‘I finally got the guts’: Award‑winning journalist Anna Maria Tremonti opens up about living with abuse

- March 27, 2024

Anna Maria Tremonti delivered Dalhousie's 2024 Shaar Shalom Lecture last week. (Nick Pearce photos)
Anna Maria Tremonti delivered Dalhousie's 2024 Shaar Shalom Lecture last week. (Nick Pearce photos)

Warning: This story contains details about physical abuse that may be upsetting to some.

Anna Maria Tremonti grabbed the power back and told her truth at Dal’s 2024 Shaar Shalom Lecture last week. She shared her journey of healing and letting go, courageously unraveling threads from the "carpet" of her life to advocate for more awareness and compassion towards individuals experiencing intimate-partner violence.

"Sometimes a carpet represents pain as in child labour. Sometimes, it's a thing of beauty created by artisans," she said during the talk last Wednesday. "Often, it's a piece of history. It's passed down through the ages. Carpets are like our lives. We step on them. We admire them. They're valuable, and they are a tapestry of experiences."

For many Canadians, Tremonti's voice is a recognizable, trusted, and familiar friend. From 2002 to 2019, she hosted the popular morning CBC radio program The Current. Throughout her career, she reported back to us in Canada from war zones all over the world. And in Feb. 2022, Tremonti began a podcast for CBC titled "Welcome to Paradise," where she bravely disclosed for the first time that her first marriage was anything but idyllic.

For one long and excruciating year, she had been married to an abusive husband.

Becoming trapped

In her lecture, Tremonti detailed the abuse she endured during her first marriage and eloquently unbraided the threads of "shame, blame, and pain" she carried with her for more than 40 years.

In 1980, Tremonti was 23 years old. She had just moved to the east coast to pursue a journalism career. At this time, she also thought she was in love with a man who convinced her to elope. He wanted their marriage to be a secret, she said, and he didn't even want her to tell her parents about it.

"I have now identified this was probably part of his coercive control, that we're not telling anyone," she said.

After they were married, she began working at C100 in Halifax on the morning radio news show. She found herself walking home alone after dark one evening, getting to her doorstep, and realizing it was more dangerous to go inside her home than to be outside on the street.

“And that’s when I understood what so many other people feel when they face this sort of thing in their homes,” she said.

This low-rise apartment building would become the place she and her husband packed up and left from shortly after the neighbour in the apartment below heard Tremonti’s husband abusing her and phoned the police. When the police arrived, Tremonti said she was angry at this neighbour for knowing something she thought she had kept a secret. 

“I thought I was protecting myself. I thought I was protecting him, and I thought I needed to, and my mind was turning as they came in. What would happen if they talked to him? What would happen to me? But I was also thinking, ‘My secret is out. She knows. Who else knows?’ And I was so upset that she knew that I channeled that frustration and anger, quietly to myself, at her,” she said.

Instead of leaving the relationship, Tremonti hoped she could fix it.

“Did I think of leaving him, packing up and going? I did not,” she said. “I thought that I should keep going. I felt trapped. I felt frustrated. But I also felt that I was a failure, that we were failing, and I could fix this, not flee this. So, we moved to Fredericton for a new job for him.”

Sticky shame

Tremonti said that she started compartmentalizing the shame and pain of the abuse in order to move forward. She said she also continued to blame herself, like many victims of domestic violence do.

"Something deep inside of me still saw myself as a problem. Would I have seen it differently if my abuser had not insisted that it was my problem? I don’t know. But I think the shame that attaches to us gets stickier if we feel judgment and blame from others," she said.

Tremonti said this way of thinking is part of the complexity of dealing with intimate-partner violence and its psychological effects. She then emphasized the need to have better community support systems in place for victims of domestic violence.

“It’s pretty ubiquitous. The numbers are not good. We know that,” she said. “But maybe they can change, you know? And to do that, we need to listen to each other.”

Tremonti’s emergence from her own relationship came soon after a holiday in Ottawa during which she was beaten by her husband, even while his mother — along for the trip — was upstairs. She left her husband shortly after this, but only after he told her to leave.

“I needed to do something because I was failing,” she said, explaining coming back to Fredericton by herself from the trip. “And I got home, it was early morning, and I was all set to tell him ‘Okay, we can make this work. I’ll change this. Let’s do that.’ And 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 did leave after he said this to her, yet she went back once more attempting to reconcile with her then-husband. The violence was so bad that time she had to find a blouse that would cover the bruises on her neck when she went for a job interview at CBC Fredericton shortly after.

Crafting a new pattern

Tremonti ended up getting that job at CBC Fredericton. She became the host of the morning radio show — still feeling traumatized, she admitted.

“I sort of put blinders on for my work. And I kept going and 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 and I went from radio in Fredericton to radio and television in Edmonton. I went to Ottawa and reported on Parliament Hill. I moved to Berlin, London, Jerusalem, Washington. I covered the war in Bosnia. I covered the fall of Communism in Moscow. I was in Red Square when the hammer and sickle came down.”

Members of the Dalhousie Arts and Social Sciences Society executive team pose with Tremonti. Jamal Raaki, far left, Kriti Maini, and Maya Bellamy.

Tremonti noted her journalistic work helped her “outwardly” move on, but small things would remind her of the abuse, such as anybody touching her neck or when she got a bruise. “That’s kind of the long tale of intimate partner violence, the things that stay with you.”

At the end of the lecture, Tremonti found hope for the future while circling back to the tapestry metaphor she began with.

“I talk about unraveling, but the threads that make up our lives, even when pulled apart, can be strong enough to fashion a better life, to weave together a better future. And that's what I hope for when I talk about this, when I finally got the guts to talk about this,” she said.

“I hope that for anyone trying to find a way forward, a way beyond the violence they have survived, a way to unbraid that pain and blame and shame in order to create a new pattern of joy in their lives.”

Watch: Anna Maria Tremonti's full Shaar Shalom lecture

The Shaar Shalom Lecture at Dalhousie University is made possible through the generosity of the Shaar Shalom Synagogue of Halifax. It seeks to explore themes of tolerance, multiculturalism, diversity and difference in contemporary society, and demonstrates our shared interest in bringing in-depth discussion of these themes to wider civil society.


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