"I needed that time to reflect," says Gabriel Iglesias

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Credit: Jorge Guerrero

Gabriel Iglesias has been doing comedy for more than 20 years, but the standup star still gets the same feeling every time he performs.

“Walking out there and hearing the crowd roar and thousands of people happy to see you is an awesome feeling,” he tells PEOPLE in this week's issue.

Still, his road to success hasn’t come easy. His standup shows have sold out Madison Square Garden; he has two hit Netflix comedy specials under his belt (with two more in the works); and season 2 of Mr. Iglesias, the series he stars in and produces, premieres June 17 on Netflix. But in 2017, everything came to a screeching halt.

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Gabriel Iglesias in Mr. Iglesias
| Credit: Kevin Estrada/Netflix
  • For more from Gabriel Iglesias, pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

As the stress of balancing work and family took its toll, “everything fell apart,” he says. Iglesias eventually split from his longtime partner Claudia Valdez, though he still has a strong relationship with her son Frankie, 22, who they raised together.

“I went into survival mode,” says Iglesias, 43, who stepped away from work for what he calls an “emotional rebuild,” which included quitting alcohol for more than two years.

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Gabriel Iglesias in Last Comic Standing
| Credit: Mitchel Haaseth/NBCU/Getty

“I drink now, but I needed that time to reflect,” he says. “I couldn’t drink and fix myself.”

Now single, “home is different for me now. I can focus on myself, my career, my kid and my dogs.”

While his latest tour remains on hold due to COVID-19, Iglesias can’t wait to get back on the road. “I feel like I’ve got everything I ever wanted,” he says. “I love every minute of being out there.”