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For most of her patients, abduction is ongoing. "It doesn't stop. It may lay dormant for a while, but whatever the alien agenda is," Smith says, "when a person is chosen, they are in the program."
The goal of hypnotherapy, as she sees it, is for clients to incorporate the abduction experiences into their daily lives, to come to terms with past traumas and learn to take current ones in stride.
When Smith realized she was the only one her patients were talking to about their experiences, she created an abductee support group. What began as a handful of clients in Smith's living room has since evolved into the Close Encounter Research Organization, or CERO, a private, monthly meeting of 20 to 25 people in three locations across Southern California.
This month's CERO alien-abduction support group meeting is taking place at a Carrows restaurant in Chatsworth. As cheesy '80s music plays in the background, a bleary-eyed nurse describes her most recent alien encounter. For seven torturous days in her home, she perceived "two inter-dimensional beings screwing something" into either side of her head. It was, she says, not fun.
"Did they ever take a break?" a guy asks. No, she says.
Smith explains that those types of experiences usually occur when someone has had their implants removed.
"Wait," one Asian woman interrupts, "you didn't tell me they take them out!" Back in January, she continues, she was taken onboard a ship by three small "grays" — the giant-eyed aliens well known to both many abductees and movie buffs. An implant was inserted into her left nostril.
"Ugh," says a man at the other end of the table. "I hate that."
Jacqueline, the talent agent who saw an alien on her balcony, is here as well. In a minute, she passes around a pencil sketch she made of her alien hybrid daughter.
"That looks like Mickey Mouse to me," the fellow next to her says. "What, you're a breeder to Mickey Mouse?"
"No, those are pigtails."
"Anyone else want to share?" Smith asks.
One man says that the last time he was abducted, he was given an insectoid body, like a praying mantis. The aliens explained to him that they wanted to work with him on their spacecraft and that, in human form, he would not survive. They had a hive mind, he recalls, and he could hear a cacophony of voices in his head. He got very hungry in his new body. So, they fed him.
"What was the food like?" Jacqueline asks.
"It was a flavorless mash. I wouldn't recommend it here."
"Was your food crickety?" another woman asks.
"Did they have hands?"
"With suckers on their fingers?"
"No, more like claws."
A while later, another woman asks if anyone has any recommendations for books about South America.
"Oh!" Smith says. "Are you going to South America?"
"I don't know," the woman answers. "But I've been having dreams. So I have a feeling it's coming."
At this point, everything feels surreal. When the air conditioner kicks on, it sounds like the thrumming of a great big, round ship. A man named Ted wishes to convey how much being an abductee — or, as most of them prefer, an "experiencer"— creates a paradigm shift in terms of reality. "Things you perceive to be real, are not," Ted explains. "Things you perceive to be dreams, are not."
"Which fucks us up," another man finishes.
Smith has worked with hundreds of alleged abductees in the past 22 years, using a technique called hypnotic regression to take a person back mentally to the point in time when a critical event occurred.
The event might have taken place in distant childhood or more recently — say, months or weeks ago. Before beginning, Smith checks to see if the person is ready to accept the memories that come forward. "We're tapping into the unknown," she says. "I use the expression, 'Once the toothpaste is out of the tube, you can't put it back.' "
The memories, Smith believes, are genuine. For one, they are incredibly detailed. "If you see something on TV, you'll describe what you saw on TV," she says. "The level of detail won't be there."
Even more convincing to her is the emotion that accompanies the memories. Even as they are describing a scene, "People often don't want to look. They don't want to believe it's happening."
They have symptoms of PTSD — fearfulness, anxiety, panic attacks, depression, insomnia, flashbacks, recurrent nightmares. They have seemingly inexplicable phobias: fear of water; fear of owls, deer and sharks.
If they are parents, clients worry about their kids being abducted and feel powerless to protect them. Because alien abduction, apparently, runs in the family: "If you've been abducted, that usually means it's also your mother, or father, or grandparents. It follows the family line."