Cheryl Burke has had a fantastic career as a professional dancer, especially with her time on the popular dance show “Dancing With the Stars.” But over the years, she has carried with her an old experience that remains her nightmare.
American model and “Dancing With the Stars” favorite, Cheryl Burke, has always been public and open about her personal struggles.
She recently opened up on her drinking problems and her journey to sobriety, including how difficult the pandemic has made her new resolve to stay clean.
A picture of professional dancer Cheryl Burke crying in her car | Photo: Instagram/cherylburke
During a recent appearance on the podcast “Heart of the Matter” with Elizabeth Vargas, Burke confessed she was an alcoholic who could not stay without drinking; it was her coping mechanism.
Drinking is one of the many struggles Burke has battled in recent years. The 37-year-old is still troubled by an incident that happened when she was only 6-years-old. Despite her success, it haunts her to this day.
Dancing has always been a part of Burke’s life, and at 13, she embraced professional dancing. She has come a long way in her dancing career and is a two-time “DWTS” champion.
A portrait of professional dancer Cheryl Burke | Photo: Getty Images
A few years ago, Burke released her book, “Dancing Lessons: How I Found Passion and Potential on the Dance Floor and in Life,” where she gave fans a close glimpse of her life and career.
Amongst other things, Burke shared the inspiring story of how she overcame a dark past to fulfill her dream and become one of the most popular dancers in the country.
In her 2012 book, Burke opened up on the sexual molestation she suffered as a child, and although she would later give more details in other posts and interviews, it remains a horrifying experience for her.
Burke’s abuse started when she was in kindergarten; her abuser, Gerry Depaula, a retired mailman at the time, was like a father figure to her. According to the dancer, Depaula would make her watch adult videos as a child.
Burke claimed she was insecure around the man who molested her, adding that he took advantage of the absence of her loved ones in her life.
According to Burke, her parents were divorced, and Depaula was responsible for watching over her, a job he did poorly and ended up exploiting her.
The dancing pro noted that she felt weak and could not speak up for herself. Burke felt a sense of pity for her abuser, and her silence meant she had to suffer the ordeal until she finally found her voice.
Some of the atrocities occurred in the mailman’s van as he would abuse her while picking her up from school. Coming from a broken home didn’t help, and it left the young Burke always seeking care and attention.
Burke found the courage to testify against her molester when she was six, but it was not an enjoyable experience looking him in the face. She recalled taking many breaks during her testimony and how much terror filled her when she left the venue.
Burke testified against the man after he was caught abusing her stepsister and her friend. It was difficult for the court to believe that Depaula, who looked loveable, committed those crimes.
But seeing the little Burke stand up to testify, it became apparent that justice was the only way out. The presiding Judge on the case, Steve Chase, was reportedly impressed when he saw Burke walk into the courtroom to tell her truth.
Shortly after the dancer testified, Depaula was given a commendable prison sentence. He was sentenced to 24 years in prison for molesting Burke and three other young girls.
After everything she had been through, dancing was the only way out for the young Burke to regain her confidence and confront her pain. Burke realized she was all she needed to be happy and break free from the mental torture of her past.
Chase believes Burke’s book is her way of giving back to the community and empowering other abuse victims, letting them know they can have a dark past, take control of their lives and be successful.
SCARED OF DEPAULA
Decades after the abuse, Depaula has been released from prison but remains a registered sex offender. His presence on the street worries Burke as she is concerned she might run into him one day, which would be a bad experience for her.
Burke also has a lingering fear that her molester could be watching her perform on television which she described as a little feeling. Despite how she feels, Burke is proud of how much healing and recovery she has had.
Her ordeal with Depaula was not her only experience of abuse. In an interview, when asked how her childhood trauma affected her, Burke stated that she had a couple of other abusive relationships while she was growing up.
Her desire to be loved led her to the hands of unavailable men as she struggled to love herself and never wanted to be left alone. Burke had to start seeing therapists to help with her damaged self-esteem.
One of the ways she learned to love herself was by embracing her body and looks. Dancing helped her feel in control of her body, and therefore her life.
Burke has worked towards helping other women and empowering them. The 37-year-old collaborated with the brands she supports to generate money for the non-profit organization “Dress for Success,” which works to empower women.
Burke has also frequently spoken out against domestic violence and has since advocated for child abuse victims, which she finds relatable.
In addition, she took part in a fundraising effort in March 2006 for the educational activities of Palo Alto’s International School of the Peninsula, and she hoped to be a source of hope and inspiration to young children.
Having fought through the trauma of abuse and addiction, Burke credits her success to being around positive people. She has been married to singer and actor Matthew Lawrence, and she lists him as one of her most significant sources of motivation and strength.
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