‘Dancing’ Star Jana Kramer Speaks Out About Surviving Abuse

The country music singer describes enduring years of abuse from her ex-husband.

ByABC News
October 11, 2016, 8:01 AM

— -- Country-music star Jana Kramer opened up in an exclusive interview with "Good Morning America" about her estrangement from husband Mike Caussin and the domestic abuse she endured during her first marriage to Michael Gambino.

The actress-turned-singer, who is now competing on "Dancing With the Stars," held back tears as she recalled the painful events as they unfolded the night she says she was almost murdered by her first husband.

"I’ll never forget sitting in the bushes," a tearful Kramer said in the interview that aired today on "GMA." "I’m like, 'How the heck did I ... how in the world did I get here?'"

Gambino often came home from a night out "screwed up on either pills or drunk," and on that horrific night he picked her up while she was asleep, threw her out of bed onto the ground, told her he was going to kill her and stormed off, she said.

"I obviously needed to get out of the house," Kramer added, so she ran outside, hid in the bushes, and when she thought her then-husband had pulled away in his car, she ran back inside to grab her car keys.

"I’m walking out of the front door and I see him. His car was in the driveway and he had his hand behind his back. And I was like, 'This is it ... this is the moment that it's all ended.'"

Gambino choked her as she tried to fight him off and Kramer began to pray, she said. "I remember seeing my grandpa," whom she prayed to earlier that evening to take her to a happier place and she thought, "'OK ... I'm free. I can go,'" Kramer added.

Kramer said she saw her mother, her funeral and her whole life flash before her as she screamed out her mom’s name. "And that’s the last thing I remember," she said.

To this day, Kramer said, "I still have that fear when I’m alone, him coming to grab me and … throwing me out of bed." She described the reaction as a complete panic attack and said she has suffered from PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, since that time a decade ago.

Kramer, 32, said she endured years of domestic violence at the hands of Gambino after their whirlwind Las Vegas wedding in 2004, when she was a 19-year-old rising star.

She said she thought it was truly her fault, which caused her self-worth to plummet as the abuse continued.

"I didn't feel like I deserved to even have help from the outside,” the Michigan native said.

Kramer shared that many women in abusive situations are manipulated and think they're at fault, but said, "the truth of the matter is they’re not."

Gambino had a different persona in public than the one she witnessed at home, Kramer said. She said the mental and verbal abuse from the man no one else came to know was what hurt her most.

"The verbal and the mental abuse they give you is almost more painful than the physical because it tears you down even more with the words,” she said.

Gambino was eventually convicted of premeditated attempted murder and after he served five years in prison was released on parole. Kramer said she lived in fear once he was out, until she received news that Gambino committed suicide.

"I felt bad because my first feeling was relief that he was gone,” she said. “That I didn't have to worry about him anymore."

She faced a whirlwind of emotions. "I felt sad that I couldn’t change his life," she said.

Kramer thought if she'd never met Gambino, "he’d probably still be alive," which she described as difficult and something she held onto for quite a while.

The singer had a brief second marriage to Johnathon Schaech, followed by a broken engagement to Brantley Gilbert and thought her fourth attempt at love and marriage would finally fit.

The "One Tree Hill" star wed former NFL tight-end Michael Caussin in May 2015 and the couple welcomed their first child, daughter Jolie, in January 2016.

After Kramer finally believed she was in the right place and that she had found the right person, and as the songstress prepared for “Dancing With the Stars,” media reports emerged about her husband’s infidelity.

Kramer, who still has a wedding band on her ring finger, told ABC News it represents being committed to her daughter while she figures out where her heart is.

"I don't know what the future looks like,” she said. “But I do know that at the end of the day, I'll be strong for my daughter."

Caussin, 29, has since publicly acknowledged the situation and apologized.

"I appreciate the apology because ... it has been heartbreaking,” Kramer said. “But it's nothing I can't handle; just being strong for my daughter and being a mom is what I'm just focused on doing right now.”

Kramer will take this time to use her platform and her voice to help empower women everywhere, she said.