Wealth, Fame and Power(lessness): The Secret to Purposeful Living

Let's Talk Addiction & Recovery Podcast
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Listen in as host William C. Moyers talks with celebrated psychotherapist for the rich and famous, Paul Hokemeyer, PhD, about his book, Fragile Power: Why Having Everything Is Never Enough. Hokemeyer explains why insecurity, shame and emotional pain are part of the human condition, no matter the size of your fan base or bank account. More important, he shares that empathy (available to everyone) is the true super power because it fosters mutual understanding, connection and authenticity.

This is about authenticity, this is about connection, this is about finding a place of dignity in the world.

Dr. Paul Hokemeyer

0:00:15 William Moyers
Hello and welcome to Let's Talk, a series of podcasts produced by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation on the issues that matter to us and the issues that we know matter to you, too. Substance use prevention, research, treatment of addiction, recovery management, education and advocacy. I'm your host, William Moyers, and today for the first time on Let's Talk we have a first. We have an author that will be coming out with a new book through our Hazelden Publishing unit called Fragile Power. And the guest is the author, Dr. Paul Hokemeyer. Paul, welcome.

0:00:50 Dr. Paul Hokemeyer
Thank you. It's good to be here.

0:00:52 William Moyers
Fragile Power. That sounds like an oxymoron. Tell me more.

0:00:56 Dr. Paul Hokemeyer
Intentionally so. Well, the books [sic] talks about the fragility that's in underlying power. Typically when we think of people who live in the world in positions of extraordinary power, we think that they have all the answers, we think that they have the keys to the kingdom. My work as a clinician and as a researcher shows that there's another side to that. That there's a fragility, that there's a vulnerability, that's deep underlying those power presentations.

0:01:21 William Moyers
Because as we—you and I talked off-camera—that the world sees these people one way and these people see themselves somewhere else. Tell us about that.

0:01:30 Dr. Paul Hokemeyer
Sure. So the world we're built to kind of project out to people particularly celebrities. We think that they again have everything have all the answers to the world. If you live with those identities, if you live in the skin of a celebrity, there's an enormous amount of vulnerability attached to it. It's hard to attach to authenticity. You lose authenticity really loses its' meaning. So particularly people who are in recovery, one of the things that we try to do in working with this population is get them to a place of authenticity. If you're a celebrity who has lost touch with their authenticity, it's a different process, it's a harder process to get there.

0:02:10 William Moyers
Can celebrities recover?

0:02:14 Dr. Paul Hokemeyer
Absolutely. Many of them do.

0:02:16 William Moyers
But yet, they seem to talk about it in a way that is sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy around the fact that they're celebrities to begin with, that's why they're talking about it.

0:02:25 Dr. Paul Hokemeyer
Well there is all of that. And so, I think that we tend to hear unfortunately we tend to hear a lot of the negative stories. We tend to hear when people relapse, we tend to hear when people die by suicide or by overdose. Celebrities or many celebrities who recover and they're—they're kind of quiet about it because again they're re—they've re-established a connection to that authenticity. And recognize that it's not about the veneer, it's not about the projection of this perfection. But it's about the vulnerability and the authenticity that comes through that.

0:02:59 William Moyers
We'll come back to that in a minute but before that, tell me a little bit about your background. It's fascinating actually how you—you've used your own personal and professional experiences to write this book.

0:03:10 Dr. Paul Hokemeyer

0:03:10 William Moyers
Talk about that.

0:03:11 Dr. Paul Hokemeyer
Well it's a bit circuitous.

0:03:13 William Moyers
[laughs] Isn't it always?

0:03:14 Dr. Paul Hokemeyer
Yeah if it has meaning. [chuckles] It does to me.

0:03:16 William Moyers
True. [laughs]

0:03:17 Dr. Paul Hokemeyer
And it took a while. For me to—to really find my calling as a clinician and as a researcher. I started my career in a very traditional route. I was an Economics major in college. But fascinated by the power inherent in money. And economics studies markets and how money moves markets. And then I became a lawyer and I was a bankruptcy lawyer and I—so—so I knew that there was something destructive inherent in the power of money. And I became a bankruptcy lawyer and then I decided that that was not for me either. I went into the realm of philanthropy and was doing environmental work working with ultra-high net worth people and seeing again how this objectification was occurring around this population and how they—people were very destructive. Then I decided to—I was living in Amsterdam actually, working for Green Peace International, and September 11th happened. And as a white privileged male growing up in America the security of my world had—it had been guaranteed.

0:04:14 William Moyers

0:04:14 Dr. Paul Hokemeyer
Until on that day it wasn't. And I had an existential crisis [sic] and moved back to America and really decided to create meaning and purpose in my life. And I thought that—well I thought it would be a thing, I thought that it would be like creating an Internet property or designing a pair of shoes or something. And I realized that it wasn't really a thing at all that it was this process of self-discovery and decided to go back to school and did a master's degree in clinical psychology. With with a focus on family systems. 'Cause I am a family therapist. And then again realizing that the field of mental health we've done an extraordinary job of working in the realm of cultural competency on the powerless side of the spectrum. If you think about the robust clinical formulations that are out there, feminist theory, LGBT work, the notions of minority stress, those look at those human beings in their positions of powerlessness in society. Money, wealth, celebrity give people enormous power. And that power as we know, as we know from working in this field, is often used very destructively. And sort of working in that power dynamic to help bring a reparative experience to that patient, to that human being, to that family, to that couple, you have to have a deep understanding of what it's like to live in their skin and that's what I hope that I've done through this book. To reveal the humanness that—that lives underneath of all these labels that we assign to people.

0:05:54 William Moyers
Who should read it?

0:05:56 Dr. Paul Hokemeyer
Everybody. Because—

0:05:59 William Moyers
And the more the merrier?

0:06:00 Dr. Paul Hokemeyer
Well because I think we all struggle particularly now in this day and age—

0:06:03 William Moyers

0:06:04 Dr. Paul Hokemeyer
Of feeling ungrounded and unsafe.

0:06:07 William Moyers

0:06:06 Dr. Paul Hokemeyer
And you know we're living in this narrative of division, we're living in this narrative of betrayal, and that makes us lose our core and our safety. And we think that if we just had—if I just had that [reaches out as if to grab something], if I just had a new watch, if I just had a new pair of shoes, that I would feel safe and secure. And these people, the people that I work with, have more than I could ever imagine in my life. And still suffer from that vulnerability and that sense of disconnection. And we had to engage and the book talks about in great detail my struggles with this population. And the work that we needed to do to give them a sense of grounding. With all—with—with all the accoutrements of their success taken away.

0:06:54 William Moyers
And yet you don't just want people who have—like that to read this book. I mean would you expect that clinicians or therapists who are working with this population would read it as well? Or would you like just anybody to read the book?

0:07:06 Dr. Paul Hokemeyer
Well—well there are different reasons to read the book.

0:07:09 William Moyers
Yes. Tell me more.

0:07:09 Dr. Paul Hokemeyer
So, if—if you're struggling, feeling insecure and unsafe and lost in the world—

0:07: 15 William Moyers

0:07:16 Dr. Paul Hokemeyer
You should read the book. Because the book—book will give you a road map, it'll tell you how to find connection, how to find meaning. If you're a person who lives in one of these identities, if you're a celebrity, if you're the top ten percent, you should read the book because then you'll realize that you're not alone—

0:07:33 William Moyers

0:07:34 Dr. Paul Hokemeyer
—In your struggles. And that there is a way that you can kind of get through your—the—destructive relationship that you have with power. If you're a clinician, you should definitely read this book. Because our field needs clinicians who have a deep understanding of this work. And who can work in that power dynamic that occurs.

0:07:54 William Moyers

0:07:56 Dr. Paul Hokemeyer
With the patients. The patients that I work with present with huge egos. Very, very boisterous, very big people. And so the capacity to hold that enormity without getting seduced by it, without getting sucked into it, without joining in that pathology requires a very distinct set of clinical skills and personal traits.

0:08:23 William Moyers
And yet, there is a place for ego in recovery. I'll remember when my mentor in recovery—

0:08:27 Dr. Paul Hokemeyer

0:08:28 William Moyers
When I cried out to him and said is there any place for ego in recovery and he said yes William but only if it's teachable. [Hokemeyer chuckles] And I've held onto that for 25 years.

0:08:36 Dr. Paul Hokemeyer

0:08:37 William Moyers
People who have prominence or success or have money oftentimes it's their ego that helps them to get there.

0:08:45 Dr. Paul Hokemeyer
That's right.

0:08:46 William Moyers
So, how do they hold onto their ego even when they're broken? How do they hold onto their ego when they heal?

0:08:53 Dr. Paul Hokemeyer
E—e shift. It's a shifting—I don't really like—you know when patients come to me all the time and they say Dr. Paul, get rid of my anxiety, get rid of my addiction. [Moyers laughs] Get rid of, you know, my wife! Actually. And so it's—I'm always like you—slow down a little bit. Let's figure out what all this is—is about.

0:09:12 William Moyers

0:09:14 Dr. Paul Hokemeyer
It's our ego which causes us—caused us to get sober. Because we are sick and tired of being sick and tired. And so, we—it's that ego which is our life force, which wants us to have a life of integrity.

0:09:28 William Moyers
'Cause we still matter.

0:09:30 Dr. Paul Hokemeyer
We still matter. And we still wanna be seen and heard.

0:09:34 William Moyers

0:09:34 Dr. Paul Hokemeyer
As a human being.

0:09:35 William Moyers

0:09:36 Dr. Paul Hokemeyer
As opposed to a label.

0:09:37 William Moyers
Was it hard to write the book?

0:09:40 Dr. Paul Hokemeyer
It took a long time.

0:09:42 William Moyers
How long?

0:09:43 Dr. Paul Hokemeyer
[Sighs with exasperation, grins]

0:09:44 William Moyers
[Laughs, throws head back] That's it—

0:09:46 Dr. Paul Hokemeyer
Well I've been doing the research for ten years. I've been in the field for fifteen years.

0:09:50 William Moyers
Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

0:09:51 Dr. Paul Hokemeyer
The book has gone through several iterations. Actually, I'm very happy that it's at Hazelden because it's a place that honors the clinical integrity, that honors the patient population.

0:10:01 William Moyers

0:10:03 Dr. Paul Hokemeyer
That I serve. That—that recognizes the need to approach this work with integrity—

0:10:08 William Moyers

0:10:10 Dr. Paul Hokemeyer
And dignity. Some of the other publishers that were interested in the work were really—they wanted something a little more salacious and I don't—

0:10:19 William Moyers

0:10:19 Dr. Paul Hokemeyer
You can't—this is—this is about authenticity [stumbles], this is about connection, this is about finding a place of dignity in the world. Regardless of what label you present to the world in.

0:10:32 William Moyers
And that's possible even in this day and age?

0:10:34 Dr. Paul Hokemeyer

0:10:35 William Moyers
Is it harder than it used to be or has it always been hard?

0:10:38 Dr. Paul Hokemeyer
It's always been hard—

0:10:40 William Moyers

0:10:41 Dr. Paul Hokemeyer
—It will always continue to be hard. I think that we are living in a particular inflection point right now—

0:10:46 William Moyers

0:10:47 Dr. Paul Hokemeyer
—Where when we look around us, it seems like vitriol and hatred are being rewarded. So—

0:10:54 William Moyers

0:10:53 Dr. Paul Hokemeyer
—I think that's difficult, that message that we're absorbing in our psyche is one of reward. I keep reminding myself that it's a long narrative and it continues to unfold. And—and I think that we are learning some critical lessons right now. At a point in time where people are getting tired of the vitriol, they're tired—you turn on the news and it's like—it—it's—the parts you're hearing the things that we're hearing about—I have to shut it down sometimes 'cause it's too much for my psyche. But I do think that we're gonna reach—we're reaching a saturation point. And look, human beings are incredibly adaptive. I—I would never do this work if I didn't think that people can change.

0:11:39 William Moyers

0:11:41 Dr. Paul Hokemeyer
People can change all the time. We know now from science, neuroplasticity, personalities change.

0:11:44 William Moyers
Mmm-hmm. Mmm-hmm. Mmm.

0:11:47 Dr. Paul Hokemeyer
It may be a little harder, it may take longer time for some personalities—

0:11:50 William Moyers

0:11:51 Dr. Paul Hokemeyer
—But there is change and there I—I'm actually a little—I'm more hopeful now for the future than I've been in a long time.

0:11:58 William Moyers

0:11:59 Dr. Paul Hokemeyer
I am.

0:11:59 William Moyers
We only have a couple of minutes left—I'm interested in more in you sharing the relationship with Hazelden Betty Ford. You know a lot of people don't know that we're a publisher, one of the largest publishers—

0:12:09 Dr. Paul Hokemeyer

0:12:10 William Moyers
—Of such material in the world outside of the federal government. We have a long history of publishing. Did you know much about our publishing before?

0:12:19 Dr. Paul Hokemeyer
I did. I was—I had always had my eye on you guys. [points]

0:12:22 William Moyers
[laughs] Good.

0:12:23 Dr. Paul Hokemeyer
Because there was always that integrity and there was it—there—there was a heart and there was a soul in the work—

0:12:29 William Moyers

0:12:29 Dr. Paul Hokemeyer
So, that you do the work as a part of—of the mission of the organization. And again, when I was talking to you guys when we were negotiating the book, where it would be placed, the message that I heard was we really wanna give this a home where it has a place of integrity, and authenticity and dignity. And we wanna—we wanna make an impact, we wanna advance the field. As opposed to just selling out of the book.

0:12:57 William Moyers
Well we're glad that you have—

0:12:58 Dr. Paul Hokemeyer
Thank you.

0:12:59 William Moyers
—Brought your knowledge, your expertise, your passion, your ability to write to home to Hazelden Betty Ford.

0:13:07 Dr. Paul Hokemeyer
Thank you.

0:13:06 William Moyers
And the book is Fragile Power: Why Having Enough is Never Enough. It will be published by Hazelden Betty Ford in October of 2019. Dr. Paul Hokemeyer, thank you very much. [Reaches across to shake hand]

0:13:17 Dr. Paul Hokemeyer
Thank you.

0:13:18 William Moyers
Yes. And on behalf of our Executive Producer Lisa Stangl, I'm your host William Moyers. Thank you for joining us for another edition of Let's Talk, a series of podcasts on the issues that matter to you and matter to us. We'll see you again.

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