Canadian journalist Anna Maria Tremonti opens up about how she got rid of shame amid experience with domestic violence

The radio and TV host shared her experiences with shame, blame and pain that began after a short-lived, violent marriage.

Anna Maria Tremonti speaks in Halifax. (Photo via Dalhousie University on YouTube)
Anna Maria Tremonti opened up about her short-lived, violent marriage in the 1980s at a lecture in Halifax titled "Unbraiding Shame, Blame and Pain." (Photo via Dalhousie University on YouTube)

Canadian journalist Anna Maria Tremonti is sharing her experience with domestic violence — and hopes people can find compassion when others are handling feelings of shame.

The 66-year-old reporter spoke at Dalhousie University in Halifax last week in a lecture called "Unbraiding Shame, Blame and Pain" about her short-lived, violent marriage in 1980 to a man she calls Pat. That time in her life, while only last around one year, is the subject of her podcast, "Welcome to Paradise."

Tremonti began her talk with a series of metaphors and analogies, including one that compared humans to birds that like shiny things and creating nests or homes that make us feel safe. However, she questioned what happens when those homes turn into traps and within those walls, there are secrets like intimate partner violence that leave us ashamed.

"The first time it happened to me, I didn't see it coming," Tremonti began as she recalled her life as a "naive" 23-year-old. "I don't remember the physical pain, but when I think about that very first beating, I get something in the pit of my stomach."

Internalizing pain

Her first bruises left her shocked. However, it was in a way that left her surprised she was someone who bruised so easily, something she now realizes isn't necessarily the case, but might be true when she's hit. Returning to Pat, she recalled him telling her she was what caused him to become so violent in that moment.

"Right then, though, I began to absorb the blame for his abuse because I believed him," she said. "'I must've said something, maybe I need to be more careful.'

"When it happened again and again, I had that narrative."

Tremonti said she quickly internalized the blame from her abusive marriage, which led her to feel ashamed about her secret. (Yahoo Canada)
Tremonti said she quickly internalized the blame from her abusive marriage, which led her to feel ashamed about her secret. (Yahoo Canada)

Tremonti said she never thought she'd start thinking like that, but she still never told anyone it was happening the entire year of her marriage. It was a secret she kept to herself as she dove both headfirst into her work but also into berating herself in silence.

"I so wanted to be that couple in love, that couple I supposed everyone else was," she said. "I didn't want to be in a failed marriage because that would mean that I was a failure.

"Even though I knew intellectually that he was problematic and this was his behaviour, something deep inside of me decided to hold the blame — and so I kept going."

Early in her marriage when she was living in Nova Scotia and working in local radio, Tremonti said there was a night when police officers arrived at her doorstep looking to speak with her husband. She told them Pat was sleeping and everything was fine, but the cops wanted to ensure she was OK, sharing that the woman living underneath them had called for help after hearing what was happening in their unit.

I thought that I should keep going. I felt trapped, I felt frustrated but I also felt that I was failure that we were failing and that I could fix this and not flee this.Anna Maria Tremonti

Tremonti said she recalled feeling upset with that woman and resenting her in that moment. It wasn't until she released an episode of "Welcome to Paradise" in 2022 talking about that night that she received a message from someone asking her to call them. Tremonti called and found out it was the woman who lived under her and Pat in 1980. After Tremonti apologized, the two of them spoke and the woman had remembered them packing up and moving one day, as she wondered what might ultimately happen.

Trapped in violence

In pursuit of a new job for Pat, Tremonti and her husband moved to Fredericton — a time she recalled left him with more control. She quit her job and had to rely even more on him, and they both sought out a house in the countryside to rent, physically isolating themselves in a home-turned-trap. Immediately, the couple who owned the house found them lovely and wanted them to move in.

"I was increasingly boiling over with some kind of anger that I didn't know what to do with. I was indignant, I was cynical and I was kind of sneering at them for not seeing who we really were because an hour before we went there had been another incident of him attacking me," she shared. "I had on a short sleeve shirt and had to find something with long sleeves to cover the bruises."

Another time during a vacation to Ottawa, Pat's mother had tagged along and they stayed at a relative's place. A few days into the visit, Tremonti said her husband had gotten upset again, eventually taking the car with his mother and abandoning Tremonti who had to take the train home alone.

"I could've taken the train the other way, I could've gone to Windsor, Ont. where I was from," she said. "But I didn't. I didn't even consider it. I got on an overnight train, stayed awake all night and I thought about how I needed to be a better person in this relationship. I need to be a better wife. I needed to do something because I was failing."

Upon getting home in the early morning, she was ready to explain to Pat that she was ready to make things work and change whatever was necessary.

"He sits across from me with his cup of coffee and he says, '"Either you leave or I leave or I will kill you, it's just a matter of time,'" Tremonti recalled.

Then, she left. She drove to Halifax and found her friends, who at the time had no idea everything was happening but supported her with open arms. Still, Tremonti decided to return to Fredericton, partly for a CBC Radio job interview but also because she believed it wasn't going to be that bad if she returned to Pat.

"I don't know what kind of logic I possessed at the time, but that's what I thought," she said. "I got into the house, his mother saw me, she disappeared, he came home and he was enraged. I got the worst beating I ever got."

After that, she never went back to Pat but she still stayed in the city after getting hired from that job interview, becoming the host of CBC Fredericton's morning show.

"My work became my place of refuge," she said. "In between a lot of suicidal ideation, a lot of self-loathing, that work as refuge took off."

Her career grew steadily, where she jumped to radio and TV in Edmonton, reported on Parliament Hill, started working in cities like Berlin, London and Jerusalem. She covered the Bosnian War and the fall of communism in Moscow.

On the outside, she said it appeared she had moved on. But small, internal things reminded her of the violence. For instance, she would never let anyone touch her around the neck for years. There was also one time she got a bruise while biking and immediately became concerned she'd have to cover up that injury until it healed.

"That's kind of the long tail of intimate partner violence, the things that stay with you," she said. "And it's not just a physical memory, it's the self-loathing, it's the idea that you're angry. I was angry at myself for so many things and that anger is unhealthy. ... It was my impatience with myself."

On a journey of healing

Before starting her podcast, Tremonti said a friend told her she had to leave room for discovery. She agreed, noting her friend was wise, but she still questioned what she'd even learn about a four-decade-old experience.

There was one day she was blow drying her hair and thinking of what she was talking about with Toronto psychotherapist Farzana Doctor, who's featured on the podcast, particularly around blame, shame and pain all knotted up together. In the moment, she remembered she can let her self-blame go. Unravelling shame and pain, she realized she shouldn't feel ashamed about her past. That left pain, which she said might've been painful at the time and she should allow herself to feel that, but that pain has no longer continued and she can let it go.

"As soon as I did that, it was like a physical thing — I felt a weight lift," she said. "I wasn't expecting it because I really thought I'd gotten rid of the shame. ... But this had persisted and it had affected that way I thought about myself."

Tremonti explained how shame can sometimes get stickier if we feel judgement and blame from other people, noting people must be more compassionate since we don't know everything about other people's lives.

So many people carry shame for so many reasons, and with intimate partner violence, the shame runs very deep.Anna Maria Tremonti

"If shame was a blanket we had around our shoulders, we would see that we are surrounded. We would see each other with those blankets over our shoulders as we waited to cross the street, as we stood in line at the grocery store, as we sat in here," she said. "We'd say, 'You too? You're carrying shame that's not yours to carry? You're doing it too?' And we would be compassionate."

Tremonti questioned if people carrying shame can unbraid those feelings and recognize they don't belong in our equations, would there be an impact on how we perceive ourselves and treat others? Moreover, making those changes might have an impact on our greater society — and it's everyone's job to confront those misplaced feelings.

"When we find a way to banish that shame, really let it go, when we affirm to those carrying shame that it's OK to let it go, I think things could change," she said.

"None of this is not our business. It is our business and we can't turn away. We have to find a way to confront it at another level."

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