Into the Darkness: Finding Personal Light through Outlander


Written by: Nikki Gastineau  

I discovered Outlander this spring when my family moved to a new house.  On the day of the move, I went to the house early to wait for the cable installer.  My partner was coming later with the movers. After the cable was installed, I had a TV but no furniture and really nothing to do for the next two hours.  I clicked around on Starz (a bonus of the new cable package) and came across Outlander.  My reading passion has always been historical fiction and nonfiction and my taste in television has tended to follow in that vein as well, so I thought that I would give it a try.

After watching the first episode in a completely spellbound state, I immediately went in search of the source material.  I realized quickly that there was a bigger story behind those onscreen looks and I had to be a part of it.  I thought that I had stumbled onto a series that I could watch in my occasional free time and that I could neatly tuck away during other moments (I'm looking at you, Downton Abbey).  Nothing could have prepared me for the emotional journey I was about to take...

This is where the story gets a bit (a lot) dark.  If discussions of abuse or violence are a trigger, you should stop reading here.

I was in an abusive relationship for 2 ½ years.  The last nine months of it were violent.  I carried shame, grief, agony and other indescribable emotions with me through that relationship and into the months that followed it.  I went to counseling.  I continued being a fairly decent mother to my daughter.  And, I found a wonderful man who I hope to spend the rest of my life with.  Everything worked out for me.

But, what frustrates me is my inability to express that period of my life in words.  While I feel like much of my healing is complete, I wanted a record of the events in my own voice.  I wanted – needed – to tell the world what happened, both as a cautionary tale and as a survivor’s story.  I wanted desperately to publicly claim the victory that I worked so hard for.

Reading and then watching the Wentworth Prison scenes and their aftermath forced me to relive in a visceral way the torture that I endured at the hands of the man who declared his love for me on a daily basis.  While most of the torture was emotional, there were physical elements and I felt them again right along with Jamie.  Those scenes reminded me of the shame and grief that I felt during that time and how desperation will cause us to do and become things that we could have never imagined. BJR broke Jamie.  My partner broke me.  I thought so often about giving up.  I believed for awhile that my life, damaged and broken as it was, was not worth fighting for.


Jamie described his emotional pain to Claire like this:
“I think it’s as though everyone has a small place inside themselves, maybe a private bit that they keep to themselves.  It’s like a little fortress, where the most private part of you lives – maybe it’s your soul, maybe just that bit that makes you yourself and not anyone else... Now it’s like, like my own fortress has been blown up with gunpowder. There’s nothing left of it but ashes and a smoking rooftree, and this little naked thing that lived there once is out in the open – squeaking, and whimpering in fear, tryin’ to hide itself under a blade of grass or a bit o’leaf, but...but not...making m-much of a job of it.”

These words perfectly described what I felt in the aftermath of the abuse.  They are the words I wish I could have written to tell those who loved me what I was experiencing.

As Jamie healed from his physical wounds at the abbey, he fought an internal battle that prevented his emotional wounds from healing.  As he spiraled into darkness and contemplated ending his life, Claire stood by him, helpless to heal what she couldn’t see.  In episode 1.16, "To Ransom A Man's Soul," Claire, Murtagh, and one of the monks contemplate the healing of Jamie’s soul.  The unnamed brother fears that Jamie will “writhe in torment until he makes an end to himself unless he can be led back into the light.” Murtagh believes that Jamie is doomed unless someone “is willing to step into the darkness with him.”



Claire stepped into the darkness with Jamie.  She relived the violence and the suffering with him until he was able to stare it down and decide that it would not conquer him.  In the book, as Jamie grew stronger in both flesh and spirit, he was able to articulate his healing to Claire by telling her that while the “fortress” no longer stood that “I’ve a lean-to built, at least.  And a roof to keep out the rain.”

These scenes were particularly meaningful to me because, as I healed from my psychological wounds, someone stepped into the darkness with me.  He listened as I recounted the events of the past.  He held my hand.  He held me when the nightmares came.  He is the only one who knows everything about my story because he is the only one who was willing and able to take the journey with me.  The story of Claire’s devotion to Jamie and Jamie’s willingness to fight for life brought all of those memories rushing back to me.  While I no longer feel the pain of that time, I will always feel an immense amount of gratitude to the one who joined me in the darkness.

I have always loved to write.  In my early thirties, I began to blog and I hoped that I might one day turn my hobby into a profession.  When my life turned to chaos, a few years before the violent relationship, I lost all of my words.  I had been unable to write anything other than business correspondence for ten years.  In reliving that turbulent period, both in the book and on the television screen, the words finally came pouring out of me. I didn’t even need to think about what to write.  I just grabbed a notebook and a pen and tried to keep up.  That was six months ago.

I truly don’t understand how or why it happened, but Outlander allowed me to breach an emotional dam that had been holding my creativity at bay for ten years.  It makes so little sense to me that I sometimes think I must have imagined either the blockage or the return of ideas, but the notebook that I have carried with me for the last six months full of poems and anecdotes – is proof that something changed.

"To Ransom a Man's Soul" is one of the most difficult episodes to watch.  The violence and torture are harrowing.  However, whenever I watch it (and I have watched it several times), I am somehow able to look past the evil of Black Jack Randall and focus on the resilience of Jamie and Claire and how the strength of their love brought Jamie back into the light.  I also watch this episode with a spirit of thanksgiving because it, somehow, returned a piece of me that I thought was gone forever.


Art, in all its forms, is powerful in ways that we cannot always understand.  Have you ever experienced a breakthrough or a moment of enlightenment because of art?  What was it and how did it impact you?


33 comments

  1. Wow, thanks for sharing that and so glad you have found the missing part of you again through the wonder of Outlander and a good person by your side.

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    1. Thank you Maryann. I consider myself to be an incredibly fortunate woman!

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  2. I've always found words and images compelling. I'm sometimes inspired, sometimes comforted. It's amazing how needed messages reach us, either because they are sent by intuitive others or simply because we are open and ready to receive.

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  3. You've posted a courageous and moving piece, and I admire you for sharing it. You may very well find kindred spirits who share your Outlander experience, and I hope those unable to speak of it find comfort and hope in your words. Thanks, Nikki, for this amazing piece.

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  4. You have found your voice again! I believe "To Ransom A Man's Soul" is the most profound bit of television I have ever suffered through. I'm sure most of us cried, cringed, felt desolate, and then cheered when Claire took on Jamie's pain. I hope other people watch and get some healing from it.

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  5. Thank you. Your words are so meaningful to me. I found healing in Outlander as well.

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    1. Thanks Zoiuli! I'm glad to hear that you found some healing too.

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  6. Beautiful -- both your written words and your healing, in large part thanks to the miracle that is Outlander. I'm hard-pressed to come up with another word to describe it -- "miracle." Anyone not familiar with Diana's well-crafted stories or the TV adaptations we have come to adore would dismiss such a description as fan-girl exaggeration. But miracles are rare and healing. So, yes, it's appropriate. Thank you so much for sharing. God bless as you continue to heal.

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    1. Thank you Uluwehi. I'm with you completely. I have never been a fan-girl and never fallen so completely for a book or television show. This one, though, is magical to me.

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  7. Nikki

    Thank you for sharing your story, for me my abuse came from a parent and I spent many years in therapy starting in my late 20s. The moment was perfect for me to start with a new job, new place, and someone I thought I would be with for my life. I didn't realize I created the same relationship with him as with my abusive parent. The journey I went on was long and hard, yet I came out on the otherside.

    I fell in with the Outlander when I started watching The show. For me Wentworth was so painful to watch and I have not seen the entire episode I have heard it but not seen. I talked to my therapist about the episode and my reaction. I could watch the violent rape but I could not watch the quiet moments or the not intimate moments between BJR and Jaime. For me, I struggle with intimacy with myself and others, like you I was able to find a lesson in the darkest place of a television show.

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    1. Anna, thank YOU! I'm glad that you are on the other side of the pain now. Keep swimming.

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  8. Nikki, not that men can't be abused too, but usually it's the woman who is the victim in an abusive relationship. Consequently, it seems to me that women are more empathetic than men to the victim of abuse and are more apt to feel it on a visceral level. I would like to offer a man's perspective. It struck me the way you describe the new man in your life and how he cared enough to really listen to you to the point where you allowed him to help bring you out of the darkness. I want you to know that I'll bet it meant as much for him as it did for you. As a man, my natural instinct is to protect my loved ones and although I hope I never have to, it is my distinct privilege and honor to do so. So, you may think he's wonderful for being there for you, and you would be right. But know this, you did as much for him by allowing him to be the one to help rescue you. The days of chivalry may be long gone but it's still alive in a good man's heart and it takes a good woman to bring it out.

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    1. Your response brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for being among the chivalrous. We have two boys, and I try to instill in them the quality of treating a lady as a lady. I do not find it offensive feministically. One can have an equal that one cherishes above all else

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    2. #IMWITHDENISE. You always have such a pointed and powerful way with your words, Glenn. As the mom of a young son, we are working hard to raise a good man - one that will still do chivalrous things for a woman (and ALL people) because he has a thoughtful, kind heart - not because the person can't do these things on their own. Your comment hit home for me.

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  9. Thank you Nikki for sharing your journey out of such a painful time in your life. “Wentworth” and “To Ransom A Man’s Soul” were and still are the most difficult episodes to watch for me and yet if one skips over them, as I know some people have, one misses the root of what happened. They miss out on just how low BJR mentally and physically took Jamie but even more than that they miss out on what Jamie wholly did to save Claire. They also miss seeing how Claire by forcing Jamie to retell what actually happened and by being willing to go into that dark place with him was pivotal for his healing. I still don’t understand how Sam Heughan didn’t win an award for those episodes but that is a different story. You are so blessed to find a man who was patiently willing to listen to what you’d been through and to help you heal. As Karen Rutledge mentioned above here it was the right time and right place for your healing to begin.

    I too am new to Outlander, both the series and the books. I found My Peak Challenge in Feb this year and then learned about Outlander. Diana Gabaldon is such a gifted writer and Ron Moore is doing a wonderful job in bringing it to life in the tv series.

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    1. Thank you Claudia! You can probably imagine that I agree wholeheartedly with you.

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  10. Thank you so much sharing your story. As someone who suffered from emotional abuse I can relate to parts of your experience well. I had a new friend step in and go thru the journey with me and he did this time and time again until I finally came out the other end. I was suffering from depression and my partners way of dealing with this was emotional abuse. Reading your story has enlightened me to why I love this series and books so much.

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  11. And thank you for yours. I'm glad that you had a friend who could share the journey with you. Isn't it amazing to think about the impact that one single human can have on a life?

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  12. Thank You Nikki for this heartfelt post,what you have been trough!!!,so glad you found someone & on the mend,if you ever down sometime,just think you're not alone,have a partner,daughter and us OL friends! OL has helped me when I retired,it was big change always loved historical novels,so I read OL now twice & have all DVD's.Good to see the story come alive on TV to see special LOVE!

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  13. I shared this post tonight with someone who's daughter has suffered trauma and is just now reading Outlander, and who had trauma PTSD herself as well. It opened something up for them, so blessings to you, Nikki, for sharing your own experience.

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    1. Thank you Lone Star! I have been overwhelmed (and happy) to know that people were able to read this and either relate it to their own healing or to find solace in knowing that there are others out there like them and that they aren't alone.

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  14. So happy that your gifts are no longer stifled Nikki! And that you took the time to share these things that are so personal and dear to you. Like you I discovered Outlander after our cable company subscription changed in November 2016 and offered Starz. Like you I've been affected on so many levels in positive ways. Kindred spirits are we❤️

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  15. Thank you! I'm glad that you found Outlander too. We'll never be bored again!

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  16. Thank u for sharing Nikki. I too have been changed by Outlander. I had shut down emotionally after a terrible marriage and divorce. I found myself married to a man who became emotionally abusive in ways similar to my mother was. Funny how we are drawn to the same experience. I am sure it's bc unconsciously we are trying to relive or fix what was so very wrong. Next time I will know to listen to the red flags. While I watched Outlander I noticed I was suddenly feeling again on many levels and that I was not dead emotionally. So now I just have to apply this to the real world instead of dreaming of Scotland/Jamie. And, as most of us know, that's not easily done 😊

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  17. Sassenach, I'm sending a great big hug to wherever you are right now. I remember being in a Hallmark store looking for a birthday card for a friend and crying over the words in the card. It was the moment that I realized that I was no longer numb. It sounds like you know exactly what I'm talking about. You're right about watching for the red flags. I wish you all the best as you write the next chapter in your book. Have fun on your Outlander journey too! ;)

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  18. Thank you for sharing & I'm happy you have found your true spirit. The Outlander books & show have also helped me but in a totally different way. I had my Jamie. I lost my beloved husband René of 32 yrs 3 yrs ago March 10th. Their love & devotion reminds our love for each other. Their time apart & the need for that touch from my husband is spot on. I would wake & would find René watching me sleep just to make sure i was alright. We own a small business so we're always together. I know they will never be another René but somehow the stories help me. It's wonderful how Diana's word have helped so many & happy that you have peace. Sometimes I wish i didn't have such a lovely husband because it hurts so much & i wouldn't miss it but that's only when I'm at my lowest. I know i was blessed with a wonderful man & thank God everyday.

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    1. Virginia, thank you so much for sharing that. I can only imagine the hole that was left in your life by Rene's departure. It sounds like you were, indeed, blessed with a lovely man and that his spirit continues to give you strength even though he is no longer physically present.

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  19. Can't write can't think can't find anything to ease it can't escape can't go on....been there; am there...looking for the light as best as I can. It's so hard and I am lost. You're blessed to be past it

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    1. Bee Dub, my heart broke a little bit reading this. I'm not sure that I could say anything to bring you comfort or peace. What I know for certain is that you must keep fighting for the you that is buried in layers of pain and grief. Fight hard.

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  21. Nikki, this is a powerful post. Thank you for sharing it and keep writing.

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