A Second Act

The former wife of the former “Wolf of Wall Street” turns a turbulent past into a therapeutic future.

Mark Twain famously said, “Truth is stranger than fiction.” For Manhattan Beach psychotherapist Dr. Nadine Macaluso, truer words have not been spoken.

Years prior to opening her marriage and family therapy practice, “Dr. Nay”—as her patients call her—lived a life found only on the pages of a Hollywood script. Nadine is the real-life woman behind the fictional Naomi Belfort, ex-wife of the infamous “Wolf of Wall Street,” Jordan Belfort.

By most accounts, Martin Scorsese’s unnerving on-screen portrayal of the Belforts’ tempestuous seven-year marriage mirrors the actual frenetic experience that Nadine miraculously survived. Yet rather than be defined by those chaotic years, she persevered—relocating to California, happily remarrying and channeling the lessons of her past into healing others. We sat down with Nadine to hear about her remarkable journey from Duchess of Bay Ridge to Manhattan Beach healer.

 

Let’s begin with the elephant in the room. What is your impression of the film? Your name was changed, but was it surreal to see your life portrayed on the screen?

Since I didn’t have any creative input, I thought it best not to use my name—but everyone knows it’s me. Actually I was very happy with the way they portrayed me. And it’s a story with all the themes of a great archetypal fable: greed, lust, power, demise—stories told since the beginning of time. I just got to experience one at a very high level.

Was the film accurate?

Very accurate, although we fought more about his drug intake than about other women.

At what point in your marriage were you aware there was an addiction issue?

I was aware all along, but there was really nothing I could do—as we now know with addiction. At 25 I didn’t know what to do. I was focused on my children. I’d never come up against anything like that. So I learned how to deal with codependency and addiction, which actually really feeds my work. You can learn things at school, but there is nothing that teaches us more than experience. It’s the greatest teacher. And I’ve had a lot to pull from.

Is that what inspired you to become a therapist?

My history definitely influenced my decision to become a therapist. I grew up in a psychological home where Freud was talked about often. At 22 I met my ex-husband and realized it was more than I could manage, so I entered therapy. It was so helpful to me to understand the decisions I made and how to make different decisions going forward. At 38 I started meditating and fully recognized what therapy has done for my life, and I wanted to be of service and offer that to others. So I went back to school. Luckily I have a really supportive husband who encouraged me to go for it. It took eight years total to get my PhD, plus 3,000 hours of work to get my license—but it’s worth it. Every day I’m helping people.

“It’s a story with all the themes of a great archetypal fable: greed, lust, power, demise—stories told since the beginning of time. I just got to experience one at a very high level.”

Speaking of your supportive husband, is he the reason you moved to Manhattan Beach?

Yes. John and I met in New York on a blind date and fell madly in love. Six months later I moved here. John lived in Beverly Hills. We were both in the garment business, commuting to Gardena. He also had a little house here in Manhattan Beach, and I thought, “This seems fantastic. Let’s move here.”

After everything you went through, how were you able to trust again and find the courage to move forward so quickly?

When everything happened, I wanted to move my kids. I didn’t want them to have to deal with that legacy. I look at that time after my first marriage as having post-traumatic growth. I was willing to look at myself and go to therapy. It was hard to trust, but at that point I had done so much work—emotional and psychological. So I took a leap of faith. Fear-based decisions lead to fear-based results, and playing it safe is the most dangerous place to be. I wanted to take everything I learned and apply it to my new decision-making. The only way we gain confidence is by having the courage to face our fears.

Your first husband also moved to California. How is your relationship now?

Yes, he moved here to be closer to our kids. He’s a good dad, and we have a really nice relationship. It was a challenge at first, but I made a choice early on that it would be easy to blame him for everything. I needed to look at my own part in it. Heartbreak can be our greatest teacher. I wanted to make a choice that was healthy for my children. I don’t choose anger or grievance. We were young, dumb, and our lives got out of control. But we were parents together and made that choice and commitment. I needed to live up to that.

“I’m a wounded healer. I want to inspire people going through these traumas to know that there is post-traumatic growth. You can heal and become more of who you are.”

Knowing what you know now, any advice you’d give to your younger self?

Honestly, I wouldn’t change a single thing because I have the two most beautiful children. I can’t imagine my life without them. That aside, I’d say don’t ever make decisions based in fear. At the time I was coming from a place of wanting to be safe in the world. Even though it was a tumultuous experience, I’d go through it all again to get to this space. Experience shapes us. I am the person I am because of those experiences, and I like that person. So go for it, and know that it will end and you will get through this.

Do you tap into this experience when counseling your patients?

A lot of people come to therapy looking for that. Can I get through this? Can I be the protagonist of my own journey? Life is really imperfectly perfect. I’m there to facilitate their process and connect them to their authentic self. I try not to project my experiences onto them and respect their psychological diversity. It’s tricky, but that’s where the training comes in. I’m not there to give advice. They show up because they’re their own guru. I’m a wounded healer. I want to inspire people going through these traumas to know that there is post-traumatic growth. You can heal and become more of who you are.

 

 

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