Jewel on Reconciling With Her 'Abusive' Father After He Got Sober: 'I Was Determined to Heal'

In a wide-ranging interview with PEOPLE, Jewel opens up about finding true happiness after healing from a difficult childhood

It wasn't always a "Good Day" in Jewel's home growing up.

In this week's issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, the '90s folk icon (born Jewel Kilcher) opens up about the pain of being raised by her abusive father, Atz, in Homer, Alaska.

"My mom [Lenedra Carroll] left when I was 8 years old, and my dad took over raising me and my brothers at that age," Jewel says. "My dad had really bad PTSD [from serving in the Vietnam war], but those words weren't really known at the time. He tried to drink to handle the anxiety, and he became abusive."

She later learned that it was a cycle her father repeated from his own abusive upbringing.

"As much as we have a genetic inheritance, we have an emotional inheritance," she says. "My dad was also raised in a wildly abusive home. I had a way better go of it than he did when he was young, but it still wasn't good."

No longer willing to put up with the abuse, Jewel moved off her family's homestead at age 15 and into a cabin of her own.

"I started paying rent and working a couple jobs in town, hitchhiking to work," she says. "It felt good. My dad and I had a difficult relationship, and I thought, 'I could live in a cabin by myself or I could live in a cabin with a guy that isn't that nice to me. So, why not go live in a cabin by myself?'"

When she left home, Jewel, now 46, says she was determined not to hold a grudge against her father, despite everything she had been through.

"I was determined to heal: to let go, move on and figure out how I could be the one who changed those habits," she says.

Jewel. Getty

Jewel credits the meditation and mindfulness practices — which she first started developing at age 18 while spending a year homeless after moving to San Diego to be with her mom — for helping her break the cycle.

"I ended up homeless because I wouldn't have sex with a boss," she says. "I started living in my car because my boss wouldn't give me my paycheck. Then my car got stolen."

With nowhere to turn but the streets, she shoplifted to get by.

"One day, I was shoving this dress down my baggy Levi 501 jeans and thought, 'I'm going to end up in jail or dead,'" she says. "Then I remembered this quote by Buddha: 'Happiness does not depend on what you have or who you are. It solely relies on what you think.' I thought, maybe I could turn my life around one thought at a time."

Jewel. Getty

Jewel now uses the toolkit that she built for herself to help at-risk youth through her Inspiring Children Foundation and website,

"I didn't have access to therapy," she says. "I didn't even have a family, really. I wanted something that would work for anybody, no matter what their resources were."

In adulthood, Jewel and her father — now 73 and the star of Discovery's Alaska: The Last Frontier — were able to reconcile their relationship after he went on his own journey towards healing in his 60s.

"He got sober and did this amazing inner work," she says. "It's a profound transformation. We have a really authentic, great relationship now, but it's because he did his work, and I did my work."

As she celebrates the 25th anniversary of her breakthrough debut album Pieces of You with a special reissue, out Friday, Jewel — a hands-on mom to 9-year-old son Kase with ex-husband Ty Murray — is "very proud" of how far she's come.

"It's nice to look back at this 25 years of ups and downs and see where I'm at," she says. "I'm comfortable, and I feel like I made good on my promise to try and be a happy whole human."

For all the details on Jewel's journey from homelessness to pop stardom, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.

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