The pair finalized their divorce in September.
Cheryl Burke is opening up about the trauma she's faced throughout her life. On the latest episode of Facebook Watch's Red Table Talk, the 38-year-old Dancing With the Stars pro recounts her personal history with abuse and toxic relationships.
Burke's says it all started when she was two, when her parents got divorced. "My first memory as a kid was seeing my father with another woman," Burke says.
Then, a few years later, Burke's family hired a retired mailman in his late 60s to babysit her. Burke claims that that man began grooming her when she was five.
"It wasn't intercourse. It was other stuff that happened, sexual acts, but I never physically felt hurt. There was moments... [where] it didn't feel bad. It was actually intimate," Burke explains. "He was grooming me, and he was my definition of love. This is what love equaled, right? Seeing my father's infidelity, being abused by this old retired mailman, and I didn't really know what a 'healthy' relationship is or was."
"There wasn't a stable father figure in my life. It's like brainwashing at those moments in your childhood when it really matters," she continues. "This happened for many years and no one said anything, other than my older sister's friend who did the right thing, ran home to her parents, and told them, and then they contacted my family. I actually testified against him at nine, I believe."
Amid all the turmoil, Burke says, "Thank God for dancing. It saved my life." Even that, though, wasn't a totally safe space.
"Within this industry of the competitive ballroom world, it is very much a man's world. The man leads, the woman follows, off the dance floor and on the dance floor," she says. "With that comes abusive partners and abusive coaches. Were there acts of sexual abuse and mental abuse? One hundred percent. Am I just coming to realize that? Yeah, for sure, as I continue to do the work."
Then, in high school, Burke alleges she "dated two men that were very physically and emotionally abusive to a whole other level."
"For me, love equaled abuse. Love equaled infidelity. Love equaled manipulating, narcissistic behaviors," Burke says, before recounting one time she claims she was whipped with a belt.
"It wasn't like he was hitting me. He was whipping me. But I would see these welts and even that, I was like, 'Oh, that's not really there,'" she alleges. "I think I was in shock, and fight, flight or freeze. Got in my car, he jumped in his car, kept banging up the back of my car so that I'd pull over, and I wasn't allowed to have friends, let alone dance. I wasn't allowed to stay at after school programs or even, God forbid, look at somebody."
"Because of this person who was very controlling," Burke continues. "It didn't stop my relationship with him because I loved the, 'Oh, everything's gonna be OK.' I was addicted to that. This is what I'm trying to reprogram in my brain, is that constant adrenaline rush that I'm so addicted to. It's not sustainable."
As Burke previously has said, that pattern of abuse didn't stop until she began dating her now ex-husband, Matthew Lawrence, in 2006. Burke and Lawrence were on and off for a few years before tying the knot in 2019. The pair split in February, and finalized their divorce in September. Now, Burke says she got married because she thought that would "define my worth."
"We dated when I first got into this business in 2006, and then took a break for a decade, dated again," she says. "An ex for a reason, right? But also, I think, for me -- and it has nothing to do with my ex whatsoever -- I wanted to see if I could get married, 'cause there was a lot of this internal 'Am I good enough?'"
Eventually, though, Burke says, "There's also a point where I need to put myself first. I owe it to myself."
As she sets out on her new chapter, Burke is committed to maintaining her four years of sobriety, though it's not always easy.
"It's not easy right now. Especially during this divorce," she says of staying sober. "... I didn't want this. You know, my parents got divorced, and I would have loved to not have. That wasn't the plan going in, for sure. I'm not proud of it, that's for sure. But then there's also a point where I need to put myself first and my sobriety first."
When ET spoke to Burke in May, she reflected on the end of her marriage.
"People evolve and people sometimes, unfortunately, grow apart," Burke told ET. "I think that's unfortunately what happened and was the reason why I am able to keep some sort of peace within myself, knowing that we both tried, we didn’t just give up. I think that it's OK."
"I have to accept it for what it is or you can stay in a marriage that maybe not everyone is happy in," she added. "I definitely don't want to feel stagnant."
For the time being, Burke says she's "choosing to not date," which is "easier said than done."
"There's a difference of being alone versus lonely," she says on Red Table Talk. "I am just trying to adjust and take the time because I owe it to myself. But one day at a time, one minute at a time."
During her chat with ET, Burke didn't rule out tying the knot again one day.
"I miss the computability, just being with another person, with another human being... It is lonely," she said of being single. "... There are moments, for sure, of sadness, and reflection, and just wanting to be able to share your life with somebody. I am definitely not saying I will never get married again."