Michelle Knight spent nearly 11 years of her life inside a house of horror where she was chained, tortured, raped and beaten. Despite the nightmarish conditions she endured, she wants everyone to know one thing – she’s a survivor.
“I don’t dwell on the past. I really try to look forward,” says Knight, 33, who spoke exclusively with PEOPLE. “I want to be remembered as a victor, not a victim.”
It has been a year since Knight, along with two other women – Amanda Berry, 28, and Gina DeJesus, 24 – escaped from their captor Ariel Castro on May 6, 2013. Since then, the women have gone their separate ways while they heal and get reacquainted with the lives they once led.
Knight is embarking on an international book tour to promote her memoir, Finding Me, which hit bookshelves Tuesday. In it, she reveals how a troubled childhood helped her cope with some of her darkest days in captivity.
“It was a difficult [childhood], but it’s no longer me now,” she says. “I learned to cope with certain things that happened to me when I was younger, and it helped me to survive this incident that I went through.”
Since her escape, Knight has started attending cooking school and hopes to one day have her own restaurant. She has found a network of friends who share her passion for singing and dancing.
“There are some things I’m still having problems with,” she says. “With all the damage that was done to me in the house, my eyes don’t see right – they jump a lot. And I have to take medication to control the tremors [in my arms].” But she’s not complaining.
“I’m doing really good,” she says. “Freedom is the air I breathe, the city I walk in. Everything is beautiful to me.”
For more on Michelle Knight’s amazing story and an exclusive excerpt from her memoir, Finding Me, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.