THE Cause versus Because

Here’s an obvious statement: We OA members eat over our feelings. Our program literature tells us that the cycle of addictive behavior begins with a thought. We are activated before the first bite. A primary emotional trigger for addicts of any stripe is resentment.

The Big Book describes resentment as “the number one offender.” We eat because we are pissed off at the world, at people, at situations. When Bill Wilson and company put together the Big Book in the 1930s, they very carefully selected their words. They knew that the addicted brain manipulates us by turning our feelings into powerful language. So when they wrote down how they inventoried resentment, they used precise language that doesn’t give our brains wiggle room to make excuses.

Look at page 65 in the fourth edition of the Big Book. It lays out the first three columns of resentment inventory (the fourth column, or “turnaround” appears in the middle of page 67). The first column is headed “I’m Resentful At.” The second: “The Cause.” Notice they didn’t say “BEcause” but rather “The Cause.” There’s a world of difference.

Our addict minds are like little lawyers, always seeking to parse language in ways that justify or excuse our behaviors and let us keep eating. Among trial lawyers, there’s a well-known axiom about questioning a witness. Never ask why [unless you’ve personally coached the witness’ answer]. Lawyers frequently ask leading questions that begin with WhatWhoWhen, Where, or How. These are all closed-ended questions with a single answer: “I saw Joe”; “I was cleaning the barn”; “8:19 PM”; “He opened the door with a lock pick.” But why is open-ended. It allows a witness to pontificate and deflect blame elsewhere. It allows opinion to enter the record. It may also give a witness license to build sympathy when sympathy is the opposite of what you want to elicit.

In a similar way, “because” is a weasel word for us addicts. We use it as a way to keep on destroying ourselves with food. Why do we eat? Because blah blah blah. If someone asked us why we were burnt up, we’d give them a litany of because statements. Insidiously, what because” does is shift the blame to someone else.

Because Mom said I was fat, I am resentful.

This is far different from the language the Big Book recommends in that second column: “THE Cause.” To get grammatical for a second, “the” is the definite article. It indicates singularity or specificity. It reduces confusion and ambiguity. To use it in a sentence related to resent would sound like these examples

The cause of my resentment is Mom’s saying I was fat.


We can see that when we use “the cause” instead of “because” we turn a statement of blame into a statement of fact.

Here’s a big difference between these two ways of talking about resentment. “Because” creates slippery slopes. We’ve all heard someone talk about how their mind will create a chain of because statements that leads to eating:

Because Mom said I was fat, I must not be good enough. Because I’m not good enough, I feel pain. Because I feel pain, I need to get rid of it, so I eat.

The struck out text is a reminder of how over time our brains skip over the “reasoning” and go straight to the food. But “THE cause” doesn’t easily lead to that slippery slope.

Mom said I was fat, so I must not be good enough….

Here we can see that when we put “because” ahead of Mom, she bears the blame for our believing her. If we put “because” instead of “so” it wouldn’t even make sense. When we put “so” in front of “I,” we start to see that we are taking someone else’s words and turning them into a reason to eat. Why should we believe that we are not good enough just because Mom says we are fat? Unless we, of course, we, ourselves, are complicit in that belief?

We don’t have to be linguists for OA to work. But the folks who wrote the Big Book used “The Cause” instead of “Because” because they knew from personal experience that blaming the rest of the world for their drinking predicament didn’t work. We have to own our part of things. We’re the ones holding onto the hurts, big or tiny. We’re the ones eating ourselves to an early grave. After all, it’s our inventory, and no one else’s.