Dancing With the Stars pro Cheryl Burke opened up exclusively to Us Weekly about her sobriety journey, soul searching after her public divorce from Matthew Lawrence and what lies ahead for her future in dance.
I have been sober for four years, and to say my life has been a roller-coaster during that time frame would be a major understatement. My journey with sobriety began the night of my engagement party in 2018. I had recently lost my father, who was also an alcoholic, and that time of my life was a huge turning point in so many ways.
If I am being completely honest, I did not decide to quit that day because of some defining realization that if I kept drinking, I would crash and burn (although, looking back, I know that would have definitely been the case). Instead, I mainly stopped for vanity reasons, at least initially. When I returned from burying my father in Thailand, every time I had a drink, I would turn red and break out in hives, which scared me because I had never had a reaction like that before. It was like my body was rejecting the poison I so desperately wanted to use to numb. So, the night of that party, after trying just one drink, I decided I couldn’t do it anymore and I quit — cold turkey. That’s very much my personality, I’m an all-or-nothing kind of girl. I didn’t tell anyone at first. I think I was afraid the pressure of other people knowing would lead to me self-sabotaging and my reason for quitting felt shallow. I know now that doesn’t really matter though, shallow or not, I stopped, and that vanity probably saved my life.
My life in the four years since that night went from obsessively wedding planning, to being a newlywed in the worldwide COVID lockdowns, to just getting back to work and then to divorce. I can honestly say I did not anticipate the way any of those events would actually play out, and nothing could have prepared me for it. While I am ultimately glad that I did it all sober, I would be lying if I acted as though it was easy.
I think the biggest reason I drank the way that I did for all those years was to numb, and numbing can sound really appealing when you are going through any sort of hardship. Sure, I think a lot of people have a drink to “take the edge off” but for me, it was deeper than that. I was living in fear of actually feeling anything. So, these past four years have been filled with a lot of heartache, a lot of soul searching, a lot of coming to terms with my past and the way things have ended up in my present. There are definitely days when a little voice creeps into my mind wondering if things would be easier if I hadn’t quit. I mean, I hit some of the highest points of my life and career while I was partying pretty much on a daily basis. Were things better because I was less in my head about every little detail?
Thankfully, I have found reasons to not fall into the temptations of my occasional self-doubt — the biggest being the knowledge that I owe it to myself to live my life as fully as I can, and for me, that means a sober life. The belief in a power greater than myself consistently helps me to stay the course when things get hard and I have to give credit to my dog Ysabella for keeping me going a lot of the time. Yep, I’m a full-blown “dog mom” and not ashamed to say it! Going through a public divorce, there have been days where I wanted to just stay in bed and hide, and the idea of numbing my emotions with a vodka soda can sound pretty appealing. But Ysabella has tons of energy and gets me outside to go for walks multiple times a day, she loves me to play with her and I honestly can’t imagine life without her by my side 24/7.
I’m at a point in my life right now where I don’t know exactly what my future holds. I’m going through a transition not just personally, but also in my career, which has left me living in uncertainty for the first time in over a decade. I’m trying to be OK with it instead of living in fear of the unknown. I know that dance and movement are an essential part of my life and mental health, but I’m ready to share these passions in new ways. I got married with every intention of forever but now I’m starting over, and the word dating gives me so much anxiety that I have no idea when I’ll be read. So, for now, I am choosing to date myself. I am putting myself first for once in my life, in order to really learn to love the woman I am today, while continuing to strive to be the best version of myself that I can be. I know this will be a lifelong journey, but I am dedicated to staying curious and to taking my journey with my sobriety one day, and sometimes even one step and one hour, at a time.
Listen to Burke’s iHeartRadio podcast, “Burke in the Game,” everywhere you get your podcasts.