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Success Comes at the End of a Crooked Line

“The shortest line between two points can be a crooked line,” said Bertolt Brecht, 20th century German poet, playwright, and theatre director. If this is true—and I believe it is—what does that mean for your recovery? My guess is that you will need to do a whole lot of rethinking about what progress and the journey toward success mean in order to reach your goals.

The moment I read this quote, I thought it was terrific, mostly because of the visual image it triggers. We too often think of success as linear, as going from “here” to “there” on a direct course, and that mistaken assumption actually makes it far more difficult to succeed than believing that you’ll be doing a lot of zigging and zagging before you come to rest at a comfortable place in your relationship with food.

Doesn’t a crooked line describe exactly what you’ve experienced? For example, you stop noshing when you’re not hungry, only to find the behavior doesn’t last and there you are, having been knocked off course. The problem isn’t in what you might describe as losing ground, but in the perception that this kind of zigging and zagging wasn’t going to happen on your journey to become a “normal” eater. This thought brings to mind the Broadway musical, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, whose title comes from how vaudeville comedians often began a story: "A funny thing happened on the way to the theater.”

Funny—as in perplexing, not humorous—things do happen on the way to reaching our eating and other goals. Since that is the case for us all, why not simply expect the unexpected rather than look at what happens as a dead-end? Rather, think of it as a detour. I don’t speak what Brecht meant when he talks about the crooked line being the “shortest” way, but I can certainly take a guess. Maybe he’s saying that the crooked line is the only way we can go forward, that we can still reach our goals and shouldn’t give up just because our route seems a bit circuitous.

Consider your eating disorder journey thus far. Have you been traveling on a crooked line and still made progress? Think about having reached other goals through logging miles on crooked trails. Rather than fight the twists and bends in the road, why not relax into the journey and see where they take you. If you continue to expect that your recovery path will be linear, I guarantee that you’ll be disappointed. Everyone pursuing a goal is on a crooked path. Come, join us.