When Leah Remini made the momentous decision to leave the Church of Scientology in 2013, she knew it wasn’t going to be easy.
The former King of Queens actress, 45, had been introduced to the religion by her mother at the age of 8, and had been a member for 35 years. As a teen, she even spent a year living – and doing manual labor, including cleaning hotel rooms – at the church’s Sea Org headquarters in Clearwater, Florida, which is reserved for Scientology’s most dedicated members.
"I've been given a second chance at life and so has my family," Remini says. "It's like a rebirth."
For much more from Remini, including what she says about Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes, Nicole Kidman, and more, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.
Cracks in her devotion to the church formed in 2006 after Remini attended the wedding of fellow Scientologist Tom Cruise and Katie Homles. Remini says she was punished after questioning what she considered eyebrow-raising behaviors by church officials and the absence of her friend Shelly Miscavige, the wife of church leader David Miscavige, at the festivities.
(Remini filed a missing persons report for Shelley in 2013. The Los Angeles Police Department called her claim "unfounded" and a statement from the Church at the time characterized the inquisition into Shelley’s whereabouts as “ill-advised, ludicrous self-promotion.")
Remini also began educating herself about the criticisms faced by the church (all of which are refuted by church officials) and made the difficult decision to leave despite the fear she could lose any relationship with her family, including her mom, Vicki Marshall, and her husband, Angelo Pagán.
But that didn't happen. Her family followed her lead and left with her.
"They simply put family ahead of the Church, which is oftentimes not the case with Scientology families," Remini says. "I am lucky and blessed."
Remini chronicles her experience with the religion – and her disillusionment with Cruise, the Church’s most famous member – in her new book, Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology.
"It wasn’t an easy thing to do," she says of telling her story in the book. "It's about me being flawed."
The Church of Scientology denies nearly all of Remini's claims, saying in a statement, "It comes as no surprise that someone as self-absorbed as Leah Remini with an insatiable craving for attention would exploit her former faith as a publicity stunt. "
Remini isn't much bothered. "I understand what they’re doing and why they're doing it," she says of the denunciations by her former church. "It's what they do. I was just hoping they’d be a little more imaginative."