Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed the State of Michigan after a plan to kidnap her and other Michigan government officials was thwarted by state and federal law enforcement agencies. She started by saying thank you to law enforcement and FBI agents who participated in stopping this [...]
by Jessica Carreras
FERNDALE – Rosie Hayes is happily married with three children. She is a motivational speaker, and has traveled around the nation, speaking to groups large and small. She’s also HIV positive. At a Jan. 5 Michigan AIDS Coalition breakfast, she shared her story – and was honored with an unexpected reward.
The youngest of six, Hayes grew up with, as she puts it, “a lot of issues.” She began experimenting with drugs and alcohol at a young age – experiments that eventually consumed her entire life.
“By the time I was 17 years old and out of high school, I had just about experimented with every drug that I could experiment with other than heroin,” Hayes recalls. “I had many different experiments with many different mind and mood-altering chemicals … (and) as a result of that, at 19 years old I had another experiment with another mind and mood-altering chemical – crack cocaine. It was then that my whole life really began to manifest a destructive path.”
Crack cocaine became Hayes’ drug of choice, sending her in a vicious downward spiral that forced her to turn to prostitution to maintain her habit. “Destruction began to accelerate, degradation began to accelerate,” she says of the time in her life. “I lost all sense of decency. I did all types of things I thought I would never do.”
For 14 years, Hayes remained in that cycle, but says, “I did get out, by the grace of God. Not a lot that I did, but it was his grace that helped maneuver me and get me out.”
She began Narcotics Anonymous, followed the 12-step program and began to turn her life around. Simple life maintenance that she had neglected for so long – getting her teeth cleaned, going to the doctor – became a priority as Hayes emerged from her drug-induced haze. And it was at that visit to the doctor, where she had routine blood work done for the first time in years, that she was delivered another debilitating blow: she was HIV positive.
“I was two years clean then,” Hayes shares, “and I just could not imagine, after all I’ve been though, … after I’ve jumped over this hurdle and that hurdle – crack cocaine addiction, prostitution, almost being killed – I was able to overcome and get out, and now you hand me this piece of paper and tell me that death has caught you right here.”
But Hayes refused to let her diagnosis stop her from living the life she had finally deemed herself worthy to have: Sober. Sane. And happy.
“As I began to reflect on all I had already been through and overcome, I just knew that I was not going to die like this,” she says. “I had been face to face with death many other times before. I knew that if death didn’t get me there, surely I wasn’t going to let death take me here.”
Instead, she prayed, educated herself and made her life – and her newly discovered illness – manageable.
And after all of that, she began to speak out about life after addiction, and life with HIV. “One thing I knew I could not do was be silent, because I know that silence is a killer,” she says. “I’m living life now like it’s gold.”
“This is my life after HIV,” she continues. “I have joy and I have liberty. I wish it could have went another way for me to get it, but never the less, this is the way it happened, and I’ve learned to overcome and to live life every day to the fullest.”
When asked how she thinks of HIV now, Hayes responds, “Hope, Inspiration and Victory. And I’m positively full of it.”
Hayes’ manifestation of those attributes was awarded at that Jan. 5 MAC breakfast with a bracelet, made especially for her by jeweler Link Wachler.
Through his company, LifelLinks, Wachler creates jewelry with his brother, Glenn, that is designed to remind wearers of the important things in their lives – like family, friends and health. The charms on each piece of handcrafted jewelry symbolize those important reminders.
For Hayes’ bracelet, the three charms stood for her motivators: hope, inspiration and victory. But more than just receiving a present, her words will touch others in need. MAC will begin selling similar bracelets in her honor to raise funds for their work helping HIV-positive people in the metro Detroit and LGBT communities. And hopefully, they can spread a little hope, inspiration and victory.