When you’re going through hell, do you stop or keep going?

Today is February 28 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “when you’re going through hell, do you stop or keep going?” As British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once said “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Almost everyone who navigates the chaos goes through at least one, most likely several, periods of hell. The art of living well involves figuring out how to deal with such terrible moments in life. For Churchill, his suggestion was to keep going; don’t stop! Actor Mickey Rourke learned this lesson the hard way as he navigated the chaos and practiced the art of living well.


When he was six years old, his father Philip Andre Rourke Sr., a professional body builder, left the family. Mickey’s mother Anne was left to raise him, his brother Joey, and their half siblings alone. Anne eventually remarried and the family moved to Miami, but Mickey's childhood was not a happy one. He found solace from his troubled home life in the boxing ring, training at the same gym where Muhammad Ali trained. He was good, and with an amateur record of 139 wins and three losses he seemed to be on the road to going pro.


An injury put him out of the ring and he fell into acting by chance when he agreed to step into the lead of a friend's play after the original actor pulled out. He gave up boxing, borrowed $400 from his sister and went to New York. For years he worked in menial jobs. In 1981 he got noticed to land a tiny part in Body Heat. From there he started to appear in films such as Diner, Rumble Fish and 9 ½ Weeks.


By the late 1980s it all started falling apart. His great love was acting, but it was all the rest of it that overwhelmed him. He got a reputation for being unpredictable and difficult to work with and there were reports of alcohol and substance abuse. As Adam White wrote in a May 11, 2020 Independent article “Throughout the 1980s, Rourke was open about his unease with fame and the Hollywood ecosystem. He would slam his co-stars and directors in the press and dismiss much of the industry as beneath him. ‘You go through the motions of feeling it but you know the studio owns your ass, the public owns your ass,’ Rourke said in 1992. ‘So, over a period of eight years, you slowly lose your spirit in a way.’” During the next 15 years he had two failed marriages, did a series of terrible films just for the money, lost all respect for himself and decided the only way out of all was to go back to boxing.


After a brief return to the ring, Mickey began to edge his way back into the acting world with small parts in projects including 2002's Spun and, the following year, Once Upon A Time In Mexico. Things finally seemed to be getting back on track in 2005 when he scored a larger role in Sin City, as bounty hunter Marv, which brought him a handful of awards and renewed respect from his peers.


In 2008 Darren Aronofsky developed a movie script entitled The Wrestler, a story about an aging professional wrestler who, despite his failing health and waning fame, continues to wrestle in an attempt to cling to the success of his 1980s heyday. Commenting on Rourke’s performance White wrote "he played a man who peaked in the 1980s, having lost everything amid self-destruction and physical breakdown and it (The Wrestler) was a stone’s throw away from autobiography.” Aronofsky fought for him and turned it from a big-budget epic into a no-budget indie just to have him. The film received universal critical acclaim and won the Golden Lion Award in the 2008 Venice Film Festival. The success of the film revitalized Rourke’s career who went on to receive a Golden Globe award.


Reflecting upon his dark period Rourke said “I’ve been to hell, I’m not going back there. For so many years I’d sit and talk to the dog, and say, ‘I’m not coming back, it’s over.’” And when he picked up a Golden Globe in 2009 for his first leading role in more than 20 years, it was his pooches to whom he paid tribute. "I'd like to thank all my dogs," he said. "Because sometimes when a man's alone, all you've got is your dog, and they mean the world to me."


Like so many people who navigate the chaos, however, Rourke could only hold on to this strategy for so long as he once again found himself in hell. The Wrestler and Oscar nomination led to new opportunities in mainstream cinema, but his previous problems started to haunt him. He slammed Marvel, claiming much of his Iron Man 2 performance was left on the cutting room floor. He would similarly disown most of his post-Wrestler projects, including 13 (2010) and Passion Play (2010), admitting he did them for money.


Rourke found a way to keep going out of the darkness but then fell back into it. If you are going through hell you have two choices: stop or keep going. If you find yourself back in hell, as Rourke did, you should consider asking yourself if you want to repeat the cycle or stop it. Do you want the hell you are living to control your destiny? Do you want your current life situation to dictate your future? Do you want to let the nightmare of the past cloud your dreams?


When you’re going through hell, do you stop or keep going?