Wednesday, August 1, 2012

IDAA - Orlando - 2012

International Doctors in Alcoholics Anonymous has an annual meeting each August.  It's attended by doctors, which include Physicians, Dentists, Veterinarians, Psychologists and their families and occasionally others.  Their association with Alcoholics Anonymous is not just as recovered alcoholics but also as partners of alcoholics or addicts and children of such.  IDAA is a medical conference with daily CME focussed on addiction and recovery. Since the beginning of the organization addiction has broadened as a term so pretty well anyone who has a 12 step program also can be a member.  Whether one qualifies or not is simply of matter of contacting the IDAA organization and asking.
The Continuing Medical Education is provided because it just happens that many of those attending are in the field of addiction medicine with the result that some of the greatest non alcoholics in the field have presented here in addition to those who themselves are in recovery but also are national and international authorities in addiction. Routinely there are leaders from the major treatment centres such as Betty Ford and Talbot or Homewood in Canada.   Canadians, British and Australians are also in attendance along with the very large contingent of Americans.  In additions a whole range of countries from Europe, South American, and Asia have been represented over the years.  The flags of countries from those attending are often hung at the banquet to reflect the truly international nature of the meetings.
Anonymity is a foundation of AA but while AA meetings are running throughout the conference given the range of representation at the meeting I've not seen it as a breach of confidentiality to comment on IDAA conference or membership per se.   AA asks that members don't identify themselves over the internet as unfortunately those who subsequently relapse who have become public figures in press or media can reflect badly on the organization.
Dr. David Smith who presented tonight on the Haight Ashbury Free Medical Clinic movement he was founder,  said the difficulty with the stigma associated with addiction,  and both the shame and anonymity attached to it and early recovery, is that the 'failures of addiction' and the 'tragedies' are the ones that get the widest press whereas the successes are routinely anonymous.  Dr Gallanter's work for one documents the great success of the recovery movement. Dr. David Smith spoke about the success of their addiction work as it began in the 60's.
He described his early work dating back to 1967, the Summer of Love, in San Francisco when he said that working with addicts was considered a sign of insaniety and sure fire way to destroy oneself professionally. This for me hearkened back to the teaching by Dr. Fink on 'stigma' how it affects the care givers of those diseases that are stigmatized just as surely as those suffering the  disease. Hence the  avoidance always of 'leper doctors' and the experience of those of us who treated Aids patients before there was a cure.  What started as one small  Haight Ashbury free Medical Clinic, is  today  involved in treating 4000 addicts a day in California alone. Dr. Smith said that they had  believed addiction was a disease and that addicts and alcoholics had a 'right' to medical care just like anyone else with an illness.  While today this is a 'common idea', in 1967 it was revolutionary.  The incredible advances in the understanding and care of addiction were discussed earlier in the meeting with the findings of the latest MRI and neurochemical research causing the renewal of the 1938  'allergy' hypothesis based on changes seen today in the frontal lobes of the brain.
These meetings usually draw around a thousand, IDAA itself having over the years 10's of thousands of members.  It was a full banquet hall at the Hilton and I so enjoyed talking with those at our table from all the walks of life and work after Dr. Smith's presentation.  Dr. Smith is a fellow of the American Association of Addiction Medicine.  It was attending an IDAA meeting years past that I first encountered addictionologists and decided that I wanted to be one so proceeded after already having completed family medicine and psychiatry going on to study and complete the exams for the American Society of Addiction. Following that I became a member of the Canadian Society of Addiction Medicine and the International Society of Addiction Medicine.
Coming regularly to this meeting has also meant that over the last dozen or so years and as many meetings I've come to know many other psychiatrists and physicians and their familes.  Art and Carole, Tom and Bobby, Michael, Hugh, John, Randy, Darren, Dick and Cheryl, Judy, Beth, Graeme, and so many more were here today. I feel so guilty that I often forget  names  so am very thankful for us all wearing name tags.  It's such a warm and friendly place and probably because of all the encouragement of discussion at the meeting we grow to know each other annually.
After CME there's time to chat and discuss and compare practice to what we've learned.  There's a hospitality room where we go and sit for coffee and talk about what the speakers have shared.  Another room has a collection of the recent publication in recovery. I found a book from Hazelton I'll enjoy reading this coming year.
The format of the conference is so different from other academic meetings where so often there's just 'parallel play' with the group of us attending a lecture and leaving without the depth of interaction that happens here.  Here there's this other level of critical clinical appreciation.  We actually share what we do with what the speaker has shared. Hence over the years I've learned about the practice profile of psychiatrists and addictionologists all over the world.  I've also emailed or phoned physicians I've met here at different times to get advice on personal as well as clinical problems. Many times I've had a clinical questioned especially about the politics of practice or some matter requiring experience, answered by one of the grand men or women of our field so many years my senior and sometimes a continent's distance away.
We go for dinner and coffee together too in smaller groups and that's how I've come to know about the personal lives and families of fellow attendees. There's ongoing cyberdocs and on line meetings that continue throughout the year too.
I hunt and know the other hunters.  Tonight I was eating American elk jerky one member shot in January while I was telling them about the elk roasts I'd had from the elk I shot in December.  Another couple were talking about cruising in the Alaskan waters watching grizzly bears along the shore and there I was telling about sailing the northern waters and how much I enjoyed seeing the whales in Queen Charlotte Sound.  There's some of us who ride Harleys and invariably we find each other.  I even talked with a fellow who wore a gown to raise money at a charity function while another fellow talked with me about his military service and his trauma work with Veterans.  Lots of us travel and talk about our different experiences together.  The Australian doctor is forever inviting us to come down under and I'm forever hoping to do just that while tonight a British doctor was singing the praises of crossing the pond and of course I wanted to do that too.
Each year I seem to come to this meeting depleted from work and find so much encouragment it renews my desire for practice and life itself.  There are  spiritual components  here that's are part of the program with time set aside for prayer and meditation.  Several doctors who'd become ministers as well discussed their clerical experiences as compared to their medical practice.  In some ways it reminds me of the Christian Medical doctors meetings I also attend. The CME at both is of the highest calibre oftimes better than the standard fare at secular medical meetings but the fellowship is unsurpassed.
It's only the first day and I'm already loving the meeting.
I was in Haight Ashbury in 1972 after attending the first Rainbow Gathering in the Colorado mountains.  Next years' IDAA meeting is this time August in Colorado.    The Summer of Love may have begun in 1967 but it was still going strong when I was there in 1972.    I wore flowers in my hair and danced in the streets with thousands of other young people not thinking of the traffic jams that paralyzed the city. Dr. Smith's presentation included clips of the mayor of San Francisco talking of that time.  He spoke of the difficulty dealing with the excess chaos, crime  and drug abuse that was part of that influx.  I couldn't help now, older, thinking how similiar the dark side of the  Occupy Movement was.   I'm far more partial to the music of my youth than the rapp of today and can still be heard humming Country Joe and the Fish or Mommas and Poppas tunes.     That 1972 summer I went onto Vancouver where my partner and I attended the Vancouver Latvian Song Festival with hundreds singing songs together in harmony.  They were much better behaved.  Every 5 years there's an AA convention that draws some 50,000 people into the city that hosts it.  I like that no one complains about that many sober people in their city.
Today I bought a cd of gospel music. I don't regret the past but am grateful for the fellowship and learning I have today.  I am very thankful for IDAA, the organizers and the people I'm so privileged to know.

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