Hayden Panettiere Opens up About Surviving Abusive Relationship With Ex Brian Hickerson

Hayden Panettiere is opening up about healing from her abusive relationship with Brian Hickerson, whom she dated on and off for nearly four years. The Nashville actress, 32, revealed in a new interview with PEOPLE that forgiveness has been key in moving on and staying sober after recovery from addiction to alcohol and opioids.

"It was a very dark and complicated time in my life," said Panettiere. "But a lot of women go through what I went through, and I want people to know it's OK to ask for help." Panettiere and Hickerson first began dating in 2018 after the actress' six seasons on Nashville came to an end. "I wanted to party, I wanted to do everything I wasn't supposed to do," she recalled. "Acting was my life, but I felt so bad about myself that I lost trust in myself. And that is very detrimental. The idea of not having a responsibility was very appealing at the time."

In May 2019, Hickerson was charged with domestic violence and Panettiere was issued a protective order. The charges were eventually dropped, and the two were back together just a few months later. In July 2020, Hickerson was arrested on eight domestic violence charges, and in 2021, he pled no contest to two felony counts of injuring a partner, for which he spent 13 days in jail

At the time, Panettiere issued a statement: "I am coming forward with the truth about what happened to me in the hope that my story will empower others in abusive relationships to get the help they need and deserve. I am prepared to do my part to make sure this man never hurts anyone again." Looking back at that statement, the actress said she still feels the same way.

"None of it is OK. But I want to make sure that everybody knows that each person who goes through something like that, they're on their own journey. No two things are exactly alike," the Heroes star shared. In March, Panettiere and Hickerson were involved in an altercation with another group in Los Angeles, which the star said was "not [her] best behavior" nor anyone else's. "But it was not as insane as it was made to look, and everyone is OK," she added.

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Panettiere clarified that she and Hickerson reconnected just as friends. "None of it is OK, and I want to make sure that everybody knows that," she said of his behavior. "But I am open to people who are willing to get help and make amends. He's gone to treatment and done his time. And I'm trying to live in a place of forgiveness."