Rock Bottom

updated 03/29/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/29/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

As he jogged by a gas station in Alpharetta, Ga., on March 12, personal trainer Bervin Jackson heard a familiar "Hey!" Sitting in a pickup truck with friends, Whitney Houston, a former client, called him over. In sunglasses and looking upbeat, "she told me she was doing some touring, and that once she got back she wanted to do some training with me," says Jackson. "She was looking pretty cool. I told her, 'I want to bring you back.' And she said, I want to come back.' "

Apparently, in both body and soul. Three days later, word came that Houston, 40, had entered rehab for substance abuse problems. "This is a fiercely private woman," says a source close to the six-time Grammy winner. "The fact that she voluntarily went into a facility for rehabilitation is an act of courage. She is going to be struggling."

Especially since her family is already in turmoil. Last month her husband of 12 years, R & B singer Bobby Brown, 37, began serving a 60-day jail term in Georgia for parole violation, including a December charge for allegedly striking Houston. With both parents absent, the couple's 11-year-old daughter Bobbi Kristina "is with family," says Brown's mother, Carole. "She's fine."

For years now, the same could not be said of Houston. In 2002, asked by Diane Sawyer on Primetime Live if she had abused marijuana, cocaine, alcohol or pills, Houston replied, "Yeah, I'll grant you I partied." In fact, in 1999 her mother, gospel singer Cissy Houston, 71, staged an intervention, but Whitney refused treatment. "I said, 'Mommy, you've raised me with the love, and with God. Now if I can't make it with you and with the love of God, I'm not putting my life in someone else's hands,' " Houston told Sawyer, adding that she had worked through her problems with prayer.

But before long Houston was misbehaving again (see box). In 2000 she was arrested in Hawaii for marijuana possession; the charges were later dropped. Arriving at her 40th-birthday party at an Atlanta nightclub last August, "she was stressed out," says Rakaia Jackson, a fan. "She was attempting to get her jacket off, and she could barely do that." Two weeks later, when police officers arrested Brown at a restaurant near the couple's Alpharetta home for a parole violation, Houston "was ranting and raving that we need to lock up real criminals, and 'F—-that' and 'F—-this,' " says Commander Kevin Phillips.

"Because you are a star, people think you don't have a problem," says her long-time friend Perri Reid, who herself experienced fame in the '80s as the pop star Pebbles. "The pressures of succeeding and satisfying people's expectations, that's very difficult." Since the heights of selling 34 million copies of the sound-track to The Bodyguard in 1992, Houston's record sales have steadily declined—to 1 million for 2002's Just Whitney. Still, says Tracks magazine editor Alan Light, "the American public is eager to forgive when people ask for forgiveness."

That affection will no doubt play a part in Houston's chances for recovery. "The outpouring of love and support from all over the world has been staggering," says a friend. "I want her to feel that, because what she's going to go through is not easy."

Susan Schindehette. Oliver Jones in Los Angeles, Deborah Geering in Atlanta, Linda Trischitta in Miami and Rachel Felder in New York City

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