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Confucious, Lao Tzu, and My Alcoholism

Conquering? Or Surrendering?

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"He Who Conquers Himself is the Mightiest Warrior"

- Confucious

“He who conquers others is strong; he who conquers himself is mighty"

- Lao Tzu

I saw this quote from Confucious just now, and it got me thinking about my relationship to my alcoholism.

As I researched the quote, I came across a similar idea put across by Lao Tzu.

I’m currently re-reading the Tao Teh Ching, written by Lao Tzu, so seeing this got my attention. I first read it in 1990 as it was a gift from a friend to mark my 1-year sober anniversary.

Here’s how it relates to my alcoholism/addiction.


I wrote, on July 4th, about celebrating my 34th sober anniversary. I posted about it on Facebook, and I’ve received so much appreciation, respect, and congratulations that it’s a bit overwhelming. Don’t get me wrong - I love it. But I can’t let it go to my head.

I’m sober again today. That’s it. I can’t stay sober tomorrow or next week. Nothing is guaranteed.

This gives me pause, yet it also gives me great comfort. If I look at where my feet are, it helps me to come back to the moment and realize that I’m right here, now. I’m not drinking today, and I have no plan to drink. Should the desire come up, I’ll take whatever steps I need to thwart that desire.


My feeling, and my understanding, is that I have not conquered anything, least of all my alcoholism/addiction.

I’m a drunk of the hopeless variety, and I had to surrender to that fact once I gained knowledge of it.

I’ve been guided to a spiritually-based life where I seek humility and service to others. Of course, I’m far from perfect in that, but my pursuit has enabled me to stay away from a drink of alcohol or a mind-altering drug since 1989, day by day.

I wrote about surrender in my first piece for Medium, written back in March.


Honestly, I’m rather surprised to see this quote from Lao Tzu.

My understanding of Lao Tzu is that he expresses a sort of ultimate humility and stepping back from forcing one’s will.

So, the idea of conquering one’s self feels at odds with that.


I mentioned the spiritual life path that has been the centerpiece of my sobriety, and hence, my life, for a very long time.

I don’t consider myself religious in any sense.

I pray daily to an entity that I refer to as God.

It’s mostly prayers of gratitude and requests for understanding and guidance.

I believe there is a power of creation that is inconceivable to us, but that it exists. I’m endlessly in awe of the world and the universe.

And I believe we are all of us, and all matter and creation and planets and stars and absolutely everything, originated from the Big Bang. We have the origins of everything within us. We are the same as the stars.


Regarding this spiritual quest and understanding as it relates to my alcoholism/addiction, I can say that for some reason my body and mind react in such a way that I’m overtaken by a need to ingest more, always more. Of course, this leads to misery and dissolution.

The more I write about it here on Medium, the more I’m reminded of numerous instances of insanity. How did I survive it? I don’t know, but I’m grateful. Why did I survive it? I don’t know, but I’m grateful.

So I read spiritual books, I pray, and I have an on-again, off-again meditation practice. Currently, I’m off of that. Time to get back to it.

Another place where I find great relation to God and an extreme life force is in creativity. My wife and I took in the Van Gogh Cypress paintings show at the Met Museum over the weekend. We followed that up with the exhibit of Dutch Masterpieces, titled In Praise of Painting.

What words do these works justice? Beautiful? Incredible? Amazing? I don’t know what to say about them except that I love them.

I feel full when I’m experiencing extraordinary art. I love art from Alfred Stieglitz to Spike Lee to Frida Kahlo to Meryl Streep to John Steinbeck. Of course, that is only a few artists from the top of my head. I could go on for days. I experience epiphanies at rock shows, in the theatre, in my reading chair, and in many other places, and I’m grateful for all of it.


Well, Lao Tzu and Confucious, I can’t buy this one. My understanding is that I have a condition that will never be conquered. The only solution is to step out of the ring and walk away from it. I surrender. How can one be anything but humble about giving in to something that will destroy you?

Humility and gratitude. These are the pursuits and the challenges of my life.

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