The National Survey on Drug Uses and Health reports 21.5 million American adults (12 and older) battling a substance use disorder in 2014; 80% of whom struggle with alcohol abuse. One of 8 people struggle with alcohol and drug abuse simultaneously. Teens account for 1.3 million of those battling addiction. The co-morbidity (co-existence) of mental illness and substance abuse is 8 million, possibly more. To see more delineation of statistics by age, race, gender, please visit

We all know someone struggling with addiction: alcohol, drugs, sex, food, sugar, cigarettes, gambling, shopping, and the list goes on and on. Many of us know multiple people who are either struggling to stay alive and/or aren't willing, ready or able (because the disease tells people they simply aren't able) to remain sober or free from addictive behaviors. How many of us try to help the person(s) by offering our support in innumerable ways, not precluding locking them in a room for hours with surveillance cameras so you know his/her/their every move? Extreme? yes. 

More likely approaches and end results to helping loved ones: 

-Connections to rehabilitative services both short and long term only to have them come out and return to their old behaviors.

- Allowing he/she/they to live with you so he/she/they can comfortably pick up the pieces of their lives which have been swallowed up and often destroyed by the priority of addiction...then witnessing the unraveling of yet another small recuperative state of abstinence. 

- Encouraging other behaviors like exercising, church, change of social networks, only to witness compulsive lying and manipulative behaviors result due to unwillingness on part of person suffering.

- Listening, crying, praying, waiting, walking on eggshells, becoming resentful, passing the torch to another loved one for respite, waiting by the phone... when does this end?

- Attend prayer circles, accompany them or attend AA, GA, OA, Al-anon, etc. 

The disease of alcohol and drug addiction wants people dead. Addiction, in general, is a prison of the mind and an unexplainable void only those suffering can understand. 

So how do I sit here and watch this person I love (often times it's our family or spouse or best friend or celebrity crush) kill themselves or destroy his/her world? 

It is impossible to change another human's behaviors, and the older we become, the easier it is to understand. However, watching addiction take the life of another is like trying to climb a Crisco covered slide on a playground or punching plexiglass in hopes of becoming free. 

DO NOT BEAT YOURSELF UP!! But what if we took that same approach and applied it to our approach with those suffering. "Hey, don't beat yourself up. I can see how difficult this disease is and I know you don't want to live this way, but what are you currently willing to do? If nothing, what would have to happen for you to be willing to change?" 

I am who I am because of what we all are. Not greater. Not less. We are fragile and vulnerable and eventually, we will become willing to heal or be healed. 

Please stay tuned for more addiction blog content focused on prevention and awareness. 

Blank Slate: Mind and Body

Philosopher John Locke's interpretation of the mind at birth as a "tabula rasa" or blank slate upon which experience imprints knowledge, is quite magical until we reach the age of reason and beyond, when "life" happens. All our experiences, shaped through sensory experiences, form schemas: our mental framework that develops from our experiences with particular people, objects or events. 

Not so magical when you truly think about it now, is it? Not when the first time you get stung by a bee, you go into anaphylactic shock. Or the first time you vomit, you dry heave until you break blood vessels in your eyes. Or the first teacher you remember, used to draw a dot on the chalk board for you to put your nose against as punishment. BAD SCHEMAS!! And for many, these are traumatic events which are stored completely differently in our brains  (kind of like scattered debris across a treelawn). But the schemas aren't lost, just the particulars, and the generalizations remain the same until we have enough good or different experiences with people and events that we create adjuncts to the originals.

Other traumatic and unfortunate schemas lead to pathological thoughts and behaviors requiring the attention of a mentor, therapist or other professional to help reframe and change.  Our brains are wired, and being the behaviorist that I am,  I truly believe we can begin each day with our bodies as blank slates. We have the opportunity to change just ONE thing as soon as our feet hit the earth. Instead of a pastry: take a banana. Instead of checking your phone, read or practice meditation. Instead of lighting a cigarette, eat a pastry.

Beyond breakfast and morning routines, our day is just one giant cluster of decision making: eww!! Often times, theses decisions are habitual and comforting because they don't require much thought or effort, until one day: we get pulled over for speeding down a road we have always sped down, or our blood pressure suddenly reaches a new high because of our diets, or we are learning that our depression is rooted in more than our brains and SOMETHING must change. 

Change comes slow and often times there are setbacks, but remember that here at Ubuntu and millions of other communities of support, we embrace humanity and understand that we all have "stuff". Heavy heavy loads of stuff that we need one another to help lift, throw away, store differently, or polish. 


Insurance vs. Self Pay: Questions to Consider

What is the Benefit of "Self Pay" versus Insurance?

Do you have a high deductible that must be met prior to insurance paying for counseling services?  

Do you want your insurance company to know your psychological diagnosis?  

Does the presenting problem for which you are seeking counseling meet the criteria for "medical necessity" that insurance companies demand in order to receive counseling services?  

If these are concerns for you, you may want to consider a 'self pay' option.  There is much to consider.  We hope the information shared below will be helpful for you.

There are pros and cons to using your health insurance benefits to pay for mental health care.


If you have coverage to see the provider you choose, it will probably be cost effective to use your health insurance to pay for services.

Whether you are self-employed or work for an employer, you effectively pay a lot of money to have health insurance and it may make sense to get the most out of your benefit package by using insurance for therapy.


There are many circumstances in which you might want to keep the fact that you are in treatment, as well as any information about that treatment, completely private between you and your therapist.

In order to qualify for benefits you must surrender a level of confidentiality to the insurance company that would otherwise remain between you and your therapist.

Insurance company employees may ask for personal information to determine whether or not they think treatment is warranted.  These employees decide if you are eligible for treatment, rather than leaving that decision up you and your clinician.

In order for insurance to reimburse your treatment you will receive a mental health diagnosis that goes in your permanent medical record.  This diagnosis constitutes a “pre-existing condition” that may be a disqualification from benefits in the future or may otherwise interfere with your coverage if you change plans.  Once you have used health insurance for mental health care you will also have to disclose your treatment history if you apply for life insurance and in certain other circumstances.

Insurance policies often limit the number of sessions you are allowed to attend each year.  They may or may not authorize more sessions based on what they determine is a “medical necessity”.  Your therapist will have little say in this decision and making your case may involve a lot of paperwork and footwork on your part.

Employers often change insurance companies to save money.  You may form a bond with your therapist only to find out that he or she is not a provider on your new plan.

Insurance rarely pays for marital or relationship therapy.  Instead, one partner will be identified as the “identified patient” and will receive a mental health diagnosis.  The insurance company will then authorize conjoint treatment for that person and his/her partner.

It could be a mistake to be dissuaded from seeking treatment because of the issues surrounding health insurance coverage for mental health.  If you do not want to use your health insurance and are limited in what you can afford, there are several avenues available to you. You can consider scheduling sessions less frequently or even abbreviating a session to meet your financial needs if your reason for counseling is not a crisis.  Many types of therapy do not necessitate weekly visits.  

here are a variety of ways to think about the purpose and process of therapy.  Insurance companies see therapy as treatment for a mental illness or condition and they treat the insured as patients who will either qualify or not qualify for the treatment.  This is not an invalid way to think about mental health care, but it is not the only way.  People are usually looking for relief from symptoms of some kind when they seek help.  Many come to find that therapy becomes a tool for enhanced personal growth, responsibility, and relationship satisfaction.  The medical model of diagnosis and treatment is no longer particularly relevant at that point.  Although you are entitled to use your medical benefits as you wish and are permitted by your insurer, you may ultimately decide that the flexibility and privacy afforded by paying directly is worth the extra cost.

Look in the mirror: THAT'S your competition

I'll never forget hopping in Jen's trusty and dependable Ford Edge to drive down to Niles, OH for my first Dancing Mindfulness experience. There I am sitting next to my hip, super credentialed supervisor with a dance degree feeling insecure and quite intimidated. And I'm going to dance with Dr. Jamie Marich, the dynamic woman who developed this art form and is well renowned in the psychology field for her trauma informed expressive arts and other treatment modalities. "This is going to be an embarrassment" and  " I don't dance. I gyrate and I haven't gyrated since I last drank about eight years ago."  "What am I going to do??? I suppose I could just watch." These were all very important thoughts and questions that I wasn't allowing my ego to reveal to Jen. 

My own personal epiphany was that this Dancing Mindfulness wasn't a class measuring your physical ability or talent. In fact, it wasn't anything about me yet it was everything about me at the same time. There were other women attending who were broken, like me. At some point in their lives, ok ok ok: at many points in OUR lives, we had experienced trauma. Ranging from unhealthy relationships with family members, natural disasters or accidents, to severe forms of abuse and neglect. Healing, as we came to learn through Jen, Jamie and other women who decided to embrace this movement: can only happen entirely with help from our God-given (God as you understand he/she, or whatever/whoever you higher power may or may not be) gift of expression in the form of arts.  

Keeping in mind the principles of mindfulness: non-judgment, non-striving, acceptance, trust, beginner's mind, patience and letting go. And just like that: with a short guided grounding exercise and stretches, we all got up, supporting each other without expectations. I twirled and twirled and twirled as if to unravel that first layer of hard ego and insecurity. 

Holiday safeguards

Not all of us engage in holiday pleasantries and festivities with our families, but those of us who do could possibly benefit from conflict resolution skills, boundaries and a mouthful of buckeyes to prevent us from saying anything offensive. 

1999 was a rough year for my family. A poinsettia was thrown out the front door and I'm fairly certain no one ever discussed the catalyst for such forceful destruction of a plant. The irony is in the poisonous composition of a poinsettia, as conflict can lead to poisonous pride and resentment buried in the hollows of our souls. Not to be dramatic or anything...

Or maybe you have that uncle who ruins everything with his whiskey breath and reckless disregard for the "no shoe policy". Or maybe you have a family member who passed away around the holidays and there is a void that feels irreplaceable. Whatever it may be, remember:

1. Be kind to yourself. Don't "should" all over yourself. For instance, you may be thinking to yourself "I should wear sequins, it's Christmas", or "I should fake an illness". Instead, Wear your soft, flowy clothing or jeans or say you would rather stay home. 

2. Put the current crisis in perspective (is your dirty carpet going to ruin your life?) Often times the close proximity of family members may feel like spontaneous combustion would be a welcome event, but the truth is: we always have a choice and usually, we choose tradition over comfort. What's a few days? 

 3. Don't judge your feelings, but do notice them and use mindfulness to navigate action. Nostalgia and bereavement around the holidays are common but no two experiences are alike. 

4. If you are in recovery, wrap yourself in support. Go to more meetings or schedule extra time with your support group/sponsor(s), attend more services at church, or engage in a heavier flow of meditation or physical activity. Whichever avenue you have taken to get sober: drive carefully down that avenue. 

SAD, a convenient acronym (or at least it was)

You may be more than just sad if you suffer from SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder. However, and to my personal dismay, the DSM 5 has modified SAD from a diagnosis to the specifier  "with seasonal pattern" for major depressive disorder. I'm only upset because I like acronyms and how perfect was SAD for sad? Enough about my opinions and such, moving on....

Sleeping more, eating more (usually carbs), lethargy or low energy and not being convinced there's a Santa are all tell tale signs that you could be experiencing what is formerly known as Seasonal Affective Disorder. All jokes aside, don't ignore these symtpoms. 

It may come as no surprise that people living in states with less sunshine (disrupting your internal clock) have higher rates of SAD or less clinically speaking, winter blues.   Knowing whether you are genetically predisposed to depression or mood disorders vs. it being a result of environmental factors only gives you understanding of the etiology or course in your life. We want to know how to make fall, winter and often times well into spring time FUN again. And if we can't make it fun, at least make it easier to endure. Not everyone is cut out for snow shoeing through the Metroparks at 6am let alone leaving the house. 

With some help from Mayo Clinic's website, here are some approaches to treating major depressive disorder "with seasonal pattern", aside from the standard psychotherapy and medications. 

- Phototherapy or light therapy uses a light box to increase your exposure to bright light in the morning and throughout the day. This exposure may cause a change in your brain's chemicals linked to mood. I bought my light box at Costco but they can also be purchased on Amazon. I  recommend talking to your doctor as she/he can possibly recommend the right light for you and, you never know, it could be covered by insurance. 

- Go Frank Lloyd Wright style and open up your blinds, curtains, or shades and let light into your home. Even though there doesn't seem to be much light in Northeast Ohio, natural  light is key. 

-yoga, meditation, massage, reiki, dance (all offered at Ubuntu Wellness) can help you cope with SAD. 

-herbal remedies and essential oils (Young Living consultants available). Talk to your doctor before supplementing if it may interact with medications. 

-Get outside. Exercise. Or JUST BE. 

- Maintain a support system and reach out!!

Teenage Angst

We've all been there. That feeling of not knowing exactly who you are, what you are going to do in five years, if you'll get married, if your parents or guardians will be ok with your sexual orientation, if he or she like you more than a friend, if you even enjoy playing sports. OH MY! And test scores, studying,  if you're going to college, if you even like the people you hang out with on a daily basis, yet wonder if they like you.  I mean, the list goes on and on. And the good news (and bad news) is that some of us well into "adulting" still don't have our own answers!

I mean, where am I going to be in 5 years? I'll save that for another blog post or maybe my journal. 

This period of moratorium or exploration can often feel unending and painful. Nobody understands you and never will. You are unique and alone. Or so you think.... But this anxiety and moratorium period are normal for ALL teenagers. There is a percentage of you (a comfortable percentage) who experience anxiety which affects day to day living, preventing you from completing seemingly normal tasks, attending social events, or even attending school on a regular basis. You may experience the physiological phenomenon of "fight or flight" or panic (anxiety) attacks regularly. This interference of anxiety in a teen's life has become concerning and past the threshold of normalcy. 

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders affect one in eight children. Research shows that untreated children with anxiety disorders are at higher risk to perform poorly in school, miss out on important social experiences, and engage in substance abuse.  Anxiety Disorders are often comorbid with depression in many individuals. Think about it: you feel as though your mind won't stop racing, you don't want to leave your house due to fear of having a panic attack or saying the wrong thing or being judged or getting a bad grade on a test that you didn't study for because you felt too anxious. Again, you start to feel alone and misunderstood and may self-medicate with food, sleep, or even alcohol or drugs. 

Ok, ok, ok. Get onto the good stuff: the hope, the solidarity, the autonomy you deserve during the treatment process IF you decide you or your children can't do it alone (psssssst: no one can do it alone).  

-talk to someone you trust: a parent, friend, random great uncle.


-identify triggers to your anxiety: tests, social gatherings, certain places, etc. 

-exercise: dance in your room (come to Ubuntu for Dancing Mindfulness Tuesdays at 6pm), jog in place, go for a run, take a bike ride, build a snow man (I mean, you most likely live in NE Ohio if you are reading this)

-have a schedule. be organized. routines are good. 

- relaxation exercises, meditation, yoga (yoga unchained Tuesdays at 7pm and Vinyasa flow Thursdays at 6pm followed by gentle yoga at 7pm) (shameless plugs)

- Healthy eating and sleep. 

And obviously, you may want to find a therapist or someone neutral you can meet with on a regular basis (if Ubuntu can't serve you because of insurance or other reasons, we will refer you somewhere that can.)  There are also cases where you seem to have done EVERYTHING to cope with your anxiety and it still persists. There is absolutely no shame in seeking medical treatment.

Until next time, you've....i mean, we got this!