Like so many women, Memma Chierici, 47, had devoted her life to her family: being a supportive wife and mother, raising four children and helping her husband with a start-up business.
But after marrying young and realising towards the end of the 20-year union that she was deeply unhappy, Memma embarked on a journey of self-discovery and growth.
"I thought I'd found the love of my life, but in the last few years, I realised that my husband was a very controlling and undermining person," Memma explains.
"There was no respect and he couldn't support the person I was and what was important to me."
Struggling with grief at the end of her relationship, Memma poured her feelings into her first book, Out Loud, a memoir which shares her experience of toxic family dynamics and finding the strength to forge a new life as a single working mother.
"Initially, writing was part of my healing and catharsis," Memma says. "But deep into the manuscript, I realised that I had the potential to help other women through sharing my story.
"I realised I could be a mirror for other unhappy women. I had transcended the unhappy life I was living and was finally in a good place.
"I can now relay to others that we as individuals have the power to change our lives. They can be small steps and it can make a difference."
With a third of Australian marriages ending in divorce, Memma hopes Out Loud will connect with millions of women in similar circumstances.
"I realised early in the marriage that I wasn't happy, but I pushed that aside," Memma said.
"I was raised in a very traditional Italian family and family obligation was drilled into me. It meant that I had to attend all the birthdays, funerals, weddings… as a young girl I tagged along with my parents and that was fine, but to have this imposed upon me as an adult was wrong.
"If I chose not to go to an event, the emotional blackmail from my mother was relentless. I was encouraged to study, but it was expected that I would find a nice Catholic boy, get married and have children. My duty was then to my husband."
Now working as an executive assistant in Melbourne, Memma says her memoir is not a traditional self-help book, but a woman-to-woman account of dealing with change, becoming empowered and letting go of entrenched childhood beliefs about marriage and obligation.
"It's a book about positive change and how I went about that. It's quite exposing, and I talk about who I was in the past compared to who I am today and becoming the more assertive courageous person that I am now."
Memma says the support of friends, including a meditation teacher and a marriage counsellor were a turning point in her own journey, helping her to find the strength to speak up after years of feeling silenced.
"As a teenager, I became quite introverted. I had a hard time dealing with my emotions because as a child, emotions were not discussed in my family.
"My self-esteem was low and I often faked self-confidence. I didn't think that I had a worthy point of view or contribution to make. "Finally connecting with my inner self, helped me find my voice," Memma explains. "I had to dig deep and find out who I was. It was time to get real and be honest with myself."
Now, thanks to Out Loud, this debut author could be the voice of a generation of women who have or are experiencing the turmoil of divorce and separation.
"I want to advocate respect for both men and women in marriage, but there are situations when separation is the right path," Memma said.
"Ultimately, you are responsible for you. Building your self-esteem has a ripple effect that can enable positive change. You feel motivated and confident in your ability to handle anything that comes your way."
Memma's book, Out Loud is available online at www.outloudamemoir.com.au.
Question: What inspired you to write Out Loud?
Memma Chierici: After leaving my husband, I was in a time of transition and uncertainty. I was questioning every aspect of my life and needed to clear my head. I felt that the best way to do this was to get things down on paper. I had so much to say and initially it was a private undertaking, a catharsis. I realised fairly quickly into the writing though, that I could share my story with other women. I could be that ordinary person that so many could relate to and I could share my personal experiences and thoughts and help others through my learnings.
Question: How did you learn and grow from this experience?
Memma Chierici: As I mentioned, the writing was cathartic. When I wrote about my personal experiences, I was reliving them. This was often quite confronting and I had to dig deep and really take a look at myself. In doing this, as hard as it sometimes was, I could interpret and ponder the experience again and grow from the realisations I'd made. I could let go a little more from the tough times and from this, accept more love and light into my life.
Question: What message do you hope to achieve through Out Loud?
Memma Chierici: No matter how tough things are, you alone have the potential to change your life. If you're unhappy, do something about it. It does take courage and having courage doesn't mean that you are completely absent of fear but you are not really living if you are living cautiously. I had to throw caution to the wind and follow my heart so that I could start living and be all that I could be. Be true to you and embrace this. Take charge of your life because only you can.
Question: How can friends and family support a newly separated woman?
Memma Chierici: It's really important that family and friends listen and don't try to jump in and offer an opinion about what they should be doing unless asked. A woman who has just separated needs encouragement, not judgement. She needs time to work herself out, so a friend or family member who can check in regularly is great. A catch up for coffee or a dinner and genuine concern is basically what is needed during this time. In some cases, a woman may need a little extra support if money is an issue. To offer to pay for a meal or some groceries for a friend in need is also a good thing.
Question: What advice do you have for a newly separated women?
Memma Chierici: Stay strong and accept that finding a new path may take some time. Give yourself the opportunity to grieve a lost relationship and talk to someone, maybe a counsellor, if you can. It's important to see what went wrong in your relationship and deal with those issues before you even think about a possible new relationship. Importantly, get to know yourself and what you want for your life going forward. This can be a very exciting time. Think positively, go and do what you like doing. Read a self-help book or two, join a gym, go for walks and only associate with positive people who have your back.
Question: How can all women break-free and starting living life on their own terms?
Memma Chierici: This is such an individual thing. I think the key is to be real and true to yourself. Be in the moment and focus on a positive life. You have the power to make your life the way you want it to be. Be brave and just be who you are and follow your heart and then you can't go wrong.
Interview by Brooke Hunter