Such people often have trouble moving forward in the world, bombarded by self-recrimination and haunted by the ugly destruction they have wrought. Again and again, their thoughts return to the deed that ruined them, what used to be called a sin, like a tongue to a loosened tooth. Every day they feel stuck in place, locked in a prison of their own making, as burdened by chains as Marley’s ghost in The Christmas Carol.
Walking Through Hell: A Guide for Those Who Have Wounded Themselves and Lost Their Way (Old Tree Press, 2020, 202 pages) seeks to offer these prisoners the keys to escape their chains and cells. Writer Jake Durant aims this self-help book directly at those “whose wounds were self-inflicted … all those lost, stumbling souls who have committed some great wrong, intentionally or unintentionally. You are the ones for whom I write.”
Durant includes himself in these battalions of the lost.
“We are comrades, you and I, walking the same road through hell. The journey is different for each of us, because we are individuals who have suffered trials unique to our circumstances, but all of us share the realities of sadness and despair, regret and shame, hopelessness and isolation.
“We are the ones who carry our guilt like a cancer.
“We are the ones who know you don’t have to die to go to hell.”
Durant intends Walking Through Hell as a compass for his fellow travelers to help them find the right path. Here in 44 short chapters he aims to get those who have fallen back on their feet and moving forward. Each chapter begins with one or more quotations and focuses on a specific healing device — “Own Your Guilt,” “Invictus,” “The Up-And-Down Days,” and so on — which Durant then illustrates by examples taken from history, literature, the movies, the headlines, and the experiences of his friends. These healing techniques range from the performance of simple tasks — clean up your room, take better care with your appearance — to explorations of more esoteric practices such as stoicism, willpower, and the meaning of reputation.
Some of Durant’s advice — the efficacy of exercise in battling black moods, the gifts found in the practice of gratitude, the healing power of taking pleasure in the small things such as a cup of coffee or birdsong in the morning — will be familiar to readers slogging down the hard road, ideas they may have come across in other books, in counseling, or in discussions with friends.
Other chapters, however, give some us new insights into our difficulties and so aid our recovery. In his chapter “Throw Away The Crystal Ball,” for instance, Durant first reminds us of the importance of planning for the future, saving money for college, for example, or for a vacation. “This is necessary preparation,” he writes. He then examines a more dangerous way of looking at the future:
“Many of us also keep a crystal ball in our heads, which we use for prediction and projection, not preparation. Trying to forecast future events over which we have little or no control will not only drive us Daffy Duck crazy, but our prophecies may also become self-fulfilling. That crystal ball is a deadly enemy, particularly to those of us making the hike through hell. Because we are in an unbalanced mental and spiritual state, because we are suffering, we often find ourselves projecting all sorts of dark fantasies on the future.”
Along with the advice and examples found in Walking Through Hell are exercises intended to help readers break their bonds, leave their dark prisons, and make their way into the light. Nearly every chapter ends with one of these exercises: recommended books and movies; writing lists, letters to a friend, or a written inventory of the good, the bad, and the ugly in our personalities; cleaning out a closet; taking a walk with the intention of contemplation; deliberately seeking out a place of beauty; even “Doing a good deed daily” like the Boy Scouts.
Near the end of Walking Through Hell, Durant reminds his audience of what so many of us forget when we are reading a self-help book or listening to a podcast for inspiration. None of these tools will help us unless we take the next step and put that advice into action. “This is where it gets ugly,” Durant writes. “Because that change is up to you — not a book, not a guru, not a trainer, not a video. You.”
Like a good teacher, Walking Through Hell gave me food for thought and some valuable insights into my own history. Others who have walked this path, or who have fallen and are having trouble moving forward, may also find help in these pages.