The popular talk show host, who just turned 50 on July 18, has the career of her dreams and a loving family at home. She's also got her self-confidence.
"I'm 5 foot 11, 165 lbs. and I love my body at this point in my life," Williams tells PEOPLE in this week's issue.
But this level of contentment was a long time coming for the media mogul.
"Honestly," she says, "my life before 21 sucked." Dogged by body issues at a young age, "My first diet was in the first grade!" says Williams. "Tuna fish and mustard with yogurt on the side. Weight was a big thing for me to overcome."
School was challenging, as well. "In high school I was just the girl standing on the side, looking at everybody having fun and saying, 'I can't wait to get out of here and set the world on fire,' " she says.
That she did, going on to a successful radio career that paved the way for TV stardom. But that wasn't before facing even more hardships in her 20s and 30s.
"Drugs were a demon I had to overcome," says Williams of her decade-long bout with cocaine.
Later, while trying to start a family with husband Kevin Hunter, "There was a hiccup with a couple of miscarriages," she says, growing teary-eyed. "Life is hard on us women." (She eventually welcomed a son, Kevin, 14 this month.) Now, at 50, "I feel like I'm just getting started."
For more on Williams's painful journey to find happiness, sobriety and motherhood, and how she's feeling at 50, pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday