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'Welcome to Paradise' podcast works through the lingering pain of an abusive marriage

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Over the years, Canadian journalist Anna Maria Tremonti has covered some of the biggest stories around the world, from intense armed conflicts to long-running social problems, eventually becoming the host of "The Current," Canada's top current affairs show. But her latest venture, a podcast called "Welcome To Paradise," isn't about her globetrotting career. It's about the secrets she carried with her around the world until now.

As a young woman in her early 20s, she fell in love with a man who seemed charming, spontaneous and fun. They eloped. But not long after they married, he became physically violent and abusive in other ways as well. Although the marriage ended after a year, Tremonti says the after effects followed her for years, and that's what she explores in "Welcome To Paradise," allowing us to listen in as she works through her motivations, feelings and reactions with her therapist, family and friends.

As you might imagine, this conversation will likely include discussions of intimate partner violence. So if this isn't the right choice for you right now, please feel free to step away for a few minutes. And with that being said, Ana Maria Tremonti is with us now to tell us more. Welcome. Thank you so much for being with us today.

ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: Oh, thank you for having me. Thank you very much.

MARTIN: And first, I just want to say I'm so sorry this happened to you. And I also want to say thank you for sharing your story with us and being willing to do that.

TREMONTI: Well, I appreciate that.

MARTIN: Can you just tell us a bit more about how and why you decided to tell your story now? It just - you are very upfront with the fact that you never talked about this. And as a journalist, you know, I certainly understand that. I mean, you and I were both trained in the manner of you don't make yourself the story. You cover the story. You don't make yourself the story. So was there a eureka moment when you said, you know what? I really need to talk about this?

TREMONTI: There was sort of a eureka moment. I had wanted to talk about this publicly on and off over time. And I just never did want to insinuate, you know, myself into a story. And I didn't know how people would react to me because this happened in the '80s, and, you know, a lot of - there are a lot of misconceptions. And I didn't want to be labeled a certain kind of journalist because I only, you know, would be seen as someone who was a, quote, unquote, "battered wife." And I thought it might hurt my career at one point.

But the other thing was that I felt that I could take what had happened to me - I remember telling myself that at least if this had to happen to you, maybe you have more empathy in dealing with other people and in helping them tell stories that they want to tell what happened to them. And so I kind of did that. But there was one interview I did on CBC Radio with a woman who had been in a terrible relationship and was talking about what it was like to get out and how it still followed her. And we were disguising her voice and her location, and it was a pre-tape. It wasn't live on the air. And I stopped. I asked to stop the recording because I felt she was being too specific and she would be identifiable.

And in the course of the conversation we had off tape, we both got a little bit weepy. And I told her a bit of my story, and I'd never done that. And then we continued with her story. But after, I thought about what I had done, and I thought, you know, like, for the longest time, I thought this gave me an opportunity to be empathetic. And now it feels like being silent is an error of omission, if not a full-blown lie. So I thought I needed to find a way to talk.

MARTIN: Do you - you know, the other thing about the series is that you have these little moments that - first of all, I mean, the telling of the physical violence I'm not going to play here because I feel like many people will have experienced this themselves, and I don't know that they need to hear this again. But let me just say, for people who need to know this for whatever reason that this man could have killed you. I just want to make that clear, that the level of physical abuse was such that he could have killed you, and you might - you and I might not be here now talking about this. So I'm very thankful that that did not happen.

But one of the things that I found really moving about the series is where you talk about these small moments of recognition. Like, you describe this moment in this grocery store when you see a woman who looks happy, but you realize from the outside it isn't - you really don't know, like, what's going on with her. You really don't know what's going on with people. And I was interested in that, too, the fact that people you were very close to didn't know. And I'm wondering how you feel about that, that - there was one instance where your neighbors called the police because they heard something was going wrong, but then you said you were mad at them for calling the police. But can I just ask you what your - what are your thoughts about that, that feeling of being alone in it or not - people not knowing, even people you're very close to?

TREMONTI: I went out of my way to hide my bruises. I went out of my way to appear - and heeded, too, by the way, like a loving couple in public. My family lived in Ontario, and I was on the east coast of Canada at the time, so it was easy to hide it from my parents. And I think the other thing that happens is we really don't know. I mean, I've always been struck as a journalist that, you know, you walk along the streets of any city, you pass people, you don't know who - you know, who was tortured five weeks ago and ends up, you know, in your country now, like, ends up somewhere else. We don't know each other's stories. And I realized that. That was my moment of recognition in the grocery line, because I was thinking about that woman who seemed to have a great life. Well, you don't know how bad mine is. And I stopped myself, and I thought, well, you don't know what her life is like. And it again is something that has kind of influenced me journalistically. Like, you know, you can't tell outwardly what's going on with someone's life. You have to kind of make space to let them tell you.

MARTIN: How - do you mind sharing - I'm trying to sort of dance around here because I'm not sure how much you want to reveal and how much you want to let the series reveal. But do you mind talking about how did you finally end it? How did you finally get out?

TREMONTI: I got out of the marriage because he threatened to kill me. He literally sat down across from me one morning with his coffee and said if I didn't leave, he would kill me. It would just be a matter of time. And I did not believe him, but I did leave. And I went crying to my friends several hours down the highway. And then I went back. And the assault when I went back made it pretty clear that I better leave. And so I did. And, you know, several months later, he wanted to get back together with me, and I actually considered it for a week. But by then, I had some distance, and I couldn't put myself through that. And it was a moment of understanding that I had agency, that I could have some control. And it was a watershed for me. And I was about to say to him, I'm not coming back. And he said to me, I don't want you to come back. So, you know, I thought, fine. Good. I don't have to go through it. That's how I got out. What I didn't understand is that that shame and all that stuff would follow me for years, you know, not always so prominently, but it would kind of always be there.

MARTIN: Talk about that. Why?

TREMONTI: Because I think that I felt - I would look at that 23-year-old in the picture of us having eloped, and I would think how naive I was. And I would be embarrassed for her, for myself. And I just felt that somehow I had played a role in it. And, you know, I had actually been through therapy before because I had tried to deal with the anger that I felt after that and managed to get rid of that. But I had never really identified that self-blame. So I could talk about shame and self-blame now. I think that for many years, when this surfaced, it didn't - it wasn't so obviously shame, self-blame. It was just this thing that made me feel I just don't talk about it.

MARTIN: Well, how do you feel now?

TREMONTI: I feel like a weight has been lifted from me.

MARTIN: Say more.

TREMONTI: Well, I think that in the course of doing this - you know, I have a close friend who said to me, if you're going to do this podcast, leave room for discovery. And I was like, oh, of course. But I was really thinking, come on. I've known my own story. What will I discover? But what I did discover was that I carried shame and self-blame, and I identified it, and I worked through it. And I finally - like, I could even picture it. And I pictured it as a braid, a braid of shame and self-blame wrapped together with pain. And as soon as I could do that, I could separate them and let them fall away. I could say, OK, the shame is not mine. The self-blame is not mine, and the pain is in my past. So whatever pain - like, the pain was legitimate. I can say that was legitimate pain, but it's in your past. It can't hurt you now.

And so in working through with talk therapy, I actually came to that place that I did not expect to come to. I thought I would tell my story. I was hopeful that by telling my story, maybe someone would see something in themselves and realize that, you know, they were worthy of not being in an abusive relationship. But I didn't think that I would come to such a great place of healing for myself.

MARTIN: That was journalist Anna Maria Tremonti. All six episodes of her podcast, "Welcome To Paradise," are out now. Ana Maria, thank you so much for talking with us today.

TREMONTI: Thank you.

MARTIN: If you or someone you know is experiencing intimate partner violence, we would like you to know that help is available. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE. That's 1-800-799-7233. Or you can go to thehotline.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.