How Mike 'The Situation' Sorrentino Got Sober as He Faces Possible Jailtime: 'I Worked So Hard'

"I've done everything in my power to better myself," Mike Sorrentino tells PEOPLE

Forget Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino — now, his costars call him “The Inspiration.”

Sorrentino, 35, rose to fame as a hard-partying self-proclaimed “guido” on MTV’s Jersey Shore — but by the time the show wrapped in 2012, the New Jersey native was battling a prescription painkiller addiction.

Over five years and two stints in rehab later, Sorrentino is now 28 months sober — and to fans’ delight, he and his shore house roomies are back with a brand new season, Jersey Shore Family Vacation, premiering Thursday.

“I worked so hard to turn my life around and be the best person I can be,” Sorrentino tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue, on stands Friday. “I did it, and good things came around. I’m so excited and so proud of this season.”

  • For more on Sorrentino, his costars and the Jersey Shore reboot, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday
"Jersey Shore Family Vacation" Global Premiere - Arrivals
Phillip Faraone/FilmMagic

After the original run concluded, Sorrentino says he didn’t speak to his tight-knit group of costars “for a couple of years.”

“I had to fight my own demons and fix myself before I could even try to have any other relationships,” he explains. “They teach you that in recovery. But we’ve had the group chat for over a year now, and we talk every day.”

jersey shore reunion promo shot 2018

Now, Sorrentino is the director of public outreach at a rehab in New Jersey, where he speaks once a month.

“I’ve done everything in my power to better myself,” he says. “I really feel that I’m in the best situation possible.”

Indeed, Sorrentino remains relentlessly positive — even as he awaits his April 25 sentencing after pleading guilty to tax evasion in a New Jersey federal court in January. (He’s facing up to five years in prison.)

“We should receive some closure,” he says. “And I’ll try to move forward with my life.”

RELATED VIDEO: Jersey Shore‘s Mike ‘The Situation’ Sorrentino Pleads Guilty in Tax Evasion Case

As for how he stayed clean and sober while filming the reboot — and hitting the clubs — in Miami?

“I had a very strong foundation for my recovery with over two years when I entered the house,” he says. “But I did have to challenge myself to go out and film a whole season of Jersey Shore and have fun without alcohol — to show the youth out there that it is possible.”

“I’m so proud of this season,” he continues. “It took a lot of hard work just to get there. I had to challenge myself to do my job and be funny and be myself — along with some obstacles and a lot of things facing me at that time. So for me to finish it and finish it the way that we did, I’m so blessed and grateful. I really am. I can’t wait for everyone to meet the new Situation.”

Jersey Shore Family Vacation premieres Thursday at 8 p.m. ET on MTV.

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