We had the good fortune of connecting with Mari A. Lee, LMFT and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Mari, any advice for those thinking about whether to keep going or to give up?
As a Psychotherapist who helps a diverse range of individuals and couples heal from the pain of sex addiction, betrayal trauma, shame and anxiety, I understand both personally and professionally how difficult it can be to hold on to the hope for a better tomorrow, especially given the events of 2020. Being a holder of hope is something that I have developed over a lifetime, starting with my early years in the foster care system. As a child I stuffed my few belongings in a pillowcase, shuffling from foster home to foster home, all the while struggling to keep up in school. I battled extreme shyness and dealt with being the poor kid in the hand-me-down clothes who was picked last for activities and picked first by bullies. Eventually I was adopted, however, my adoption story was filled with abuse and molestation. There were many times in my childhood and teen years where I wondered if it was even worth it to continue. Would anyone ever love or value me? Yet at my core I knew that I did not deserve to be hurt, neglected and abused. I held fast to a tiny seedling of truth at the core of my being: I am worthy of love; I will not let them break me. During this time, I focused on what I could control, which was working hard in school and saving my money earned through babysitting, cleaning houses, and part time odd jobs. I was determined to graduate early so that I could leave the house of horrors I was barely surviving and create a better life for myself. On my own at 17, I recall sitting homeless on Santa Monica beach, the city where I was born.
As I looked at the smiling faces all around me, the merry go round on the pier, the happy families splashing in the waves, my stomach growling as I smelled the hot dogs and burgers cooking, I wondered how I was going to create a life for myself. I was a little girl in a big world, alone and scared without two nickels to rub together, but I had something that would prove to be more valuable than money: determination, compassion, resiliency and a solid work ethic. Around this time a lady in the neighborhood took mercy on me and allowed me to sleep on her couch. I was working in a bridal store ironing wedding gowns, not an easy job, but it paid just enough to allow me to eat each day and take the bus to work. One night after a long shift the kind woman whose couch I’d been living on for a month wisely stated, “I know you are working hard Mari, and I realize you are very introverted, but you need to figure out a career for yourself. You like hair and makeup, so maybe you should think about going to Cosmetology school, at least you’ll have a trade and a way to support yourself, and you’d make more money doing hair and makeup for brides rather than ironing their dresses.” Words of advice from safe adults were rare in my life, and a little ray of hope began to blossom in me that night. I clung to what she said, yet I had no idea what steps to take – this was in 1980, long before Internet and cell phones were part of daily life, and it was years before I would have my own car and the freedom to come and go as I chose. However, my internal twin flames of resourcefulness and determination led the way and I spent the rest of that night sitting cross legged on her sofa paging through the phone book. I found a school in Pasadena, and the next morning I dialed the number the moment they opened, made an appointment, hitchhiked to the school (not a wise choice), filled out the paperwork, and three months later I was enrolled. Fast forward a year and a half later, I was a licensed Cosmetologist with my first job as a hair stylist in a small salon – a dream come true for a lost kid trying to find her way in the world. It’s hard to believe that 40 years have flown by since then. There have been struggles over the decades, but there have been many beautiful gifts as well. I found a diverse tribe of people who loved and accepted me, and I continued to put myself through school, one class at a time, one semester at a time, year after year until I finally achieved my master’s degree. I saved money, bought a car, then saved and bought a little home of my own, a home I finally paid off this year. Through every hurdle, through every challenge, through every person that tried to hold me back or hurt or discourage me, I held on to that internal voice that I had nurtured since my early years, the message reminding me: “You are worth it Mari, keep going!” Eventually I came to understand that this was and is the voice of God encouraging me along on my journey. Here I am at 58, a therapist, a speaker, an author, an advocate, a feminist, a friend, a teacher, a lover, an animal rescuer, a writer, a child of God, a work in progress and…a woman not just surviving a pandemic, but one who is determined to thrive as I help others heal and grow in order to live their best lives and relationships. None of us can’t do it alone, no matter how independent one is. It took me until my 30s to understand the value of healing my early trauma so that I could free myself from the pain, mistrust, people pleasing and anger that anchored my steps. We need people who believe in us, who see something in us that we can’t see through our tears and trauma, our hurt or our rage. We need mentors and teachers and healers to stand alongside us so that each of us can rise above and move through the challenges that this world throws at us. The gift in the wound is that through healing we find our internal compass and discover our gifts and talents. Through healing we free up emotional internal resources that were once gate keepers of pain, but now allow us to pursue our dreams and lean into confidence. Through healing, we are able to let our unique light shine in a world that is so desperately in need of healing, kindness and connection. This being human is not easy, not by a long shot. I think most of us can agree that we don’t have many leaders these day that inspire trust and respect. In spite of this, each of us can continue to rise during this difficult time by standing in support of one other, by speaking out and speaking up in safe and compassionate ways, by practicing mindfulness and deep intentional listening, by advocating for and helping our most vulnerable and marginalized citizens, and by amplifying the voices of our fellow brothers and sisters of color who have been silenced for far too long. As I often say, there will be angels and assholes along the way, that’s a fact and no one is exempt from experiencing this. Rather than focusing on the current chaos, focus on what you can control. I loved what Michelle Obama said a few years ago, “When they go low, we go high.” It’s hard to remember that these days, but let’s keep holding that hope and practicing our best selves. In closing, please remember that your story is important, no matter how humble. Dig deep and keep going, let your dreams be bigger than your fears, let your hopes be bigger than your helplessness, let your resiliency be bigger than your rage. Don’t lose sight of your heart, continue to foster compassion and kindness for yourself and others, and nurture your unique gifts. Gentle reminder that if this former foster kid can do it, I promise that you can as well!
What should our readers know about your business?
I am a Licensed and Marriage and Family Therapist, a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist, a Certified Partners Trauma Therapist, a Certified Mindfulness Based Therapist, the author of, “Healing Betrayal” and the co-author of, “Facing Heartbreak: Steps to Recovery for Partners of Sex Addicts”, and the Founding Director of Growth Counseling Services in Glendora, CA. I truly believe that with the support of an experienced, focused and dedicated therapist, growth and healing is possible no matter where you are in your journey. Seeking help is nothing to be ashamed of, and having the courage to reach out for support, no matter what the challenge, is to be commended. My therapeutic focus is to help my clients create lives and relationships that they are excited about! I am especially passionate about helping individuals and couples recover from the pain of sex addiction, or heal from the devastation and trauma as the betrayed spouse or partner. Clients often ask why I chose sex addiction and betrayal trauma as my primary specialization. Many years ago, I was going through my own healing process while in a relationship with a sexually addicted person. I know first hand the heartbreak and also the hope of healing through my personal journey all those years ago. As a result, my therapeutic focus is working with individuals struggling with sex addiction, wounded spouses and partners, and couples whose hearts have been broken due to sexual betrayal. As a therapist, I continue to hold the hope as I support the healing and recovery of my courageous clients as they heal and create lives and relationships that are honest, authentic and rewarding.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
As a native Californian, I love sharing our wonderful cities with visiting friends. There are so many fun things to do in Southern California! Some of my favorites are hiking the trails in our beautiful foothills, browsing books at Vromans, enjoying the farmers markets and Rose Bowl Flea market, packing a picnic for a concert at the Hollywood Bowl, enjoying the beaches, two of my personal favs are 1,000 steps beach in Laguna and El Matador beach north of Malibu. There are so many great bistros and eateries as well, I love Saladang for Thai in Pasadena, The Mint Leaf for Indian, Lucca Bella in Glendora, Toca Madera in West Hollywood, along with some classic places like Las Brisas in Laguna Beach, Chateau Marmont in Hollywood, and the wonderful Tam O’Shanter in Atwater Village.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I’d love to give a shout out to John Dubin who is an incredible Southern California artist, advocate, teacher and creative mentor who does such good work for our community of healers at email@example.com and www.JohnDubinArt.com The second person I would like to recognize is Dahuit Wheeler, who is an amazing health and beauty expert who goes above and beyond in supporting the best in every human being she works with: firstname.lastname@example.org The last person I would like to honor is Darrin Ford, LMFT who is doing wonderful work as a therapist for the LGBTQ+ community in the areas of addiction recovery and mindfulness: www.TMAATT.com and email@example.com
Other: My Books on Amazon: Facing Heartbreak: https://www.amazon.com/Facing-Heartbreak-Recovery-Partners-Addicts/dp/098327133X/ref=sr_1_1?crid=1Y1Z17VF04IMW&dchild=1&keywords=facing+heartbreak+stephanie+carnes&qid=1600304252&sprefix=facing+heart%2Caps%2C218&sr=8-1 Healing from Betrayal: https://www.amazon.com/Healing-Betrayal-Partners-Spouses-Pornography/dp/B07F21FJGW/ref=sr_1_fkmr3_1?dchild=1&keywords=healing+from+betrayal+marie+lee&qid=1600304279&sr=8-1-fkmr3
Photographer Credit: Elaine Torres Artist: John Dubin