The first time J.P. Cormier picked up an instrument he was a pre-schooler. 

At the time he couldn't have known how his innate musical talent would shape his life and help him overcome many challenges.

As an adolescent, he hid in his room from an abusive mother, comforting himself with his music.

"I just had a rough childhood," the self-taught Nova Scotia singer-songwriter said.

"My parents were both alcoholics. My mother was especially bad. She had a drug problem, prescription drugs, and had several mental illnesses that were undiagnosed." 

And then his father died when he was eight, leaving him in his mother's care, "which was a nightmare."

Cormier, now 47, recalled in an interview with Atlantic Voice host Pauline Dakin that his mother would chase him with "knives, guns, hatchets, baseball bats... she used to grab anything she could get her hands on to threaten me."

Childhood abuse led to PTSD

Music was his escape. He left home at the age of 15 to join a band in the United States, going on to play with Waylon Jennings, Marty Stuart, Earl Scruggs and others. He recorded his first album at age 16 and played on the festival circuit and at the Grand Old Opry.

Since his return to Canada, he's won 13 East Coast Music Awards and a Canadian Folk Music Award.

Nova Scotia singer-songwriter J.P. Cormier and band

Nova Scotia singer-songwriter J.P. Cormier is shown with other musicians as they recreate the first recording of the renowned Cape Breton Symphony. (Pauline Dakin/CBC)

But despite these successes, Cormier's story is still no fairy tale.

Within the last year, he was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. He said he now recognizes that a lifetime struggle with anxiety and panic attacks were a result of the abuse he suffered as a child. 

PTSD is often associated with military service and experienced by returning veterans, as described in Cormier's song Hometown Battlefield. But he said childhood abuse is actually a more common cause of the condition.

Cormier is now speaking publicly about his experience with PTSD, using his platform as a respected musician to encourage others suffering with the condition to get help.

Cape Breton Symphony recreated

Meanwhile in October, at the Celtic Colours festival in Cape Breton, he fulfilled a long-time dream, uniting with musicians Howie MacDonald, Dwayne Cote, Richard Wood, Stuart Cameron, Dave Gunning, Allie Bennett, Kimberley Holmes and Aaron Lewis to recreate the first recording of the renowned Cape Breton Symphony.

The symphony was a group of fiddlers that played with John Allen Cameron — the "godfather of Celtic music"— on his national television show in the 1970s and early '80s. It included John Donald Cameron, Winston "Scotty" Fitzgerald, Wilfred Gillis, and Jerry Holland.

They were revered for popularizing traditional fiddle music and for creating their own unique style of playing it. 

Cormier said his tribute to the group was an opportunity to pay homage to the musical geniuses who inspired and mentored him.