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Heather Gay Says 'I Attribute All' of RHOSLC to 'Second Lease on Life' After Leaving Mormon Church

After leaving the LDS Mormon Church and going through a nasty divorce, Heather Gay knew she had to pick up the pieces for her three daughters and find her true self.

"Through my divorce, the life I had always anticipated I would live went away and I had to rebuild," The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City star, who just released her new book Bad Mormon, tells PEOPLE exclusively. "And the Mormon piece of it is the smallest part."

Gay's life ultimately changed when current RHOSLC cast member Lisa Barlow gave her a "golden ticket" by suggesting her for Bravo's new reality show.

"Without question," Gay, 40, says as she credits Barlow, 48, and producers for finally giving her the chance to live a life she always wanted.

"The bigger piece, I think, is that I got to finally live out my dream life in the second half of my life, which is something that I had given up on, absolutely," she continues. "I figured my life was over. Through Housewives and through this awakening of spirituality and faith, I have a second lease on life."

Heather Gray Lisa Barlow Real Housewives of Salt Lake City
Heather Gray Lisa Barlow Real Housewives of Salt Lake City

Chad Kirkland/Bravo (2)

RELATED: Heather Gay Says She's 'Smarter and Wiser' Since Calling Jen Shah the 'MVP' of RHOSLC in Bad Mormon

In her new memoir, the BeautyLab + Laser MedSpa co-owner writes in detail about her casting journey, admitting she "hadn't given it much thought" when Barlow first approached her with the opportunity.

"For the first time in a long while, I felt electric and alive," Gay writes. "It was sinking in. We were making a TV show? We were making a TV show! I pressed down hard on my lower lip to keep from smiling. I needed to stay serious and acknowledge the gravity of the situation: this was a life-altering moment! But inside, the girl who grew up on MTV's Real World and Lauren Conrad's The Hills was euphoric."

Later on in the book, Gay recalls the beginning stages of her attempt to join the cast, calling the process "fascinating and arduous."

"The casting process and the visibility that the show gave me [while] learning to accept my authentic self for the first time in my entire life," Gay tells PEOPLE. "I felt invisible, and the show gave me visibility."

Heather Gay. Credit: Simon & Schuster / Gallery Books
Heather Gay. Credit: Simon & Schuster / Gallery Books

Simon & Schuster / Gallery Books

RELATED: RHOSLC's Heather Gay Finally Admits to Thinking Jen Shah Is Guilty: 'I Am Overwhelmed with Grief'

Gay also found the fandom that comes with being on a reality television show — and a figure that viewers can relate to — as an exciting breath of fresh air.

"All of these people came out of the woodworks that felt seen, that related, that were cheering me on not just as a housewife, but as a human being that was just messy and figuring it out and willing to do it on television," Gay says. "I attribute all of this to this opportunity that crossed my path and I was the least likely candidate to ever get a golden ticket and be asked to be a part of this show and this pop culture phenomenon."

Besides RHOSLC, Gay's book also discusses her life growing in the Mormon community, where she found herself wanting to rebel against their tight-knit rules. Although her departure from the community has caused her to lose relationships, she has no regrets about her decision.

"I think the relationships that hurt me the deepest are just being estranged from my family," Gay explains. "The reason that I never wanted to leave the church is because I never wanted to put the strain on my community or my family or my closest friends. All my predictions came true. This is why I stayed for so long, because it's very, very difficult for people to navigate once you're outside the backyard gate. The gate shuts."

Heather Gay. Credit: Koury Angelo
Heather Gay. Credit: Koury Angelo

Koury Angelo Heather Gay

The Utah native hopes that sharing her story will inspire others living a life they don't want to live to realize they can start over, too.

"There's something that I hope a lot of women identify with," Gay says. "Because we sacrifice so much of our lives to hoping to get married and then to getting married, then hoping we can have children and then having children and hoping that our kids fulfill us. We sacrificed so much that it's nice to know that there's a whole second chapter awaiting some of us whose dreams didn't come true the first time around."

"I attribute all of it to [RHOSLC] because it exposed me to a whole different world and the opportunity to finally honor the writer inside me, and write this book and put my story out there so that my children will know and my legacy will know why I changed it, and how I survived it and to hopefully see it as a success story," Gay concludes. "I would never have had those opportunities without the show, and I feel like the luckiest girl in the world."

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Bad Mormon is now available wherever books are sold.