Julie Roberts had a string of hits in the new millennium, including "Break Down Here" and "Wake Up Older." But the singer-songwriter's success was clouded by both personal and professional setbacks, including a childhood with an abusive father, a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, and losing everything she owned in the historic Nashville flood.
Her challenges are enough to make even the most steadfast person discouraged, but Roberts isn't most people. She recently opened up about her struggles in a new book, Beauty in the Breakdown: Choosing to Overcome, which she co-wrote with New York Times best-selling author Ken Abraham.
"I wanted to share the story because the book talks about a lot I've seen in my life, not just in the music industry but from growing up in a home of domestic violence and overcoming that, overcoming a big flood, a diagnosis of MS," Roberts told PopCulture.com. "I go around the country speaking to others that live with MS and I realized in doing that, that there are so many people, and probably most people that you meet are going through something.
"I wanted to get my message out that you can overcome, that you can wake up each morning and decide that day, 'OK, I'm going to beat this today,'" she continued. "And for me, it's my faith that keeps me going and I wake up and I say, 'OK, God, show me the way today.' And I just wanted to get that message out because I saw a need for it as I was speaking around the country. The rooms that I'm speaking in, there are a lot of people living with MS, but others are just there to listen and I realized everybody is going through something."
Beauty in the Breakdown details a troubled childhood, trying to escape the wrath of her father, and witnessing his repeated mistreatment of her mother. Roberts admitted she shed many tears reliving those fear-filled years, but felt it was necessary to include in her book.
"It's my mom's chapter. It's my sisters' chapter," said Roberts. "I have two sisters. Mama has listened to the audio book. She lives in Nashville ... I just got married but we've lived together forever until a few months ago. And she told me the other day she was listening to the audio book, which I read, and she said it made her sad too, not just relive it. She said, 'I was sad that I didn't leave sooner and that you all lived through that. And I said, 'Don't be sad.' I said, 'Mama, it made us who we are. And honestly, it made me stronger.'"
Roberts was performing one night at the height of her career, when her vision suddenly blurred and she was unable to hold the microphone with her right hand. She returned to Nashville and immediately visited her doctor, who diagnosed Roberts with MS. After living in denial about her illness for years, Roberts finally started a treatment plan, which is allowing Roberts to live a full, and healthy, life.
"I'm on a disease-modifying therapy and I work out most days," Roberts said. "I'm trying to walk my dogs most days and try to eat healthy 80% of the time. I do enjoy life. But also I try to stay positive and I try to continue doing what I love, music. And I think that keeps me going. I'm feeling great."
Ironically, it was one of the worst events in Roberts' life — losing her home and all of her belongings in the Nashville flood — that became the thing that saved her life.
"We were in our townhouse and it was our first happy home," Roberts recalled. "And our neighbors knocked on our door at like 8:00 that morning to wake us up and they said, 'You need to get out. The water is rising. And actually move your cars to a higher ground.'"
By the time they were alerted to the rising water, their cars had floated away. But although Roberts lost literally everything – escaping from the second floor of her home via a boat with only the clothes on her back and her dogs, the flood is what ultimately saved her life.
"When we were able to go back to our townhouse and we had to do the pulling up of the carpet – because we didn't have flood insurance, so we rebuilt," recounted Roberts. "So I was trying to do that and Mama looked over at me and she could see that I couldn't use my hands again, and that my vision was gone again. It had been five years since my diagnosis and I had ignored it. And she said, 'You need to go back. It didn't go away like we thought it would.'"
Roberts went back to her neurologist, confessing that she had never even read the information on MS that he had given her, but was now ready to face her illness head-on.
"He did the same tests and actually my MRI scan looked worse because I had ignored it," Roberts acknowledged. "That is a message too that I'd like to get across to anyone that's newly diagnosed, it's scary but the National MS Society recommends that you get on a therapy right away. And I didn't want to know that but I want people to know that now. Don't do what I did."
Ready to get back to music, Roberts accepted an invitation to audition for The Voice in 2013, singing Blake Shelton's hit single, "God Gave Me You." Although the show was supposed to be a way for Roberts to reignite her career, not one of the four judges turned their chair around during her performance.
"It was really hard, is all I can say about it," Roberts conceded. "I can tell you I would never do it again but there's always a blessing in everything, and the blessing in The Voice for me was that I was able to get my story out. After that episode aired, I had so many people write to me on my Facebook or my website and say, 'Hey, I'm living with MS, and I saw you standing up there. And I know I am going through the same thing you're going through and you just made me want to keep trying.' And that is the blessing in my experience of The Voice."
The South Carolina native is still steadfast in her determination to live life well, and to help others battling MS or facing another adversity. She is also working on new music, which she promises will be out soon.
"I just finished a record with Shooter Jennings," Roberts revealed. "I'm really proud of this record. We're figuring out right now when it should be out soon but you'll know about it. And then I'm getting ready to record with an amazing Latin producer in Miami too named Rudy Perez. And I'm doing something totally different musically with him which I think will surprise you. But I'm excited about it because I love what Rudy does and just being in the studio with him is just going to be amazing. But first will be the Shooter record."
Photo Credit: Getty images/Terry Wyatt0comments