Ariana Madix Is 'Reclaiming' Her Power, 1 Cocktail at a Time, to Prove 'People Wrong' Who Doubted Her (Exclusive)

"He was one of them," the 'Vanderpump Rules' star and 'Single AF Cocktails' author tells PEOPLE of ex Tom Sandoval

<p>Kelly Puleio</p>

Kelly Puleio

Ariana Madix isn't afraid to mix it up.

The Vanderpump Rules star, 38, has endured and emerged this year after the life-rocking discovery that Tom Sandoval, her boyfriend of nine years, had been carrying on a months-long affair with her friend and castmate Rachel "Raquel" Leviss. Much more than personal heartache, the fallout became an international gossip event, dubbed the "Scandoval" by fans and uninitiated gawkers alike.

In the nearly nine months since her sudden breakup on March 1, Madix has navigated daily bombshells by channeling her pain into an impressive range of projects. She booked a star turn in Lifetime's Buying Back My Daughter, partnered with high-profile brands including Uber One and BIC razors, and has wowed the judges on the latest edition of Dancing with the Stars to emerge as a bona fide season 32 front-runner and finalist.

Up next, she's releasing Single AF Cocktails: Drinks for Bad B*tches on Dec. 5 The cathartic cocktail book traces the path of her relationship with Sandoval, 41, from their "shimmering" early moments together through the months of "disgusting ... lies, deception and gaslighting" of his secret relationship with Leviss, 29 — and, finally, to the strength and empowerment she's discovered within herself.

Madix tells PEOPLE in this week's issue that writing the book was healing because “as much as it is difficult to put yourself in a vulnerable situation, I’ve always found that something that is really scary is always, ultimately, the way to go.”

<p>Tawni Bannister</p>

Tawni Bannister

The Bravo star also found power in her own written words, noting, “There’s a lot of people who, for nine years, thought that I couldn’t do anything on my own, and so I love proving those people wrong.”

Of her ex, she adds, “And I think he was one of them.”

Related: Ariana Madix Breaks Silence on Tom Sandoval and Raquel Leviss's Affair: 'What Doesn't Kill Me Better Run'

Each cocktail tells its own story — from blissful vacations to the happiness of home ownership to the gut-punch discovery of her ex's infidelity. And their names — "Watch What Happens," "Couples Therapy," "Revenge Dress," "Stranger in My House" — will no doubt strike a cord with VPR fans.

Madix does admit she found it a challenge to write the first chapter of the book, titled "The Honeymoon Phase," while she was still reeling from Sandoval's betrayal.

"It was actually the hardest chapter to write, because it was one that we were struggling to fill out," she explains of the book, which follows in the spirit(s) of Fancy AF cocktails, which the then-couple co-wrote in 2019.

"You start coming up with ideas, but it was the relationship between the cocktails and the stories specifically to try to make sure that they really correlated with each other that was more difficult," she notes. "And so, filling out those earlier chapters with the happier memories, especially when you're in the place that I was in in March, was definitely more difficult."

<p>Frazer Harrison/Getty</p>

Frazer Harrison/Getty

Eventually, though, Single AF Cocktails finds its way from darkness to light, reveling in the support of her close friends in her time of need and the joy of a surprising new romance with fitness trainer Daniel Wai.

"I've just really made sure to stay true to who I am and not let someone else's little behavior make me smaller as a person," she said of her approach to life and writing.

And though she thanks Sandoval in the book's acknowledgments "for showing me that I could learn to love myself outside of any type of relationship," that doesn't mean she ever intended to foreground him — or Leviss — in her story.

She tells PEOPLE she made the choice "from jump" to mention their names as little as possible. "I don't know them," she says. "They're completely irrelevant to my story and my life, so using their names is not necessary to me."

She acknowledges, "In a lot of ways it feels like I don't even have ownership over my own story anymore, and there's plenty of people who don't know me or know my life who have declared it over or have declared it as old news, but it's mine, and I'm living it."

<p>Clarkson Potter</p>

Clarkson Potter

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Single AF Cocktails is out Tuesday everywhere books are sold.

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