How much trauma can one person endure? This is a question I kept asking myself as I read Kenneth Pakenham’s “The Trauma Banquet – eating pain, feasting on life”. For some of us, the miracle is that we are still alive to tell the story: and the author tells the story well. Having a desire to be a writer from a young age, his skills are obvious.
It’s tempting in this review to mention the beginning of his life of trauma but a spoiler alert revealing how it all began would rob the reader of the important moments of shock and horror. Let’s just say the trauma has been extensive; pervading family, relationships, life experiences, and beginning at a very early age. It is uncomfortable reading at times, but we can’t help seeing how it all pans out and keeps us reading to the last chapters. For me it was a weekend read as I was keen to find the final outcomes of the author’s incredible life.
And the last chapters are very important. In these chapters, the author, now academic and educator of clinical psychology, gives us the survival/management tools he discovered and has shared with thousands of clients.
Personally, I had many moments of connection with the author’s life. The hippy movement, drugs, sex, a carefully monitored, suppressed non-heterosexual identity, liberation, marriage, children, loss and grief and a Pentecostal Christian experience. Surprisingly we both spent time in the same Christian training/rehabilitation centre in Sydney in the early 1970s but missed each other by a few months.
I highly recommend “The Trauma Banquet” not only as an intriguing read but also for the lessons one can gain. After all, who among us has never had to deal with some kind of trauma. As the author cautions at the end,
“Concluding that one’s suffering is not as great as another’s can obscure opportunities to fully experience one’s life, the pain and the pleasure. It is the process of eating pain, not the amount of pain that is transformative.”