"When I woke up each morning, it was like my world was crashing down again," the celebrity chef, 67, tells PEOPLE exclusively in this week's cover story.
Her multimillion-dollar food empire and personal reputation shattered by Deen's admission in a 2013 deposition that she had used the N-word a "very long time" ago, the onetime "Queen of Butter" lost her Food Network contract along with most of her endorsement deals.
Nearly nine months later, she is now hoping to reboot her business with a new company funded by a $75 million deal with private investment firm Najafi Companies.
"I'm fighting to get my name back," says Deen, who adds that weathering the scandal involved facing her "greatest fear."
"I used to have dreams that I lost everything," she says. "And when it finally happens, you think, 'I'm still alive.' "
For much more on Paula Deen's life after scandal, pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE magazine, on newsstands Friday
Reporting by LIZA HAMM