Thursday, August 5, 2010

IDAA- Buffalo

International Doctors in Alcoholics Anonymous has an annual conference each year about this time in August. I've been coming since the Toronto IDAA with a couple off for time overseas. It's my favorite medical conference. Some thousand doctors from United States mostly, more and more from Canada, England and Australia as well as occasional members from elsewhere.

The educational program is principally Addiction Medicine, my subspecialty, and that's not surprising because many of the world's leaders in the field started their pre-academic careers in what anthropologists might called 'field research'. Alongside the continuing medical education are AA and Al Anon meetings. Because it's Family AA all the way, there's Al ATEEN as well. Jerry Moe from Betty Ford runs the program for children of all ages. I just walked by the under five year olds and wanted to get down on my knees and join in. They were having as much fun as all the adults watching.

I spoke to a Canadian doctor, here at IDAA for his first time and loved that he said, "I never realized so many doctors had problems themselves and were in recovery."
The fact is, we're the lucky ones. We get to be honest and so much of alcoholism and addiction is about dishonesty and secrecy. In small group shares today sitting around a table with a half dozen other doctors, family physicians, surgeons, dentists, OBGYN's the common theme was how awful it was before treatment. The disease of alcoholism is 'fun, fun and trouble and then just plain trouble."

I just came from talking trucks with my Kansas friends husband. He's never had problems with alcohol himself but now that he's married to a long term recovered doctor he's come out to this meeting to enjoy the trip. I think Niagara Falls has the romantics out in force. My AA anesthetist friend Tom and his gorgeous Al Anon nurse wife Bobbi are giving a talk later on recovery for couples. What do you do when you no longer have a bottle of wine or three and candlelight before sex?

I've hooked up with a half dozen other psychiatrists already and as many of the addiction medicine specialists I know. Graeme Cunningham who was the head of Homewood Treatment Centre shared about his deciding to retire and how that's filled him with trepidation. A delightful recently retired Florida obstetrician shared how it took him a while to realize he was a 'mr' before he was a 'dr'. Now he's taken up tap dancing.

I remember when I thought suicide was an option, talked in with Graeme Cunningham and realized how my thinking wasn't reality. Alcohol had affected my brain and I wasn't thinking clearly. Later I'd learn that not only were the suicidal thoughts evidence of insanity but what I was feeling so badly about were lies I'd been told. In addition the medication I'd been prescribed was causing depression. Naturally alcoholics react differently to medication that people whose brains have not been changed hence the reason for pharmaceutical companies excluding alcoholics and those with brain damage from their drug trials. I had unfortunately been treated by that worst combination of doctor, one who was arrogant and ignorant. Thankfully Graeme had me see an addiction psychiatrist who shared my concern that my doctor was trying to kill me, if not consciously at least unconsciously.

It was in those early years I met Dr. Talbot who subsequently started Talbot Recovery Centre as much because of his own experience with poor medical treatment for his alcoholism. Thanks to Dr. Cunningham and Homewood, Quelph I didn't take that permanent solution for my temporary problem. Graeme gave me hope. Later other addiction doctors would help me see that I'd never have been under the care of a dangerous doctor were it not for my overindulgence. In time I'd see that most of the negative events of my life had been related to alcohol whereas all the things in life I most cherished were clearly independent of alcohol.

Alcoholism begins with genetic hypersensitivity or increased anxiety secondary to trauma. Alcohol starts out solving the symptoms only to create the greater problems when it no longer works or the side effects of Drinking and Driving, Marital Arguments, Fights with the Boss, irritability all leading to the original solution becoming the problem.

I love that I have this opportunity not only to discuss my own personal life issues with 'experts' but also that we have so many "hallway consults' about our practice. And yes I've used my ipad to show pictures of my puppy Gilbert riding on my Harley.

Buying t shirts which help with the sponsorship program (paying for doctors to attend their first meeting who haven't the resources for tuition etc) for a couple of colleagues who were most helpful in keeping me sober as in keeping me in medicine. In my story of recovery I was sober and had to return and work under alcoholic addicted superiors so figured for a time, really the problem was I shouldn't be in psychiatry since I seemed to be working with so many drunken addicted psychiatrists. These doctors taught me patience and in time I saw that the majority of psychiatrists and doctors weren't such and that because of my own addiction I'd been attracted to these insane chaotic drunken sorts whose lives and work were fraught with internecine struggles and political dramas.

Buying the t shirts the doctor there told me about the American military studies showing that the dogs who were used in disarming bombs were coming home with all the signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD was already shown to be the principal precursor for alcoholism in the military. So if the dogs had access to alcohol, no doubt they'd need AA.

Today my life is filled with a kind of happiness I didn't believe possible after the profound disillusionment that I'd experienced at the end of my drinking. Coming to IDAA again I'm delighted to see faces I know and catch up on the lives of others in recovery. It's good to talk to newcomers too. As people reassured me I'm able to reassure them.

Several of the grand men and women of medicine who I'd met in their 60's and 70's ten years ago are that much older. Some have died. There are those I know who were wise then and are so much wiser now. I love that some of the younger ones I met early whose careers had been interrupted by addiction are back at work with families restored or new families as a product of the quality of their recovery.

IDAA has been such a god send to my recovery, the colleagues I've met and the friends I made. I like Buffalo too. The red maple trees are so beautiful here.

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