Heroes Of The Addiction Crisis: “Vote your conscious rather than your pocket book” with Dr. Paul Hokemeyer and Chaya Weiner
Vote your conscious rather than your pocket book. We’ve become a society that defines success on financial standards. In our pursuit of fame and fortune we’ve been tricked into giving away our power to people and institutions- like pharmaceutical companies who don’t deserve it and who will betray us.
As a part of my series about “Heroes Of The Addiction Crisis” I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Paul Hokemeyer. Dr. Hokemeyer is an internationally renowned clinical and consulting psychotherapist and the Senior Clinical Fellow at Urban Recovery New York. His work in the realm of addictive disorders has been utilized by The World Economic Forum, Entrepreneur and the government of Dubai. He has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and is a Fox News Analysts. In addition to holding a doctorate in the law he has a Ph.D. in psychology and is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in New York and Colorado.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit of your backstory?
I came to the field of addiction treatment somewhat circuitously. I began my career as a corporate attorney, transitioned out of corporate law into the social and environmental justice movements and finally found my true calling as a researcher and addictions therapist working with people who live in the margins of our society in positions of profound powerlessness or extreme power.
My area of clinical expertise has its genesis in my work in the realm of social justice. Here I observed how power was used in destructive ways on the extreme ends of the economic bell curve. I was living in Amsterdam working for GreenPeace International when September 11 happened that day, my world, and the world of millions of other Americans changed dramatically. In the wake of the event I decided to move back to America and channel my energies into healing the division that was destroying our world and the human beings who occupied it by studying psychology. and training to become a clinician The deeper I got into the work, I found that while the field of psychology benefited from robust theoretical constructs such as feminist theory and LGBTQ formulations to deal with human beings who live in positions of powerlessness, there was no research or clinical formulations to address people who possess extraordinary power. This fact remained in spite of the searing reality that pathologies among the powerful are at the root of the very issues that we are struggling with today- issues such as environment degradation, the threat to our democracy, the narcissism epidemic and an opioid crisis caused in large measure by corporate greed. Being a person who loves to solve a problem, I set out to gather empirical data and craft a new clinical formulation to treat human beings who hold enormous power while in the midst of self, relational and cultural destruction.
Is there a particular story or incident that inspired you to get involved in your work with opioid and drug addiction?
The work is exhausting, grueling and frustrating. To remain effective and motivated to do it there needs to be a personal experience with growth and repair. In my case, I was drawn to my highly specialized niche in the realm of addictive disorders though my battles with self-betrayal caused by my aspirational quest for power as a male born in a middle-class family. I found that the objects of attainment that were sold to me by corporate interests placed me in a highly vulnerable position where I needed extraordinary amounts of external validation to feel of value in our world. The feeling was similar to an addiction. Power, like an opioid, has a highly seductive and addictive quality to it. Put the two together and the challenges to recovery are multiplied exponentially. To effectively treat the opioid epidemic, we must understand the power dynamics inherent in it.
Can you explain what brought us to this place? Where did this epidemic come from?
The opioid epidemic has its roots in the personal and relational malaise that began to overtake our country in the 1970s. During this period, the benefits of the post war economic boom tapered off and, in its place, emerged a disease of esteem and an erosion of the stability provided from a middle-class life. Simultaneous with this loss we began to see a sharp increase in narcissism and acute inequities in incomes. This relational demise provided the perfect soil for the seeds of corporate greed to be planted and for companies such as Perdue Pharmaceuticals to market ‘miracle drugs’ to quickly eliminate pain. People, suffering under the weight of isolation, division and hopeless found incredible relief from their intrapersonal and interpersonal ache though the pills that were being handed out to them by people and institutions in positions of great power. They trusted entities that were untrustworthy and as a result, were betrayed by them.
Can you describe how your work is making an impact battling this epidemic?
My work focuses on recalibrating power dynamics and enabling people to reclaim power over their lives. At the heart of the opioid epidemic is the relinquishing of one’s personal power to a substance and to people who are unworthy of their trust and who will betray them. As a researcher, I study these power dynamics to provide empirical data that the field can use to dismantle the systems that exist to support the misallocation of power. As a clinician, I treat the pernicious power dynamics that occur on three levels of our human existence and that fuel relational and addictive disorders. As I mentioned earlier these levels consist of the intrapersonal, inter-personal and the sociocultural. Finally, as an educator, and social justice advocate, I educate the public on the need to reclaim dignity in our lives, the lives of our families and the environment we live in.
Wow! Without sharing real names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by your initiative?
One young woman who will forever remain etched in my heart and mind, came to me after being expelled from an elite woman’s college for her heroin addiction. The progression of her disease was predictable and tragic. She suffered an injury to her rotator cuff from a lacrosse game and was prescribed Oxytocin by her well-meaning, but ill-informed family doctor. Finding it easier and cheaper to get heroin than Oxy, her life took a radical turn for destruction after she substituted the street drug for the prescribed one. The daughter, recognized she was in trouble after her girlfriend overdosed on heroin they had begun shooting up in her dorm room, reached out to her family and college counselor for help. Surprisingly, however, her family and her college became part of the problem rather than helping fashion a solution. They remained trapped in their perception of heroin as a street drug that was not part of their world of power and prestige. The college literally expelled the girl. The family effectively expelled her by looking at her as a source of embarrassment and a failure. Fortunately, my patient, an incredibly intelligent young woman possessed of incredible grit and resilience, both intuitively felt and intellectually knew the truth of her situation and engaged with me in therapy. Central to our work was integrating the systems that rejected my patient into her course of treatment by understanding that their deeply imbedded elite power dynamics played a major role in keeping everyone locked in gilded cages of destruction.Her psychiatrist who was administering her Vivitrol shots, referred the patient to me. The parents were quite eager to pay for her treatment as long as they were not involved in any way in my diagnosis or treatment plan, but once I insisted they participate they backed out. The patient, however, remained, and we over the course of 18 months we altered her family dynamics by altering the way my patient reacted to her hyperactive response system and the systems in which she operated.
Can you share something about your work makes you most proud? Is there a particular story or incident that you found most uplifting?
As an educator and advocate I’m elated and relieved when people, especially other professionals ‘get’ my work. The field of addiction treatment, especially in the niche of private pay, has become oversaturated. The work has become focused on profits over people. There is a desperation among luxury treatment facilities to fill their glut of beds, insatiable greed to provide revenue to investors and in the realm of not for profit entities, philanthropic. My work demands these facilities and clinicians provide culturally competent and clinically effective care that treats these patients in the three distinct cultural markers that define them rather than seeing them as ‘high margin’ revenue providers. These cultural markers include isolation, suspicion of outsiders and hyper-agency which is the capacity to control one’s environment to avoid discomfort. It’s been a rather arduous journey for me to move the needle, but every patient that’s seen as a human rather than an object is a victory along my path.
Can you share three things that the community and society can do to help you address the root of this problem? Can you give some examples?
- People need to cultivate kindness towards one another and their selves. We are living in an ethos of division, betrayal and anger. This state of being compels to medicate our distress with a powerful and quick remedy. Opioids fill that need. Hold the door open for the person behind you. Engage in a caring conversation with the people you meet in the course of your day.
- Integrate integrity into your life. We are what we do. Our country has devolved down to a low level of functioning where it’s ok to debase the humanity of other people by calling them demeaning names and pushing them out of our self-appointed tribes. We need to reach out to others in a literal and figurative embrace. If you don’t like someone, try to understand them rather than dehumanizing them.
- Vote your conscious rather than your pocket book. We’ve become a society that defines success on financial standards. In our pursuit of fame and fortune we’ve been tricked into giving away our power to people and institutions- like pharmaceutical companies who don’t deserve it and who will betray us.
If you had the power to influence legislation, which three laws would you like to see introduced that might help you in your work?
- A corporate tax on pharmaceutical sales that represent the true cost of their products. The revenue generated from this tax will be spent on prevention and treatment. It will also reduce the huge incentive on these companies to place profits before people. In states where this has been proposed, they have mounted very successful lobbying efforts to kill the proposed tax — Minnesota is a great example of this.
- Criminal penalties for corporate executives who mislead the public on the risks associated with their pharmaceutical offerings. In 2008 Purdue Pharma executives pleaded guilty and the company paid over $700 Million in fines and no one was held criminally accountable.
- Public funding for families struggling with an addiction to find and adhere to a program of recovery- and to help other families in their struggle.
I know that this is not easy work. What keeps you going?
Fortunately, I’ve been at this long enough to see that recovery exists and that people can find a path out of destruction and despair. It may take a while to find, but it’s definitely there. knowing it can work for people keeps me motivated and showing up and hour at a time for the people I have the privilege of treating.
Do you have hope that one day this leading cause of death can be defeated?
Absolutely. Human beings are incredibly resilient. We adapt to our environment to survive. Right now we’re in a period of profound psychic pain that has resulted from social and political betrayal. It will take us time to reclaim our personal power and stop giving it away to entities, people and substances that betray us, but we’ll get there. We are also at a tipping point where people are starting to see addiction as less shameful and a health condition that can be successfully managed like diabetes. .
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership is a function of what you do and who you are rather than what you say. It’s a felt expression. To lead effectively you must have one foot grounded in your best self and the other foot grounded in the best the world can be.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or an example for each.
- It takes time: Change, specially change that lasts occurs incrementally and over time. There are few 30 day wonders and even fewer ‘silver bullets’.
- You never know when the seed will sprout. Keep planting: Over the years I’ve been pleasantly surprised that the things I’ve said to patients that I thought were rejected out of hand became things they subsequently internalized.
- Keep learning: One of the gifts of this work is the fact that I will never know it all. To remain effective I have to cultivate the same open mindedness and hunger for learning that I expect of my patients.
- Celebrate your imperfections: My hypersensitivity, a trait that I wanted to banish in my youth has become one of my greatest gifts now that I’m deeply entrenched in the middle age of my life.
- Disappointments are part of the journey: Accept that you will be disappoint and be disappointed by others. Its baked into the human experience. And while distasteful, it provides the favor for a richer understanding of your life.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I would like to see a movement that focuses on including mental health in the provision of health care to American families. Parity without exception,
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Sure, every morning I start my journal entry by writing out a quote from Sartre that reads “existence precedes essence’. It reminds me that life is a process of becoming and that we have in every moment of every day the opportunity to become the person of our dreams.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
I have huge respect for Gretchen Carlson. She models strength, dignity, intelligence, and extraordinary humanity. Her David v. Goliath moment where she stood up to and toppled an entrenched and condoned male sexual power dynamic that existed in corporate America is extraordinary.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much!
About the author:
Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click HERE to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.