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The Trauma Banquet: Eating Pain - Feasting on Life

The Trauma Banquet: Eating Pain - Feasting on Life

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The Trauma Banquet: Eating Pain - Feasting on Life

304 Seiten
4 Stunden
Feb 11, 2020


The truth about how to overcome adversity, with a foreword by Professor Steven Hayes, author of The Liberated Mind and originator of acceptance and commitment therapy, The Trauma Banquet gives raw insights into how to build personal resilience in the face of lingering trauma.

At the heart of this memoir is the liberating and inspirational message: eating pain is empowering. As a professor and educator of clinical psychology with 38 years of treating people, Dr Pakenham has found there is no effective way to remove the pain from past traumas. Their silent echoes last a lifetime and demand their rightful place in life. The only viable remedy is to embrace pain, a process that is both transformative and energising. Each one of us is affected by trauma at some point in our life. Everyone suffers. In this book Dr Pakenham gives real-life examples of how to use your inner pain to invigorate your life.

Dr Pakenham has worked with thousands of clients, and extensively researched human behaviour and cutting-edge practices in clinical psychology. In this memoir he examines his own painful silent trauma echoes that defy eradication and shows how he uses inner pain to cultivate fulfilment.

Brutal and relentless domestic violence carved his early childhood. His emerging gender fluidity and sexual diversity mystified and enraged his father and peers. When he was 13, his mother, the centre of his life, committed suicide. From this early intimacy with death, he discovered he could suck life from pain, and this insight became his guiding light.

Cared for by an older sibling in the midst of a shattered family, he suffered violent beatings at high school that punished his gender and sexual diversity. A deep desire to find meaning in his suffering led him on a roller-coaster of drug addiction, hippie communal living, homelessness and the use of sex for material survival. Close to tasting his own death, he found salvation and re-entered society.

He took the straight and narrow path through religion, university, marriage, fatherhood and career advancements. The AIDS crisis touched him professionally, a ‘crucifixion’ experience, the death of loved ones from suicide and accidents, and the threat of a degenerative illness skewered him along the way. After he was shattered by divorce, a new path opened that drew him back to his authentic self and gay love.

The memoir ends with an examination of the two processes Dr Pakenham committed to as a child and which were later validated by science: eating pain and feasting on life. He learned that the very thing he wanted to run from, his pain, was the very thing that invigorated his life. He describes his moment-by-moment use of strategies to enable him to eat his pain, savour life and pursue his passions. These are the same evidenced-based techniques he encourages his clients to practice.

Feb 11, 2020

Über den Autor

I spent my childhood in New Zealand. Unaccompanied by family, I moved to Australia in my late teens. At age 25 I commenced my education in psychology at The University of Queensland. After completing a Bachelor of Arts (Honours in Psychology) in 1979, I began my career as a practicing psychologist. Over the following 12 years while working full-time as a psychologist I completed a Master of Applied Psychology (Clinical) and a PhD. I started my first academic appointment at The University of Queensland in 1992. In addition to my academic role, I maintained my clinical practice and took on significant leadership roles within the profession including Chairing the Registration Committee for the Psychologists Board of Queensland. I am currently a professor of clinical psychology at The University of Queensland. My psychology research and clinical practice span almost 40 years. Inspired by the resilience of people facing severe hardship, I have committed my career to investigating processes that foster personal growth in adversity. Through 160 publications, 7000 citations of my work, 80 conference presentations, invited keynotes, research and teaching awards, $3 million plus of grant funding and invited workshops and masterclasses in North America, Europe and Asia, I have become a leader in promoting a ‘living fully with adversity’ approach to life. My memoir, ‘The Trauma Banquet’, is my first piece of commercial writing. In it, I weave my personal and professional experiences and insights on growth in adversity.

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The Trauma Banquet - Kenneth Pakenham



This is an IndieMosh book

brought to you by MoshPit Publishing

an imprint of Mosher’s Business Support Pty Ltd

PO BOX 147

Hazelbrook NSW 2779

Copyright 2020 © Kenneth Pakenham

All rights reserved

Licence Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favourite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted by any person or entity, in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, scanning or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the author and publisher.


This book is memoir. It reflects the author’s present recollections of experiences over time. All persons within are actual individuals; there are no composite characters. The names and identifying characteristics of some individuals have been changed to respect their privacy.

For mum, in honour of your beautiful life and inspirational death, I give you my voice.

You are my heart muscle.

For my siblings who were forced to sit with me at

the family trauma banquet,

I give voice to our shared meal.

For my children who have allowed me to fly, sometimes too high, but never high enough that our eyes lose sight of each other. I give you the only thing I have of true value, the life behind my story;

my connection with you in real time.

To the many who have offered me human warmth and kindness, thank you, it has been transformative.


The Hero

Every human life is a hero’s journey. We all know it; we all sense it. That is why art and literature and dance and music touch us so. They reflect back what we know deep within, even if our analytic mind stares at the truth without comprehension.

A hero’s journey begins when what is stable is challenged by what is not. Luke Skywalker is out tending the fields when a droid shows up. Frodo is unexpectedly given a ring and a mission.

A young child witnesses his mum being abused.

Initially, the hero denies how profoundly this instability has cut through normalcy. Perhaps the challenge can be negotiated away, given to someone else, or simply set aside. Perhaps there is no quest, no mission, no challenge. Someone else can leave the family farm; someone else can carry the ring.

Maybe dad will stop. Maybe someone will intervene.

But the hero’s journey will not be so easily denied, at least not without an enormous cost. There is no denying that this challenge is real; there is no denying that this pain is present, profound, and perturbing. The Imperial troops have vaporized the family and there is no family farm left to tend to; evil ones appear, ready to take the ring for their own purposes.

Mum drinks a bottle of DDT.

So regardless of how unable we feel to face it, we set out on a quest to find a way to carry the pain within, and to channel it toward love and life. We feel inadequate, but set out anyway with an initially unsteady gait. In that journey we find inner strengths we did not know we had; we find friends and lovers who lift us up. Yoda teaches the ways of the force; Sam and Gandolf reveal the relevance of home and purposive fellowship.

Spirituality, love, and acceptance gradually open doors that have long been locked.

By relying on these new resources within and without, the battle is engaged, the challenge is faced, and ultimately the foe is defeated. Against all odds, we discover the power of being true to oneself and building habits of commitment; we find that we are far stronger than our minds supposed before we knew of the impact of behavior based on acceptance, values, love, and wisdom. Only then can the evil emperor be cast into the darkness; or the ring is returned to the fire.

The hero learns to eat pain, and feast on life.

In a simple, raw way this book tells the story of Ken: A small boy who has grown up and learned to show up and make a difference. In a simple, raw way this book tells the story of a hero’s journey. It does so in a way that will be useful to another hero’s journey that is also in these pages, in the empty space that exists between each line.

You know all about that hero’s journey.

At least, you should.

It’s yours.

Steven C. Hayes

Foundation Professor of Psychology

University of Nevada, Reno

Originator of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and author of A Liberated Mind and

Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life


The impetus for sharing my story came from an incident that occurred in August 2016 while I was basking in Sunday relaxation on my deck, absorbed in the sensory feast of a winter sunset: purple-pink cloud corrugations fanning to the horizon, soft yellow sunlight dancing with tree shadows, a gentle breeze carrying whiffs of grassy perfumes. The silhouette of a currawong perched atop a camphor laurel tree warbling its song, as if God were speaking.

Without warning, my bliss was shattered by a graphic mental image of a past trauma, one of my silent echoes. Its painful, piercing intrusion arrested my mind and body. An abyss opened in my abdomen and sucked the breath from my lungs. In automatic recoil, my body doubled-over into foetal protection and I began to weep. Minutes passed before I registered that I was overpowered by old memories.

I wiped my eyes and looked out to the lost view. No longer was there a currawong singing. The pastel clouds were a black sheet. Sunlight was now moon. Warmth was chill. Breeze was stillness. Night dank was now the scent. My peace was now torment. In that moment, the universe pulled a scream of desperation from the yawning chasm within me, ‘I am still eating the fucking pain of my past. I am old and still eating the fucking silent echoes of my distant past.’ I realised that the essence of this climactic primal yawp had echoed throughout my life journey.

As I recovered and reflected on what I had experienced, I sensed an inner voice whisper, ‘It is eating pain that enables feasting on life.’ I recognised this bittersweet naïve wisdom as the one birthed by the 13-year-old me; I could not have one without the other. This insight revealed a confronting truth: I was trapped in life. I had learned that the only way to live life fully was to open up to all it brought me and ‘eat it’, even when it presented great hardship through family violence, suicide, bullying, self-destructive lifestyles, health crises and alienation because of my sexual diversity and gender fluidity. In ‘eating’ life, I savoured two essential and intertwined pervasive elements: pain and passion.

Although the silent echo was a frequent visitor, its arrival inexplicable on this occasion, the painful re-experiencing generated the eating analogy for the two processes I had adopted as a teenager and which enabled me to thrive in adversity. As an adult, I discovered the eating pain and feasting on life processes were supported by science and insights from the spiritual traditions. They became an integrated focus of my research, teaching and psychotherapy practice.

These two processes evolved as the primary source of my creativity, energy, achievements and life directions. They are dynamic and fluid, and always occur in the present. Although internal and abstract, I learned practical techniques that I use to cultivate them. These evidence-based techniques are the same strategies I encourage my clients to use. In the last four chapters I describe how I use them in my daily living to manage distress, savour life and pursue my passions. I hope that in sharing my personal application of these strategies you will discover new techniques and perspectives to experiment with in your personal journey of self-growth.

Eating pain is the most challenging process. Through personal experience, observations of my students, psychotherapy consultations and research, I learned that we all have a tenacious urge to run from personal pain. Although adaptive at times, I saw that long-term running from self is ineffective and creates more distress. I also discovered that doing the opposite, embracing naturally arising inner pain, builds psychological prosperity.

After seeing the benefits of the processes in my own life and in the lives of those I worked with, I had an insatiable urge to broadcast them more widely. I believed that one way to do this was to show how they have played out in my own life.

My primal cry of torment is testimony to my lifelong journey of eating pain and my frustration with the harsh reality of the constant diet of anguish. Having worked with thousands of clients, and extensively researched human behaviour and cutting-edge practices in clinical psychology, I reluctantly acknowledged that my painful childhood traumas could not be eradicated by the best that science had to offer; their silent echoes would last a lifetime. I discovered the only viable remedy, embracing my pain, which paradoxically energised my living.

Eating pain is at odds with a prevailing lifestyle message in contem­porary society: ‘Get rid of personal discomfort and single-mindedly seek happiness.’ I discovered there is unblemished life within both pain and pleasure, an umbilical cord that unites them. They are essential components of living. I learned that I shut out part of my life when I tried to eliminate the pain that arose within me. When I included my pain and made peace with it, new understandings and a wider life perspective opened and I stopped chasing the elusive butterfly of happiness. Eating pain enabled me to savour the joy, contentment, peace and exhilaration that came from including all dimensions of self, an endless feast on life.

We each have a valid and unique perspective on others, the world, the past, present and future, and ourselves. Every person has a distinctive vantage point from which to see out. We can’t get inside another person and see through their eyes. Yet, if we are open to broadening our outlook, we can stretch our imagination and attempt to step into the shoes of another person and envisage their experiencing of life. It is from this position that we see ourselves, and others, most clearly.

It is my earnest desire that this memoir inspires others to muster the courage to live fully, to inhabit every one of their life cells, even the most painful, regardless of apparent obstacles. My sincere wish is that it encourages others to listen closely to their inner voice: grow in the realisation that the life within us, even when it manifests as pain, is the most precious thing we possess; and use decisive actions to express fully heart-felt yearnings.

I warmly invite you into my heart, my psyche, my body, my life. I offer you my perspective on human suffering. Stepping into my story may give you new perspectives on your own life and that of others.

For further insight go to my website at

Chapter 1


Two rusting corrugated-iron water tanks lying on their sides in a paddock were the makeshift home for my parents and my two eldest brothers, while they waited for a one-room fibrolite shack to be built. Dad had purchased three paddocks in a semi-rural area on the southeast outskirts of Auckland, in New Zealand, and they lived in the shack while a huge brick house was built. This later became my home, where the flesh of nightmares would feast on the marrow of innocence, sucked from delicate unborn bones.

My parents had three more children: first my sister, then another brother and finally me. My two eldest brothers and my sister were born during the Second World War and my elder brother and I were born in the shadow of the Great Depression. The economic hardships of that period bred austerity, rationing, frugality, toughness, careful conservation of resources, self-sufficiency and the recycling of waste; these were dominant forces that influenced family life.

We lived in a picturesque landscape of undulating lush green grassy fields dotted with cows and farm homesteads. Our brick home was spacious and tastefully furnished. The acre-sized paddock around the house was converted into an expansive yard through the hard work of my parents and my two eldest brothers. The house was surrounded by perfectly manicured lawns fringed at the front perimeter by a border of dense trees of many shapes, colours and heights.

At the back of the house was the fibrolite shack. In New Zealand this type of hut-like dwelling is called a bach. Behind and to one side of the bach was an orchard with every possible temperate climate fruit tree. On the other side was a massive vegetable garden. One of the side boundaries at the back of the house was lined with tall crabapple trees. At dusk flocks of sparrows came to roost in the trees making a deafening din as they fought for perching space. Behind the garden and the orchard was a row of sheds: a shed for rearing chickens for our poultry farm, an egg sorting and packing shed and a shed for milking cows. Behind the sheds was a border of thick, dense bamboo that touched the sky. The bamboo was like a gigantic eerie wind chime, as the fat skyscraper bamboo stalks clanged and crunched against each other. Behind the huge bamboo was a row of large sheds that housed about 800 fowls; this was our small poultry farm that dad had developed to supplement the income he derived from his work as a draper. The house, yard, trees and sheds seemed huge and their shadows were even bigger. I felt like a fleck in the distance. The yard and gardens were proudly maintained by dad’s rigid aggressive and obsessive perfectionism. For that era, our home reeked of middle-class affluence and refinement.

Adjoining the property on two sides were paddocks. One was used for grazing our cows and the other was rented out for grazing livestock. Beyond these were more farms, spinning off into the distance in all directions. There was only one sealed through road with a maze of narrow gravel country lanes meandering off it.

Home was close to a swampy flat, ponds, creeks, beaches, an extinct volcano and endless fields. My favourite pastime was exploring the countryside. I searched for birds’ eggs, butterflies, shells and insects for my nature collections. I went fishing in the creeks, caught tadpoles in the ponds, swam at the beaches, picked blackberries along the roadside, discovered hiding places in the bush, pretended to be an anthropologist and searched for Maori relics, and looked for rare animal life with the keen intent of a biologist. I had an air rifle, which I used to shoot sparrows at dusk. My closest companions were my pets: cats, ducks, bantams, chooks, goats, cows and horses.

Sprawling farms created large distances between homesteads, so there were few neighbours close to my home. One neighbouring family had a boy a few years older than me. He and I regularly played together after school and on weekends. We occupied ourselves with swimming, exploring, hunting, board games, cards and acting out fantasies.

Contact with my siblings was sparse, because they left home in their mid-teens to escape dad and because of the age gap; I was ten years younger than my oldest brother and five years younger than the brother closest in age to me. From the age of eleven, I was the only child living at home.

Although the Great Depression had ended, my parents behaved as if they were still living it. They took a deficit rather than an abundance approach to life. The prevailing view of my parents, especially dad, was that ‘there was never enough’, so resources had to be used sparingly. This was particularly evident with food and money. My parents were almost self-sufficient with respect to food. They grew their own fruit and vegetables and produced most of their milk, butter and meat. Yet throughout my early childhood, my siblings and I were frequently reminded that there may not be enough and there could never be any wastage. The ‘waste not want not’ adage was preached daily. Dad was the main income earner and he controlled the money. Mum had to manage the household expenses on a very tight budget, which she supplemented with part-time work.

We lived as if we were in poverty. Dad liked to keep his family needy. I recall the following rules: use food and money sparingly, don’t flush the toilet unless it is necessary, only buy items if they are on ‘special’, salvage spoiled food and eat it, never leave food on your plate and turn the lights off when you leave a room. To this day, my siblings and I are affected by the ‘deficit and scarcity’ approach to daily living. For example, one of my siblings scrapes the crumbs from bread and mixes them into the muesli, electricity can’t be used unless essential, and soiled serviettes accompanying a cheap takeaway meal are reused as toilet paper. I learned that being frugal can be a great value but when it becomes pervasive, rigid, extreme and unresponsive to affluence, it stifles generosity. Enforcing loved ones to live in austerity can have destructive effects. Rather than seeing life as overflowing with bountiful resources, I discovered that my early training in a deficit life perspective shaped a ‘not enough’ viewpoint.

Our home was an ideal area for discarding unwanted pets, especially cats, because it was isolated and surrounded by paddocks. People would drive up the gravel road and when out of view, dump their unwanted cats. Many of the cats made their way to our home. Mum felt sorry for the stray cats, so she fed them. Feeding off her kindness, they became attached to her. Over time, the number of cats at home grew to about twenty.

Although the cats were not allowed inside our house, I selected one particular cat as my special house pet. I called her Tittens-wee. She was a tabby and not at all attractive. She slept on my bed at night. She regularly got pregnant and delivered her kittens in my wardrobe. I was like the ‘midwife’, attending to all her needs when I saw the signals of her preparing to give birth. She would go to a dark corner of my wardrobe and begin her ‘nest-making’. As she scratched together socks, undies and any other nearby items, I assisted with furnishing her birthing nest with clean rags. I ensured she had milk and snuck her pieces of fresh meat she wouldn’t normally be fed. Watching her give birth to kittens and tenderly nurture them, showed me how caring for vulnerable offspring is an instinctual drive. I would later question the existence of this natural drive in my own family.

The most important person during my early childhood was mum. She was my rock, my home, my comforter, my angel and the centre of my small universe. She was positive, spiritual, resilient and loving. Mum worked hard caring for her five children, helping with the poultry farm, gardening, milking cows and at times working part-time. She was average height and had generous motherly curves. Her open, round face smiled with twinkly eyes behind spectacles. Strangely, I can’t remember the colour of her eyes, but I can see their transparency and soft gentle sparkle. Sometimes I could see my reflection in her eyes and if I glanced long enough, I would enter her. She had long grey hair, the end of which would bounce on her buttocks when it wasn’t caged in two platted pigtails, each coiled and clipped to either side of her head. Her presence was warm, gentle and protective.

Mum was a registered nurse, although when caring for her children she ceased full-time nursing. She had a tough no-nonsense attitude towards health problems. She mixed contemporary medicine with alternative remedies. Raising five children, she had to deal with many different illnesses, injuries and medical emergencies. Most challenging were my pneumonia when an infant, my sister accidentally spilling boiling water on my chest and stomach when I was a toddler and my sister’s chronic asthma and eczema. One of mum’s more unconventional nursing treatments was the use of the arum lily leaf as a poultice for boils and skin infections. She would layer several leaves on top of each other and place them on a hot electric element until they wilted and became soft and adhered to each other. She slapped the hot leaves on a boil and wrapped a bandage around them to hold them in place. The leaves leeched the puss from the boil.

Mum’s ancestors migrated to New Zealand from the United Kingdom. Her mother died when she gave birth to my mother and her twin sister. My grandfather remarried, and his new Maori wife raised mum and her sister. The intimate influence of Maori culture on mum filtered into our home life. Mum often asked me to collect puha, a native watercress and other edible greens from the paddocks, which she used to make ‘puha salad’. My brothers built a Maori eel pot (hinaki) and caught eels in the local creek, which Mum often smoked for eating.

I clearly remember mum’s fish-head feasts. The first clue that a fish head was on the boil was the pungent fish odour permeating the house and wafting into the yard. On the stove was a giant pot bubbling away in a cloud of steam. Inside the pot was a huge snapper head, bobbing about in water, among herbs and vegetables. When the fish head was cooked, mum placed the head on a plate, and then systematically disassembled it, sucking the flesh off each bone. Slowly the fish head dissolved into a neat gleaming mound of bones. I sat at the table transfixed, watching mum demolish the entire fish head with her characteristic dogged resolve, elegance and poise. Most intriguing was when she scooped out the mushy gelatinous eye, popped it into her mouth, made a sucking noise with pursed lips, and then spat a hard tiny ball onto the table. She would glance sideways to check my reaction and crack a cheeky smile. The whole process was executed in complete silence. Words were seldom necessary when I was in mum’s presence; I felt a blissful sense of homeliness and warmth.

Mum and her family came from the north of the North Island. She was well liked by her immediate and extended family, so we often visited her relatives. Mum grew up in Paihia in the picturesque Bay of Islands. We visited Paihia almost every summer holiday and stayed with my grandfather and other relatives from mum’s family. Paihia and its surrounding areas were rich in Maori history. Close to Paihia is the town where the Maoris and representatives of the British Crown signed a treaty in 1840 called the Treaty of Waitangi. We often visited this and other places that held cultural and spiritual significance for Maoris. I was fascinated with our Maori heritage.

Occasionally while staying in Paihia mum took me to a local church service where the congregation was largely made up of Maoris and Pacific Islanders. I adored the music and singing; it was overpowering. The harmonies, melodies, array of deep rich voices, swaying bodies and smiling, prayerful faces were hypnotic. School also gave me opportunities to engage in Maori culture. At primary school, I learned Maori songs and dances and I always looked forward to performance evenings when we showcased Maori culture.

Mum had a strong Christian faith and we attended an Anglican church and later, when a Methodist church was built close to our home, we attended that. Mum also met with a group of women from the Brethren Church. Mum’s faith was not restricted by church dogma, she felt comfortable worshipping God

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