Even though the singer had a hard life, she admits, "I was born to be a fighter and a survivor."
Editor's note: This article was originally published on February 8, 2021. It has since been updated.
Shania Twain has lived a life full of personal struggles. She was just 10 years old when she experienced sexual abuse by the same hands that were supposed to protect her. The You're Still the One crooner gave details of the physical and psychological as well as sexual abuse she endured at the hands of her stepfather, Jerry Twain.
Talking to The Guardian, Twain said, “I’m not going to go into details about it. I don’t mind saying it, because I do think it’s important that people understand you can survive these things." Noting the connection between the abuse she suffered, Twain continued, “I feel the sexual abuse goes hand in hand with the physical and psychological abuse when it’s somebody you know. I learned to block it out. Abusers need to manipulate you, whether it’s before or after, and what I said to myself is, ‘OK, there’s something wrong with this person and that person is not well.’”
Growing up in a violent home, the singer never knew her biological father. Christened Eilleen Regina Edwards, the singer became Twain after her mother married her stepfather. With no money to suffice a family of seven, Twain started singing in bars when she was just 8 years old. “I was worried about my father killing my mother,” she recalled of her violent home environment. “I thought they’d kill each other. My mom was quite violent, too. Many nights I went to bed thinking: ‘Don’t go to sleep, don’t go to sleep, wait till they are sleeping.’ And I would wake up and make sure everybody was breathing.”
In her 2001 memoir, From This Moment On, the singer detailed an incident where at 11, she got involved in a physical fight with Jerry. She revealed that her stepfather had beat her mother unconscious and was plunging her head in the toilet repeatedly. Frustrated and angry, "I ran up behind my dad with a chair in both hands and smashed it across his back," Twain penned. "Before I could get away, he punched me in the jaw. Adrenaline pumping, I punched him back!"
Talking to ABC News, Twain said, "I thought he'd killed her. I really thought she was drowned, or dead, or that he had just smashed her head in and she was never going to wake up... She looked dead. She was unconscious, she was limp, hanging from his, you know, her, he had her hair in his hands."
"So I'd gone through the shock and experience of really believing my mother had died at that moment. Also, through the humiliation of how I thought she had been killed, by drowning in a toilet seat... It was very, very obviously very hard to take," Twain added.
Somehow getting through her difficult childhood, Twain graduated school in 1983 and moved to Nashville to sing country. However, the year 1987 brought her tragic news. Her stepfather and her mother had passed away in a car crash. Although Jerry had taken away her childhood and innocence, Twain admitted that she loved him as much as she loved her mother as it was because of him that she's become the woman she is today.
"It was the Jekyll and Hyde in him that was the greatest torture," she said. "I loved him and I respected so much what he did for us, being the hard worker, he set a great example. So I'm still left confused. I'm baffled by all of that, I really am."
If you're wondering why didn't she try escaping the family, it's because Twain didn't want her family to be separated. "I did feel sorry for myself a lot as a kid. It was either go to Children’s Aid and get saved now or ... I weighed it up and thought: ‘If I go to Children’s Aid, we’ll all get separated,’ and I just couldn’t bear that, so we all stayed together for better or for worse."
Instead of physically moving away from the family, she found her solace in writing songs and performing them. Talking to The Guardian, The Woman in Me hitmaker revealed that she began writing because she "wanted to escape." Escape from what? "Everything. Violent home. Tensions. Nothing to eat. When you’re hungry you can’t do anything about it but distract yourself from the hunger. And it really works. It’s therapeutic." Contrary to how kids spent their time, Twain "played with words and sounds."
Following the news of her parents' death, Twain had to abandon her dreams and return home to take care of her siblings. During a 60 Minute interview, the singer revealed that as a 22-year-old at the time, she thought, "I would have rather gone with them. It was like, 'This is way too much to handle.'" But, being the strong-minded woman that she is, she started performing in a Vegas-style show to pay bills.
Six years later she was discovered, became a country star, and got the fame she deserved all along. Twain is still the best-selling female artist in the history of country music. "I was born to be a fighter and a survivor."