updated 09/20/2012 AT 2:00 PM ET
•originally published 09/22/2012 AT 10:15 AM ET
It was the ghosts that troubled Raffaele Sollecito the most. During the four dark years he was locked away in an Italian prison cell for a murder that made headlines around the world, he claims to have been haunted by the ghost of his then-girlfriend Amanda Knox.
“I dated Amanda for nine days, then I spent four years living with her ghost, with that monster created by the media,” he tells PEOPLE. “It became a living nightmare.”
“My life as I knew it is gone, disappeared,” says Sollecito, whose new memoir Honor Bound, is exclusively excerpted in this week’s issue of PEOPLE. “It’s taking time to get used to normal life again.”
Part of that normal life involves figuring out how to pay off the nearly $1 million in legal fees he racked up. The computer science grad student is also grappling with the panic attacks brought on by the trauma of his incarceration.
“When you undergo something like this it changes your life completely,” he says. “It’s hard to have long-term plans anymore. I take things day by day now because that way it makes me feel like I have more control.”
Knox and Sollecito met in Perugia, Italy, where they both were attending the local university. Nine days after they began dating, they were arrested for the murder of Knox’s housemate, Meredith Kercher, whose bloodied body was discovered by police on Nov. 2, 2007, wrapped in a duvet in her bedroom. Rudy Guede, an African immigrant, known to police as a small-time burglar and a drug dealer, was convicted of Kercher’s murder in Nov. 2008.
Although no longer dating, these days Sollecito and Knox stay in touch through email and Skype. “We’re like brother and sister now,” says Sollecito. “We shared a really dark experience and now we’re moving on with our lives.”