Aili Nahas
May 11, 2016 08:00 AM

She’s now a successful author and happy mother and wife, but for years Holly Madison was crippled by insecurities and private pain.

“It was a constant struggle,” says Madison of her seven years living at the Playboy Mansion with former boyfriend Hugh Hefner. “I was trying to sell this image of ‘Oh everything is so great here,’ but I was miserable inside.”

Holly Madison
Photographs by Gregg Segal

“The Mansion is all about conformity and judgment and following the rules,” says Madison, whose new book The Vegas Diaries details her journey after she left the Playboy world.

“I didn’t like being a clone. That was definitely something that bothered me the whole time. But the Mansion wasn’t a place where confidence was built. It was a place where manipulation was used to keep everyone scrambling to keep her spot in the house.”

The Vegas Diaries

When it came to standing up for herself, Madison, 36, was afraid.

“There was so much competition among the other women. I learned not to confide in certain people. There was a lot of fear. If I could go back and do things differently, I wouldn’t be scared of people,” she says. “And I’d push the boundaries a lot more. The number of times I stuck up for myself at the Mansion I could probably count on one hand.”

For exclusive photos and much more from Holly Madison, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE, on stands Friday

Kelly Ripa on the cover of PEOPLE

Now happily married to events company owner Pasquale Rotella, with a 3-year-old daughter Rainbow and a son on the way, Madison says she still doesn’t have many regrets when it comes to the painful time.

“It’s a part of my life,” she says. “I can’t look back and wipe it away. It happened and I learned from it. [Now], I’m not trying to fit the mold of what anybody else thinks I should be. And I’m not running away from my past anymore.”

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