The Mighty Logo

How Beekeeping Helped Me Heal From the Effects of Sexual Assault

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

Vulvodynia is chronic pain or discomfort around the opening of your vagina (your vulva), for which there’s no identifiable cause and can last as short as weeks to even years. Pain may be constant or occasional, then vanish as sporadically as when it started.

My vulvodynia came about after my sexual assault three years ago. Any time I would have sex or touch my vagina, even in a nonsexual way, immense pain would occur around the entrance of my vagina. My muscles would involuntarily constrict, yelling, “Don’t touch. Don’t come near.” If I was being intimate with a new partner, or in self-pleasure, the sharp pain from my vulvodynia would intrusively trigger the repressed memory from my assault. Despite how hard I attempted to suppress and forget, I felt hopeless as if I was fighting my own body.

My attack was violent. There isn’t much that I remember, but I do recall my attacker giving me drugs and waking to this immense amount of pressure on my body with a sharp sting between my legs. Before I knew what was happening, I realized that he was in me. Someone I trusted was taking full advantage of me and the situation. I deliberately remember saying “no” and saying “stop,” but instead they placed a hand over my face and my neck, rendering me completely helpless. My body was being involuntarily penetrated, which shot my mind clean out of my own body. It projected me in order to protect me as a desperate act of survival, but afterward, I didn’t know how to come back. For years, I lived between being half-here and half-somewhere else.

I lost autonomy over my body and was reconditioned to associate this place of pleasure as a war zone and region of pain. I felt shame, guilt and pain with this portion of my body that should feel strength, life, and pleasure. It felt as though my body was rotting from the inside out, which left me retreating deeper into my own internal isolation, fearing what more pain could do to me. However, as hard as I tried to escape inwards, I couldn’t feel safe there either. The one place that was mine and that should only be experienced when permitted was taken from me. Safety, ownership and strength felt as though it was robbed. Where could I go?

I was just about to hoist my white flag, surrendering to my mind and body, when one day I found release within the lullaby of a bee’s buzz that helped me put these memories of trauma to rest. I received my first bee sting, which woke me up from my state of paralysis as I felt their venom enter my body. My mentor told me that each sting is like a sort of an initiation process. The bees became my teachers that taught me how to work through the pain, find medicine in the venom, and reclaim the sensation of a sting.

In the wild, when a bee swarms, the first place they navigate toward are hollow trees. They are the home base as the bees fill their empty chambers with wax, pollen and honey. The bees were my aid in learning how to view the hollowness in my womb not as deficient emptiness that left me as a broken thing, but rather a habitat that attracted the bees to me. They came to me in my hour of need and helped me to see my body as a home; space as room to create.

There is a fine line between fear and respect. As I began beekeeping, I was able to cross through that threshold and I saw how much more I could accomplish once I moved through the statute of limitations within my own mind. I saw what this body was capable of and felt not only physically strong but mentally as well. Yes, of course, I should feel fear as I enter into a hive and hear this collective vibration surround me, which should stop me from entering, but as I walked through with a veil I felt protected and welcomed. The veil became my protector, which diluted my experiences and allowed me to breathe. It became the superhero cape that permitted me the mobility and courage to find ownership in my body as I walked through my fear. I was able to see what I truly could do once I embraced my fear, witnessing just how sweet life could be through the aid of a honeybee. Bees have the opportunity to either leave you with a brutal sting or gift you with something as sweet as honey.

Before, all I wanted was to feel power. I searched for anything to help take the edge off. I had become dependent on my anger because it reminded me that what happened to me was real. In a life gaslighted by my abusers, anger was my tool that reminded me I could indeed feel something when all I thought I was capable of was being numb. The anger was what helped me feel as though I was getting justice. My abusers were living life as if nothing happened and here I was, suffering as I relived trauma repeatedly. The pain inside of me was demanding recognition and I had convinced myself if I let it go, then it would be excusing their actions and truly letting them off scot-free. I became obsessed thinking about how I got to that exact moment, what events in my life led to that experience. I began to blame everyone around me; my society, my parents, ex-partners, lack of self-confidence, childhood trauma. Sometimes I think we feel, “If we hold onto this just a little bit longer, then that will show them! That will prove to them just how badly they hurt me and they will finally know what they did! That will punish them!”

The delicate truth I have found is that if someone cannot provide health and prosperity while in a relationship with them, then they certainly cannot provide it once we are departed from them. The same people who break us, can’t be the same who heals us. My pain demanded for someone to be punished so I sought after vengeance, but little did I know that the only one paying the ultimate price was me. That ideology is like being bitten by a snake and expecting the snake to get sick when we are the ones with the venom.

I began to yearn for my venom to be released and found it when other survivors came together to create the #MeToo movement. For the first time, I didn’t feel so alone as others began to recognize and relate to my pain. Maybe I didn’t need to carry this burden on my own any longer. It was like bees clustering together to form a wild swarm, creating a collective voice that said, “No more.” Bees are a superorganism, meaning that alone they may not last long, but together they create a massive force that promotes the longevity of their hive’s survival. What’s one bee? What’s one woman? Together, both these forces are an indestructible and impenetrable mass to be reckoned with.

The movement opened the stigma against sexual assault. Humans from all over were coming together. They showed me how to keep going in order to survive. They were my voice when I didn’t know how to use my own. They were my strength when I felt like I had none. This was exactly what the movement was created for. It was for us to band together, ready to fight and to show one another that we were not alone. Those in power like to isolate their victims to perpetuate division and make their victims feel powerless; however, when we mobilize, we reclaim the space and power within us by creating visibility.

Once I began to acknowledge my trauma, I needed a way to become embodied. I needed to come back between the veil of my hiding. That was when I found bees. Their buzz enchanted me and from my first interaction with them, I fell under their spell. There was something I deeply resonated with. Here was this hive, compiled of mainly female workers who were equally being exploited and experiencing takings from our society.

I had two choices after my attack. I couldn’t change what happened to me, nor could I control being changed by this experience. It was a part of me, but I can genuinely say that it’s no longer the only part of me. So what do I do with it? I could either continue to push it down deep within me, having it manifest backward through my health; or I could find a way to live with this rather than be lived by it.

When I’m with the bees, my world becomes quiet. I begin to dance with the bees and practice the art of consent. I listen to their language and movement that instructs me how to interact with them. Just because I put on a suit that permits me the ability to move fearlessly through their hive, it does not give me the justification to treat them as disposable. Strength and power are a delicate balance, like fear and respect.

Just as there are some days I wish to be left alone or not touched, the bees hold the same needs. What remains from my experience has made me stronger and more intuitive. I get to practice the act of consent with my bees because of the takings I have experienced in my own life. It has given me a deeper ability to empathize and protect my bees. I understand their exploitation, their wrongful takings, and their need for consent and desire to be respected. Whenever I do a honey extraction, I first ask the bees, “Do I have permission to enter? Do I have your consent to take? What can I give back?”

Our relationship with nature has previously been one to “go out and subdue.” As I shift out of that mentality, I feel a moral obligation to steward the natural and to protect this species which needs our support. Just because I can take from the honeybee, doesn’t mean I should.

I found strength and power within being able to put on a veil and walk through a hive. When I’m with my hives, I get to reclaim the sensation of disembodiment which brings me back into my body in a more restored place. I get to reclaim the sensation of a sting through a honeybee. Their venom is like medicine for my body where once before venom was like poison. The bees have taught me how to work through pain. When I’m with the hive and get stung, I cannot react or respond in fear; I have to feel all that the sting has to offer me. If I’m holding a frame full of honey or brood, bee larva, and drop it, I can cause more harm than good.

Everything about beekeeping is engineered for human gratification. If I’m invading their sanctuary as a beekeeper, I have to ask myself: “What will entering do for the hive? Will this cause more harm or good? What type of keeper do I wish to be?”

Yes, of course I should feel afraid as I enter into a hive and hear this massive vibration surround me as the bees buzz in my ears. I should be deathly afraid that something terrible will happen to me, but when I walk through a massive swarm and nothing happens, I see exactly how much more I’m capable of accomplishing once I move pass through the statutes of limitations within my own mind.

I found strength within me, something that was never truly taken despite what I was made to believe. Sometimes, our society, parents or our partners fail us but it doesn’t mean we are failures. It means we keep going and we find ways to redistribute and purge the venom to reclaim a medicine that works in conjunction to our mind and body, rather than against it.

We find community, ways to relate and an outlet for our pain so that it may escape us. We find a place for it, not one that shifts oppressions onto those more vulnerable than us, but space where in our hollowness we may reinvent creation. For me, my voids went from a deficient emptiness to an open space which provided bees the canvas for a swarm to build a hive in my life.

I began to notice symptoms of my vulvodynia healing after each one of my stings, which brought me deeper into a place of self-awareness and body consciousness. I went from being a wounded woman to a wild woman as I connected with the hive and my womb. I found how to be brave once again and find respect for my body when previously all I thought I was capable of feeling was fear and pain towards it. I found how to feel strong, how to create and how to become embodied in this existence. Through the bees, I have been able to heal from my takings to create an agency that advocates on the bee’s behalf to show that we can have a different relationship with bees, one founded on consent and respect.

My anger hasn’t left me, but it has alchemized like nectar converging into honey. It went from being a fiery flame to being like soft embers in ash. There are days when a swift wind will come and ignite those embers to burn brighter and other days when they lie dormant in the ash. In some cultures, honeybees have been worshiped as being reincarnated souls, symbolizing rebirth. Within my own life, from those ashes, I have found my own rebirth. From the hollowed depth of my womb has risen a massive force of bees oozing like honey from my legs, but if threatened will leave you with a brutal sting.

I work to save the bees, not just because we need them but because they saved me. They have taught me how to become a queen.

Photo by gryffyn m on Unsplash

Originally published: March 2, 2020
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home