Like the title of her new album, Now, Shania Twain wants to live in the moment. And no wonder, since her past is so painful. Growing up with abusive parents, "Many nights I went to bed thinking, 'Don’t go to sleep, don’t go to sleep, wait till they are sleeping,'" she recalls of her youth. "I was worried about my father killing my mother [but] my mom was quite violent, too. I would wake up to make sure everybody was breathing."

Shania, 52, has spoken about her traumatic childhood with her stepdad, Jerry Twain, but following the bitter breakup of her marriage to music producer Robert "Mutt" Lange in 2008, the country superstar says, "I started peeling back the layers of pain I was in, and all the other griefs and disappointments came to the surface." Now she’s revealed her stepfather abused her not only "physically and psychologically," but sexually, as well. "I learned to block it out," she says.

But a friend of Shania’s tells Closer, "She didn’t want to live as a victim anymore" and wanted to speak out. "She was determined to break the cycle and forgive herself and those in her life, living or dead. It’s about freeing herself up for the rest of her life." First, Shania needed to accept the choice she’d made as a child to not turn in her parents for abuse. "I thought, 'If I go to Children’s Aid, we’ll all get separated,'" she recalls. "I just couldn’t bear that."

Instead, she stayed and found refuge in music. "A lot of kids play with dolls, and I played with words and sounds." Dr. Julie Armstrong, who is not treating Shania, says the singer "was very lucky to have that outlet, which would permit her to express feelings that she might not yet be able to put words to."

shania twain

Her parents’ death in a car crash in 1987, just as her career was taking off, is another painful memory. "I was out of myself [with grief]," Shania says, and she put her career on hold to care for her siblings until 1993, when she met and married Mutt. Their collaboration made her a star, but when he had an affair with her best friend, the betrayal devastated Shania.

Still, she thought, "This was not nearly as bad as my parents dying. It’s time to put it all into perspective." She worked hard on healing, and in 2011 she got remarried, to Nestlé exec Frederic Thiebaud. Speaking out now about the abuse is her way of "coming clean," says her friend. "She wanted to be rid of it once and for all."

"Memories can be like nightmares," Shania says. But with therapy, music and, most of all, her son, Eja, 16, she’s looking ahead. "Being a good, doting mom put her past in perspective," her friend says. And now Shania has a new outlook: "There’s always a light at the end of the tunnel," she says. "That’s the way I look at life."

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