While she and McKnight were together, McCready says she was completely lost. ''There was nothing left of the person that I am sitting in front of you,'' she says flatly. ''I was broken in every way possible.'' Her first suicide attempt came in July 2005, after, she claims, finding out that McKnight had gotten another woman pregnant; she ''ate a bunch of pills'' and passed out in the lobby of a Florida hotel. She says the next attempt, two months later, was more halfhearted. ''I took stupid pills you can get over the counter, and Wellbutrin, which isn't going to kill you, really,'' she says. ''In my mind, I wanted to die. I was pregnant. I didn't want to bring a baby into the world with Billy as the father.'' Now, she says, her days of trying to off herself are over. What matters most is ''how I pick up these pieces and how I put them back. I don't want to be a victim. I'm a fighter. That's why I'm still alive.''
Lately, McCready has emerged as something akin to the Forrest Gump of TMZ, a reputation that began with the 2008 headlines touting her long-term affair with the married Roger Clemens. She says they met in Florida when she was 15 (others put her age closer to 17), and fell in love. They never had sex when she was underage, says McCready, who claims Clemens at one point asked her father for her hand in marriage. Mindy's mother confirms the affair, but according to Rusty Hardin, Clemens' attorney, ''Roger Clemens stands by his denial. He considered her a friend, but it was not a sexual relationship.''
More recently, she taped the insane third season of Celebrity Rehab (premiering in January), and surfaced in two later scandals. The Eric Dane/Rebecca Gayheart hoo-ha sucked her in after former teen pageant queen and CR cast member Kari Ann Peniche, the ''other woman'' in the video, accused McCready of leaking the tape. Peniche's manager says McCready gave it to the press as retribution for a dispute that occurred while McCready and Peniche were living together after finishing the show earlier this year. Though she confirms the dispute, McCready says Peniche leaked it herself. McCready has also spoken out on behalf of CR roommate and recent tabloid fixture Mackenzie Phillips, defending her incest revelations. ''She was definitely not lying,'' McCready says. ''What she was talking about took a lot of courage.''
McCready says she went on CR just to get ''a big fat check,'' but she now credits the three and a half weeks she spent taping it this summer with saving her life. She'd been in Florida, spending time with her mother and son, and, she says, finally getting over her attachment to McKnight. She spent some time in a rehab facility during the summer of 2008, but CR creator and addiction specialist Dr. Drew Pinsky was able to get through to her by focusing less on substance abuse and more on her issues with codependency. ''Mindy is somebody that it's easy to develop a deep affection for,'' says Pinsky. ''She gets herself in a lot of chaotic situations, and it's hard to tell what's what. But my job is not to be a detective or determine the facts, just to help Mindy. And I do think she was helped by the experience.'' In fact, McCready raves about it. ''I have put myself in harm's way in almost every relationship I'm in,'' she says. ''I know now. I am a beacon for anybody that wants to take advantage of me.''
She's also come away with a fresh perspective on the scale of her problems, thanks to the misadventures of her CR cohorts. ''I thought I was the most messed-up person on the planet,'' McCready says. ''I'm not even close.'' During the show's friends-and-family weekend, McCready sang a song she wrote in jail called ''I'm Still Here.'' Witnesses say it was phenomenal. Even Tom Sizemore cried.
The night after her Hotel Indigo performance, McCready is back under the track lights to see a songwriter named Courtney Dashe. When Dashe sings her ballad ''I'll See You Yesterday,'' McCready starts dabbing her eyes with Kleenex; she plans to include the song on a self-released comeback album. In typical fashion, however, that situation is complicated: McCready is currently signed to a small Denver label called Iconic Records, for whom she recorded a full disc of songs last year, including a mournful, radio-ready version of ''I'm Still Here.'' Iconic president Michael Fancher intends to release the record in January, but McCready, who says she signed with Fancher because ''nobody else was asking,'' is unhappy with the deal and considering bankruptcy in an attempt to dissolve their contract. Her comeback effort also involves a book she's writing about her life, and some TV ideas in development with Irwin Entertainment, the producers of Celebrity Rehab but if the Iconic mess is any indication, her train's not back on track quite yet.
McCready and her mother both say they're deep believers in the power of karma and kismet, and while they agree she's paying for her past indiscretions, they know her saga could also be inspiring to others. Inge is convinced her comeback success will be major. ''It won't count on publicity,'' she says. ''She's lived a life that she can talk to so many people about. They'll find her.'' Who are they? ''Every woman that has ever been made weak by being abused by a man,'' says McCready. ''Every woman who's tried to stand up on her own and been slapped down by the industry or the world or her boyfriend. I represent what can be, if you just keep fighting. I was meant to mess up. Somebody out there knew I could handle it and be an inspiration.
''Everything that's happened, it can't have been for no reason,'' she says, like it's something she's desperate to believe. ''This can't all have been in vain.''
(Additional reporting by John Young and Paige Parker)
McCready's take on those tabloid stories.
ON MACKENZIE PHILLIPS...
''I don't give a damn what anybody says about her. After living with that woman as long as we were together [on Celebrity Rehab], she's a real person.''
ON ROGER CLEMENS...
''I wasn't the other woman saying, 'Leave your wife for me.' I would never want to disrespect his wife and his children.''
ON THE MCSTEAMY NUDE VIDEO...
''Eric Dane called me immediately. I was like, 'I would never do anything like that.' I don't know anything about this!''