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The actress and activist, 55, writes about both their tender and tumultuous moments, and her love for their two sons, Brandon, 26, and Dylan, 25, in her new memoir, Love, Pamela, excerpted exclusively in this week's PEOPLE. It marks just one of the many chapters of her life explored in the book and in a new Netflix documentary, Pamela, a love story, both out January 31.
As she writes, looking back, "My relationship with Tommy may have been the only time I was ever truly in love."
Their 1995 wedding on the beach in Cancun (she wore a bikini, he wore board shorts) led to countless headlines and paparazzi chases. At times, their life and love was over the top. "We had fun," she writes, "and our rule was no rules."
But the theft of their personal tapes from a safe in their garage, which were then made into a "sex tape" sold by others, increased the tabloid and paparazzi's relentless pursuit.
"It ruined lives, starting with our relationship — and it's unforgivable that people, still to this day, think they can profit from such a terrible experience, let alone a crime," writes Anderson, who has never watched the stolen tape.
With their two young sons at home, the pressures and stress ultimately overwhelmed them, she writes. One night in 1998, she says Lee twisted her arm as she was holding seven month old Dylan, and Brandon played nearby. "Tommy ripped Brandon off me and threw me and Dylan into a wall," she writes. Panicked, she called 911. Tommy was arrested and served six months in jail. And, as she writes, "Our hell began."
Anderson filed for divorce; in the months and years that followed, she focused on caring for her sons and finding healing.
"The divorce from Tommy was the hardest, lowest, most difficult point of my life," she writes in her memoir. "I was crushed. I still couldn't believe that the person I loved the most was capable of what had happened that night. We were both devastated, but I had to protect my babies."
Over two decades later, she and Lee "check in, every once in a while," she says. "Tommy is the father of my kids and I'm forever grateful."
Now single and living in her grandparents former farmhouse on Vancouver Island, she is surrounded by her five dogs, her beloved books, her garden, and the sea.
"I live a more romantic life now that I'm alone than I did in relationships," says Anderson, (who married four more times: to Kid Rock, Rick Salomon (they wed twice but one of the marriages was annulled), and Dan Hayhurst (a marriage of less than one year that ended in 2021).
"l light my candles, have my music playing. I have my piano, I'm sure it would be lovely if someone else was in my life and wanted the same thing but I've just never met them. It's usually about catering to them, and there has to be a balance."
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It's something she strives for these days, as she prepares to share her full story with the world, and the lessons of self love. "I don't need someone to bring me roses," Anderson says with a smile. "I've just planted a hundred rose bushes. I can get them any time I want — and they're my favorite roses."
For more on Pamela Anderson and her powerful new memoir, check out the story in this week's PEOPLE.