I Thought I Loved Him And It Nearly Broke Me: The Very Personal Story Behind My Latest Painting / by Antoinette Cauley

I had driven out of town to see him, as I had done many times before knowing that I shouldn't have. But, I thought he was the man for me. He was always on tour doing what he loved with amazing celebrities and I was painting my way into the limelight. It felt like such a beautiful pairing of people and I saw a life with him. We had talked for years about what our family would look like; what marriage would look like. I dreamt of a creative home full of love and art. I loved him and I thought he loved me... at least that's what he told me. His actions however, said otherwise.

Everything came to a head during the summer of 2017 when I hit a breaking point. I couldn't do it anymore. I had invested so much time catering to his schedule and his needs while he ignored mine. After four years of confusion I finally decided to let go despite not wanting to. It left me feeling like a shell of a woman. I wasn't myself and I quickly started to emotionally spiral. I started partying and drinking more. I was making reckless decisions and just not caring for myself in the way that I should have. I didn't give AF anymore, to be real.  I was heartbroken and devastated and it almost consumed me. Fortunately, through the help of my counselor, some deep self reflection and internal work, I came out of it and was able to ground myself and move forward. I was able to cut emotional ties but there was still something that kept me holding onto him.


Fast forward to months later, I was on my way to see him despite knowing it wasn't the best idea. Lately he had just been so hot and cold- either stressed and asshole-ish or affectionate and loving. It was hella confusing so I went into the trip void of any solid expectations in order to keep from potentially having my feelings hurt. I had given up on “us” ever being a “thing” and decided a while ago that he wasn't the man for me. So, I thought nothing of the trip. I justified going to see him by viewing it as a great opportunity for a vacation, some much needed physical  affection and to escape the chaos of my everyday life for a few days.


When I arrived to see him that day, I honestly wasn't sure which version of him I was going to get. Surprisingly, it turned out that I got one of the best versions of him I could have asked for. All weekend he was so sweet and caring. He was attentive and kind. He was more mindful than usual and it really caught me off guard. He was, in that weekend, everything I had seen in him when we met five years ago. And, quite frankly, it confused the SHIT out of me.

When it was time for him to hop on the tour bus at 4 a.m. to leave town,  I kissed him goodbye and drifted back to sleep. I woke up a few hours later in complete tears. I mean I was crushed. At first I didn't know why I was crying or felt so hurt but I realized that I had seen a glimpse of the man I wanted to be with in the beginning of our relationship that weekend and emotionally I just couldn't handle it. I felt as if I had lost someone when he left. It was like the death of a dream that was never meant to be.

So, I packed my things up, hopped in my car and continued to let the tears roll. Anyone who knows me knows I am not a drug user and I don’t drink often but all I could think about on that ride home was how I could self medicate when I got back; how I could numb all of this pain that came with him.


As I prepared for the two hour drive, I just happened to be playing J. Coles new album K.O.D. His song “FRIENDS” came on and some of the lyrics instantly caught my attention. It was almost as if he was speaking directly to me and my situation. I put the song on repeat and for almost two hours I listened to his words over and over and over… The words “meditate don’t medicate” rang through my ears and by the end of my drive home, I didn’t feel the need to self medicate anymore. Instead, I drove straight to my aunt's grave (where I typically go when I am in turmoil) and I sat and cried and talked to her about what I was feeling. I left her grave, went home and fell straight to sleep. I was so mentally exhausted that my body just needed a reset.


Never in a million years did I think that listening to one song on repeat for two hours would impact me that much. I never thought that it would literally stop me from self destructing and push me into a space of finding a healthier way of coping with heart wrenching pain. Because of this moment, I felt it was important to tell my story in relation to this song through my painting “Life is Filled with Much Pain… Choose Wisely.” It was almost a tribute to J. Cole and a thank you for him fearlessly sharing his voice with us.

I found a girl who I felt resembled a young me and used her to help me speak to the world about my struggles. 7 year old Rosie was put up to the test of posing seven different times in what would be one of the most important photoshoots I have done to date. I chose to have images of her repeating under her as a King as representation of fighting your own demons and facing the tough road of finding inner peace and learning to cope with pain and trauma. Being that the series as a whole has been a part of my process of dealing with my childhood trauma, this piece fit so beautifully into my overall message.

I am sure if I could share this story with J. Cole that he would be proud. I want to thank him and I want him to know how much of an impact his music is making on people like me. That song helped me find strength, push past this specific obstacle and grow. I was able to take the inspiration he gave me and send it back out into the world in a new form. I conquered a demon that day that had been haunting me for years and I am not sure that I would have found that strength had it not been for that one song made by one man who just wanted to help people see that there is another way to deal with your pain.

I am eternally grateful to J. Cole for the lesson he taught me about coping with my own hurt. Although these moments are so painful, they continue to shape me into the woman that I am and she is someone who is changing lives one brushstroke at a time. So even though it has been a hard road, my pain has slowly transformed into a crown that I now wear with pride.