SPRINGFIELD — Despite some horrible early chapters, the story of Kayla Hayes’ life is on track for a happy ending.
As a child, Hayes was sexually abused by her grandfather. Later, she had an abusive ex-boyfriend who bit off 85 percent of her lip.
While healing from these harrowing episodes, Hayes decided to wear her physical and mental scars “as wings.” She shares thoughts about her ongoing recovery in She Rises, a book coauthored by Alisa Divine.
“It wasn’t easy,” Hayes said during a book-signing event at Carlson & Co. on Saturday. “It brought up so many different things that I didn’t realize hurt so much but it was definitely worth opening up to somebody.”
Divine, a leading advocate for women from Michigan, put Hayes’ words on paper. The year-long process involved a series of e-mail exchanges and telephone interviews.
“A lot of people told me I should write a book and I always had it in the back of my head,” Hayes said. “All of a sudden, I decided to make it happen. We just got the process going and made it happen.”
The abuse that she endured at the hands of her grandfather destroyed Hayes’ self-esteem.
“It didn’t necessarily make me get into an abusive relationship but it led me into my self-worth being so low that I settled for the thought that men overpowered me in a sense,” she said.
When she was 19, Hayes was viciously assaulted by her ex-boyfriend in Simpsonville, S.C. During a meeting with him to discuss their relationship, he leaned into her and bit off her lip.
The injury and reconstructive surgery required more than 300 stitches. Her attacker was convicted of assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature, and sentenced to 12 years in prison.
“The book speaks to the relationship and overcoming it,” Hayes said, “but the majority of it is kind of a handbook for women with general prompts on how to overcome (abuse).”
Hayes said she survived thanks to help from community support.
“Honestly, I think it was love from the community and, internally, I knew there had to be a bigger reason,” she said. “You see on television about people not surviving these relationships and I really struggled with guilt that I was still here, and I figured there had to be a bigger purpose for me.”
Hayes’ purpose is to spread the following message to as many abused women as possible:
“You are not defined by the trauma that you have been through and you can rise above it,” she said. “They need to know that they are not alone. The trauma and labels that people put on them do not define them.
“They can still grow and create themselves after these abusive relationships.”
She Rises is available at amazon.com. A paperback version costs $15.55. The Kindle price is $8.99.
Hayes was presented at Carlson & Co. by Effingham County Victim-Witness Assistance Program Inc. and Damsel in Defense.