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Long before Mary J. Blige hit R&B stardom with her debut album What's the 411? in 1992, music was a refuge from the pain of her troubled childhood. Raised by a single mother in a New York housing project, Mary says she was molested at the age of 5. Physical abuse also left its mark on Mary's life at a young age, she says. "It's a vicious cycle," Mary says.

Mary turned to drugs and alcohol early in life and struggled with addiction for years. The music industry's partying lifestyle accelerated her downward spiral. She says her turning point came in 2001. After the loss of a close friend, her grief was compounded by the death of fellow hip-hop star Aaliyah on August 25 and the 9/11 tragedy.

Mary has now been sober for about five years. She attributes her progress to her religious faith and the power of forgiveness.

The new energy in Mary's life comes across in her music. "It's called freedom," she says. "Letting people's opinions be their opinions and not letting their opinions be my life—not letting what they say in the tabloids about me make me or break me. I know what I am in my heart. I know what I believe about me. That's the freedom I have in performing and looking in people's eyes and being able to smile from my heart."
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