This is a true story. Every word.
In 2016 I went so far as to go to the Andes Mountains in Chile to find a cure for my chronic back pain. I struggled through a training in shamanism that lasted twenty-eight days. But I ended up finding what I had been searching for all along in 2019-2020 at a pain clinic in Melbourne within walking distance from my house.
My time in Chile definitely helped me though and it continues to help me. That much I know.
It was one day during February of this year, after the fires but before lock down when I lay down on my bed and I said a prayer to the four directions, a prayer I’ve said many times before. But this time something different happened. I asked for guidance, and then I fell asleep and I had a dream.
It was quick, just an image, a flash and then the sensation of wind rushing straight into my left ear as I woke up.
I felt like I was in a Western. I was standing outside and there stood three figures all facing me, cast in silhouette by the rays of the sun. I had a clear sense that something important had just been spoken. A decree. I could feel the significance hanging in the air.
Suddenly above the heads of the figures in silhouette rose ravens and crows that burst into the sky. One of the figures raised his hand and flicked his finger towards me. In the same instant a form the same colour as the birds took shape and flew directly at me.
Jolting awake with a gasp, I was convinced something had just flown straight into my ear. I’d felt the wind rush in and the sensation of flapping wings. Panicked, I swiped at my ear but there was nothing there.
To project outward spiritual aspects of the self to achieve a task is a common practice of sorcerers and shamans. Ravens and crows are thought by some to symbolise death, birth, magic and mysticism. In Norse mythology Odin has two ravens as helping spirits. Known as Hugin and Munin, they are concrete expressions of the thoughts of Odin.
A few days later I found Richard Grannon’s work on YouTube.
The following paragraph comes from a book that I found difficult to read because of how disturbingly accurate it is. By Christine Lawson, it is called, Understanding the Borderline Mother:
Developmental psychologists now know that before the age of 3, children are incapable of understanding deception because they are unable to discern the difference between what they believe and what their mother believes. They also do not understand incongruence, that mother might feel one emotion while expressing another or that hostility can be masked by a smile. And yet their survival depends on the ability to understand this individual who controls their universe.1
I ended up at the pain clinic from October 2019–July 2020 because I’d had chronic pain for sixteen years. My treatment included hydrotherapy, tai chi, gym rehabilitation, psychological support, occupational therapy, as well as consultations with a dietician and social worker. I honestly was really impressed and got a lot out of it.
One of the really important aspects of my experience at the clinic was my sessions with Erika, a health psychologist. I said to her in reference to my transition from female to male, ‘Nobody warns you, you might lose your family.’
At least nobody warned me. But then, you can’t really lose what you never really had.
I also said, ‘Sometimes I feel I’m missing important building blocks to know who I am.’
Part of what was hard about transitioning in a way I didn’t expect was how my mum used to call me by my new name and used male pronouns (when she remembered) but really, the painful truth was that what she really wanted was for me to remain where I was and always had been—under her thumb. Parentified. Zombiefied. Enslaved. Cooking dinner, washing dishes, folding up washing while my brothers sat there and did nothing. She wanted me to remain her punching bag, her counsellor, her confidant. How desperately she wanted to keep me under her control. I was her hostage.
It’s called fusion-merger co-dependency. Abuse has occurred that has meant the lines have become blurred between subject and object. Grannon contends, this all-encompassing and inescapable trauma affects your relationship with reality itself.2 You are entrained against your will, without consent, to fuse and merge at the emotional level with your abuser. This is why when people have asked me over the years, what was it that my mum did to me; I had no words for it. How do you find the words to describe this?
Erika said to me during our final conversation, ‘Your mum used guilt and shame to control you. She groomed you to have weak boundaries so she could get what she wanted.’
And what did she want?
My milkshake, as Richard Grannon would say.
For us to remain always, as Sam Vaknin so poetically puts it, one organism with two heads.
Vaknin describes it as ‘ambient incest’. When a parent doesn’t allow their child to separate and individuate.
My mum told me during one of the rare moments I found the courage to challenge her, ‘How dare you!? I have always loved you unconditionally!!’ Her face vibrating with rage.
It is a co-dependent response to split the abuser into two people. When they’re being nice that’s the real them. When they’re nasty and mean, that’s not them. And when they’re nasty and mean, whose fault is it? Mine. It’s my fault. That is the programming. That is the entrainment.
Grannon describes this co-dependent response as a skill (an unhealthy one) that is non-consensually entrained. It is learned and practiced over time. He says, it is essentially spiritual and psychological suicide.
So it was earlier this year while I was half way through my time at the pain clinic when I discovered the work of Richard Grannon. His videos and courses were a godsend. I was in desperate need and his work helped when nothing else did. His understanding and approach to treating Complex PTSD is unmatched in my experience. (I have experienced CPTSD for longer than the back pain). With powerful metaphors to describe things that most people aren’t even aware of, his work is in the area of helping people recover from and protect themselves from narcissistic abuse.
One of his metaphors is to compare this kind of abuse to an act of evisceration by a zombie witch doctor. The ‘zombie witch doctor’, he says, will (metaphorically) cut you open, gut you and put their toxic stuff inside you.
A narcissistically abusive parent may do this to their child.
My mother did this to me while calling it ‘love’.
Drawing on the work of Pete Walker3, Grannon says CPTSD symptoms consist of emotional flashbacks, a toxic Inner Critic, a neurotic urge toward co-dependency, what he calls People Pleaser Syndrome, emotophobia (a fear of emotions in self and others), and pronounced fawning.
And I have to say; I think he is spot on.
A crucial part of healing from narcissistic abuse, according to Grannon, is to learn to stand up to narcissistic types, and I have found when I have applied Grannon’s strategies for dealing with narcissistically abusive people; it really has been like practicing a psychological or spiritual martial art.
It was his mnemonic device for reducing emotional flashbacks that I started doing first. I’d had a horrible day with the CPTSD. I’d been having flashback after flashback, or as Richard Grannon calls them, stacked emotional flashbacks.
I went on YouTube, typed in the words ‘emotional flashbacks’ and found his videos. He has a number of channels and the channel Fortress Mental Health Protection System is where I went first. It is a series of videos that make up a free course for treating CPTSD.
Just like that my life began to change.
Even though he says to do the mnemonic device five times a day for thirty days, I did it at least thirty times a day for the first few days. At least.
Because I had to.
Until gradually by ‘Day Thirty’ I didn’t really need it anymore.
Which was exactly what he said would happen.
I talked about it with the staff that worked with me at the pain clinic. They were impressed and wrote down his name. Erika even watched some of his videos. I suggested adding his stuff to their clinic program and Erika asked but was told there wasn‘t enough funding. She said, ‘Make YouTube videos about your experience, Blair.’ So I did. I have. It has been spookily good for me.
In one of his courses4 Grannon says, ‘Nothing and no one can keep you from being the person you were born to be’. It is a bold and powerful statement.
To me, it is a crime against nature for a parent to keep their child from being the person they were born to be.
A crime against nature.
My mum tried to keep me from being who I was born to be.
Here I am.
People say blood is thicker than water.
What they don’t tell you is, you can walk away.
And sometimes, you must.
The Q’ero people are said to be the last remaining of the Inca. They live in the Central Andes of Peru at 4000–5000 metres, where the sky meets the earth.
It is said the shamans of the Q’ero are the keepers of ancient knowledge and that they still practice the healing ways of the Inca.
The shamanic training I did in Chile was based on their traditions.
They remind us that we are as sacred as everything else in this world.
In the West we have inherited the myth that we have been banished from the Garden of Eden.
The Q’ero don’t believe this. They believe we were never banished. They believe we belong in the Garden. They believe we never left.
In one of Grannon’s courses5 he asks the question, ‘What would be an appropriate response to what has been done to you?’
At first when I thought about that I had no answer. Then I realised the appropriate response for me is to tell the truth about my experience.
The above paragraph is something I wrote in an email to Erika when I was about to have my final appointment with her. The only thing is, I don’t know how I did it. I wrote it in English. Yet this is how it came through to her. Maybe it was a glitch in the formatting. Maybe it was a glitch in the matrix. All I know is, only one word is in English and that word is ‘nothing’.
My sessions were coming to an end so I wrote a paragraph about my life, and I asked Erika to read it out for me during my final appointment. Paul Gilbert who has done work on compassion-focused therapy has developed this technique. The idea is that by Erika reading out my words describing my life as if it was her life, I would be able to experience feelings of compassion for myself.
Eager to give it a go and after checking with Erika that she was happy to do it (she was) I wrote her an email and sent it off to her when we were due to have our final phone chat in only a few hours. And then with about forty-five minutes left I checked to make sure she’d received it and I saw she’d replied saying it was in Russian. (It’s not Russian). Could I send it through again in a different format? But I wrote it in English. It was in English in my email.
Wondering how I’d managed it, I copied and pasted the original paragraph from out of my email into a Word Doc and sure enough, it came up as the unknown script. With time running out before my appointment I quickly rewrote it from scratch in a new email and hoped this time it would work.
Here it is:
Ever since I was a little kid I’ve loved my mum and I tried my best to help her. I didn’t realise she was someone not to be trusted. I knew that she was unwell but I didn’t realise she was a zombie witch doctor. I didn’t realise that she would eviscerate me. I didn’t realise even as it happened that she would cut me open, gut me, and put her toxic stuff inside me – in the space where I was meant to be learning about my own needs. It was invasive. It was abusive. It almost destroyed my will to live. She should be ashamed of herself. I want the traumatised little kid in me to know it wasn’t our fault, we did nothing wrong, and nothing and no one has the right to keep us from being who we were born to be. This isn’t the end. This is the beginning.
 Christine Lawson, (2000). Understanding the Borderline Mother, pxi-xii.
2 Richard Grannon. Summoning the Self [online course]. Available at http://www.spartanlifecoach.com.
3 Pete Walker. (2013). Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving: A Guide and Map for Recovering from Childhood Trauma.
4 Richard Grannon. Heal the Super Ego. [online course]. Available at http://www.spartnlifecoach.com.
5 Richard, Grannon. Overcoming Narcissistic Abuse [online course]. Available at http://www.spartanlifecoach.com.
Blair Archbold has contributed writing and voiceover work as an inspiring trans community leader, including as a co-host on 3CR’s Out of the Pan: Sally Goldner and Blair Archbold.