lutheranism, but it's the fact. Think of it as a kind of weregild- you took what you wanted, and now you must pay the price for your self-indulgence. If you had kept it under control and not screwed up your life, then maybe you wouldn't have to give it up. But you do, and that's that. Get over it!
Besides, just think of the rotten smell and taste of a bad wine, or mead that turned out as weed killer. Think of that time when at dawn, as the party was long over, you went around finishing the last of the leftover beers, and took a big chug out of a bottle that had a couple of cigarette butts in it. Pukey, right? Aversion therapy. If all else fails, imagine a glass of warm gin with a hair floating in it. You can and will learn to dislike alcohol.
3. I don't want it. It is easier to make this idea a part of your outlook. You don't like puking. That's why you aren't an astronaut- space sickness, right? That's why you should look forward to never puking again. The only time I have puked in the last 12 1/2 years is when I passed a kidney stone- the pain was so intense that I was forced to vomit.
I haven't had a hangover in over 15 years. During the last six months before I officially and finally quit, I decided to only drink if there was a special occasion which called for drinking. I only drank 4 times during that period, including the 4th of July. (This doesn't work, by the way, if you live in Ireland and make a rule to only drink if the weather is rainy.) I found that I enjoyed it less and less. The last time I drank, I stopped off in a bar on the way to Harvard square, and spent the afternoon sipping beer with a friend, rather than go Xmas shopping. On the way home, I felt bloated, headachy, dizzy and nauseous. (Not mention guilty and broke...) The Big Light Bulb lit up, and I realized that I didn't want to feel like that any more. The next day I quit. I really and truly don't want it.
4. I'm better off without it. When you're trapped inside that Drinker mindset, you really believe that you are better of with it, and that without it, your life will suffer extreme suckage. People who are involved in the creative arts, such as writing or music, are afraid that the muse will desert them if they quit drinking. And to a large degree, that is what appears to happen.
But the fact is that eventually, you get back your creative ability, and much improved! For example, I thought that my little Kottke-style 12-string guitar pieces were really cool- after several years of sobriety, I went back and listened to the tapes, and they were boring! The same is true of writing- I have a whole box full of bad science fiction stories I tried to write- they, too are mostly boring.
But the pay back is this- after a couple of years of figuring out who I really am, I took up the lute, and accomplished far more than I ever did as a half-drunk guitar picker. And I not only polished up my writing skills enough to write the entire set of radio courses at the school where I teach, but to be able to bootstrap myself through a special program for adult learners (read: geezers) and get myself a Master of Education degree at the age of 56. Along the way, I taught myself how to use the Mac computer and a whole bunch of other neat stuff I would never have figured to do if I had continued drinking.
Those great flashes of creativity that occur while drinking are illusions. I've stood onstage and played electric guitar and sang and thought I was hot stuff. I was not really very good, but I had tricked myself into thinking I was. I could go on, but I think the point is clear.
Those great writers we revere who turned out such great work while drinking heavily could have done even better stuff if they hadn't been drinking. Period.
5. I can't have it. This is the unspoken rule. It's especially tough to take, because it seems to be denying us something that we shouldn't have to be denied. It's that old finger-wagging nag. It leads to the "I never get to have any fun" attitude. But: if the first four rules are working, then you should never have to even invoke this one. But it is the fact of life. You can't have it. And that's that. If you turned out to be a diabetic, there would be a lot of sweet treats that you would have to give up in order to survive. This is the same. In order to survive, you must give up alcohol.
But you won't get to have any fun. Drinking is fun, right? Think about hangovers, drunk driving arrests, throwing up on your date, time in jail for fighting, lost jobs, lost friends, lost families. You call that fun? Next time you see some burnt-out wino on the street, think about how much "fun" he thinks he's having. Fun kills.
This also where we part ways from AA. In order to face up to this situation and handle it in a positive and meaningful way, we must stop thinking of ourselves as Drinkers, and change our self-perception to that of "Non-drinkers." For a Drinker, "I can't have it" is a problem; for the Non-drinker, it doesn't matter!
If this seems to be almost too simplistic, believe me it's not that simple to apply these ideas, especially if you have been drinking a lot for a long time. But basically, that's it. It's pretty much self-explanatory, but it is essential that you believe these points to be valid, without question or doubt. Otherwise, it won't work. You can't fake it, or make some halfway attempt to maybe try some of these ideas maybe some of the time. You must undergo the transformational process!
As we discover and accept that some of the ideas of Carl Jung form a valid part of Ásatrú beliefs, then the idea of self-transformation becomes an achievable goal. For many of us, this concept of changing the self is at the heart of our beliefs, and we are trying to change ourselves. So the idea of altering our self-perception is not inconceivable.
Drunkenness is abnormal behavior; sobriety is normal. Thus, I don't usually refer to myself as "sober", as if I should get a medal or some such. I think of myself as "normal". The term "sober", by the way' is one of the ways in which the weak souls in AA proclaim them- selves. It is their way of saying, "Look at me! I'm special! I'm a screwup!" I prefer to look at it another way: drunkenness is abnormal- therefore, I'm not 'sober'- I'm 'normal'. I'm not 'in recovery' or 'recovering'- I'm recovered. Not 'codependent', but independent! Not 'one day at a time', but one life at a time!" My self-perception is a matter of my own conscious choice, not some collective noncommittal blunder beyond my personal control.
There's more to it than that. It is essential that you have the full support of family and friends. Don't play any of those silly games of keeping a bottle around the house just to prove you can withstand temptation. Don't start chugging down a case of nonalcoholic beer, lying to yourself that it's ok. (It actually has .05% alcohol, and you will get buzzed.)
That is the rule above all others: thou shalt not get buzzed! If you start taking other recreational drugs other than alcohol, then you are still trapped in the compulsive-addictive syndrome.
You are not who you think you are! When we drink for a long period of time, we will have invented a personna, a role to play. When we stop drinking, that character will no longer be valid! We then have to go back and start over again and invent a new person to be. It may not correspond to the character you have built up during your years of drinking. Meet the new you!
Build with care. If who you have become is angry, difficult, rude, nasty, depressed, violent or trapped in any other similar negative behavior patterns, here's chance to reinvent yourself as a good guy. I used to think that my barroom friends liked my sense of humor, especially in the saloons of Greenwich Village, where we all thought that it was cool to emulate the witty old Algonquin Round-table. Well, I was wrong. First of all, I was an obnoxious jerk. Second of all, they weren't really my friends. And what we deluded ourselves into thinking of as "wit" was just mean and nasty. Perhaps a case of externalizing our own self-hatred.
Don't make the mistake of thinking that not drinking will automatically make you into a cool person. If you have been a drunken obnoxious jerk, there is a good chance that you will become a sober obnoxious jerk. Take nothing for granted. You must work at the transformational process and carry it though to closure.
Your invisible protective shield is going to disappear. You will feel naked, vulnerable, unprotected. You will over react to stress and have trouble controlling your emotions. This especially troublesome if you have a bad temper and react violently to situations. You must take charge of your life and exercise self-control. There are two kinds of discipline- self discipline and the other kind. Choose. If you want the other kind, then you might as well become a Christian, or join AA.
Get tough. Nobody said this is easy. It is better than wasting your time, energy and money on drunkenness, but nothing is handed to you. But guess what- it gets easier as you stay the course!
A friend of mine who quit, after some 15 years of sobriety, reached that point where he said, "What's the point? I've been a good boy- where's my cookie?" The cookie is the new improved you. The cookie is all the positive things you have built on, where you can go with what you've done for yourself. When you have truly undergone the transformational process, you are your own reward.
After a while you learn to develop strategies for changing how you react to situations. You learn to laugh at things that would otherwise infuriate you. Your sense of humor will become your best friend.
Learn to break the downward spiral. If you keep piling on more negatives to your mental state, then you will keep getting more and more negative and depressed. If you can learn to build on positives, then you can break the pattern. Keep track of the good things you do, for yourself and for others.
"Looping" is another problem- you seize on a negative incident or person in your life and you keep going over the same stuff over and over and over... Learn to break the loop and think of something else. Break the pattern of obsessive behavior.
As a teacher, I help students learn to develop speech and performance skills by building on positives to help them gain confidence. You should learn how to do this for yourself. (I did!) No one ever got any better by being told that they are worthless, useless and no damned good. Get those negative inputs out of your life, starting within yourself.
You must be prepared to make other changes in your life as well. You can't afford to waste time with negative and destructive people, even family and friends. Get away from people who drag you down. Change jobs or even careers. Joseph Campbell had something when he said, "follow your bliss". That means do what gives you the greatest pleasure, and the rest- money, success- will follow.
You are not "in recovery", which is an ongoing state of addictive behavior- you are "recovered!" You are not the victim of a disease over which you have no control- you are the victim of choices that you made which have resulted in harmful behavior. You are not codependent- you are independent! You decided to take that first drink- you decided to keep on drinking- now you decide to stop!
In deciding to become Ásatrú, I have altered my self-perception in other ways as well, a process which is still continuing. At the very heart of my personal practice is the idea that I try to empower the might and main that exist within me by forging a link with the gods of the Northern tradition. I don't pray to Thor to protect me as much as I call on him to empower me to protect myself. By comparison, those who are conditioned to the mental slavery of Jehovanism are prone to beg their god to do all the work for them, while I call on my gods to enable me to perform the work myself, to the greater glory of myself and my gods! Even New-Age 'neo-heathens' seem to be inclined to beg for help rather than just taking their gods by the horns and just doing it!
It would have been much easier for me to undergo this transformation back in 1984 if I had only known then what I have subsequently discovered. I did it the hard way. When you drink a lot regularly as I did, you become impervious to the normal inputs of both pain and pleasure; you have your invisible protective shield. But when that shield is abruptly taken away, you become quite vulnerable. The personna that you have artificially constructed is ripped away, and you must build yourself a new 'you'. And it can't be just another artificial facade. It has to be the real thing.
During that first year of 'normalcy', I found myself over-reacting to stress and getting into as much or more difficulty as if I had been still drinking. After a violent incident of road-rage which put me in jail, I even got talked into going to see a (jikes!) Freudian type shrink!
Now, I believe that I could have accomplished all this much more easily as an Ásatrúar. I have learned who I really am, and I have learned to rely on myself. Most of all, I have learned how to gain the empowerment I need from my gods to enable me to do the work for myself.
Those I have shared this with in the past have sometimes responded with questions about the actual transformational process itself. As I experienced all this more or less spontaneously without really thinking about it at the time, I don't have a lot of answers. If you understand the process of self-empowerment as I have described it, then it should be doable.
These ideas are intended to be applied by those who are heathens, and for whom the standard 12-step AA program doesn't seem to be appropriate. The strength that you gain from being a committed heathen and ÁsatrúaR is that you have the sense of personal honor to understand that an oath is an oath, and not to be taken lightly. Your oath to stop drinking may be seen as carrying more weight than a similar promise made by someone who is used to breaking promises, and not keeping his word.
Your sense of personal honor won't permit you to renege on your oath. Your personal goal is nothing less than Asgard itself and the company of the Immortals. You are beyond the ordinary games of hypocrisy, lying and cheating that plague the Judeo-Christian society around us. You are a person of true might and main. You have gained from our Gods the self-empowerment to truly transform yourself.
For many of us in Ásatrú, the idea of gathering for moots, sumbles and blots without alcohol at first may seem contrary to the customs and traditions of our people. But the results obtained by many of us using apple cider or nonalcoholic beer seem to be every bit as valid as those gotten by more traditional methods. This way, children can participate, and you don't need to fight over who has to drive us all home afterwards!
By the way, I bend the rule slightly for religious rituals. If you see me taking a hit from the horn as it comes around, please remember that I'm not drinking to get drunk. As long as I'm careful not to get 'buzzed', I don't believe I'm violating my principles. I'm celebrating the Gods and my victory!
We have the self-empowerment to to transform ourselves- This process starts at the heart and builds from the inside out, not by enforcing external and artificial pseudo-solutions from the outside in. We are our gods!
(Note: This article may be downloaded and reproduced as long as the author is credited. for information, contact Lavrans Reimer-Møller at email@example.com )