Hi!  If you’d like to start and read The Middle in sequential order, start here! This book is written wildly, chapters out of order in the sequence they occurred in my life.  They are written wildly for a reason.  The middle of our lives is a lot of things, but it is most certainly wild.

The Middle: What We're Made Of | Shaunna West | Memoir | Perfectly Imperfect

What We’re Made Of

Let’s talk about capacity.

There are a million self-help books that speak to your capacity as a human.  They’ll tell you how much you can do, what you can become, and how you were built to do just that.

And look, I like those books.  Huge fan of those books.  I loved reading those books, back when life was simple and and I like reading them now, now that it’s ridiculously complicated, but in the in-between?

During that time, I did not read them.  

They were all a bunch of talking heads bobbling around AT me giving me the lists of things to do so I could become.  

What I needed instead, it turns out, was to believe that I could do.  

There is a place we can reach where every single bit of advice seems empty until it doesn’t anymore.

Because there is something the books won’t tell you about capacity.


Divorce is a death.

Don’t ever let anyone tell you it’s not.  And depending on your belief system, your family dynamic, and how shame-resilient you are at the time, it can be a death you grieve for years.

It is an ending of a life as you know it.  Life becomes split into two categories: before the divorce, and after the divorce.  The timelines, your emotional status, your success path…all of those can be tracked simply in the before or the after.

It is a death you did not want, but you may have chosen, and one you can’t always put to rest.  You can put to rest the occurrence itself, but not always the turmoil that comes in the after.  You can say goodbye to the old life, but will always be filled to the brim with memories, traumas, and little fires that come from the undoing of that life.  Especially if you have beautiful little people staring up at you with wide, seeking eyes.


“Did you hear about so-and-so?” Is the fastest way for me to shut a conversation down, especially now.

In the wake of my divorce there were serious problems.  There was immense financial pressure that came from splitting up a life.  Wanting to be done with all of it so quickly that I could just be okay, I gave too much and I found myself cleaning up a thousand little messes that were not necessarily all mine to fix.  There was how the kids were feeling.  A little numb but precariously raw.  There was pain every which way they turned, and neither of them knew how to express it.  

Now they do.  And as an aside, when I hear my daughter look at someone and say, “That’s still abuse.  It’s abusing with words, but it is still abuse….” I literally break wide open in pride that she gets it and in pain that she has to.

But there were a million problems.  The loss of love, the loss of financial stability, the loss of people who got sized up in the crosshairs of the after, exhaustion from my 1 1/2 hour commute that I made 3 or 4 times a week…

Life looked funny in those first few months of our after.  I quit blogging, I shut both of my stores down, and kept the design studio open, pouring myself into my work and the moment the day was done, pouring myself into my children.  What did they need?  Who were they becoming?  What could I give them?  What would I need them to learn for themselves?  What would I need to let go of?

I spent every waking moment that I was not working or loving on my children meditating, going to counseling, and contemplating.  Staring up at the moon with music on, breathing.  Just breathing.

I did not date.  I did not party.  I did not pretend.  I sat in the hurt of it all.  Maybe for the first time in my life, I sat with myself, in all this humanness. 

That was enough pain.  That was enough uncertainty.  That was enough weight.  And so it is for many, it was for me…my pain was something to talk about.  I should have been dealing with all the pain and fear and uncertainty that comes with this ending of a life.  But bonus:  I got to do the song and dance with a small town full of fast talkers and low whisperers.  And really, it’s no one’s fault, per se.  Some people never have their own pain publicly displayed, so it’s no problem if yours is a delectable topic over a salad with ranch from the local Ruby Tuesday.  A lot of times, People want a big, delicious, scandalous reason for the ending of a marriage.

You know the movie, Something to talk about?  Julia Roberts is a business owner, horse rider and trainer, and her husband, Dennis Quaid, is a charming goofball who we learn cheats on her…repeatedly.  The movie is hilarious, and the story is warming, and the lessons of family loyalty reign and it leaves you feeling…happy.

There is this scene near the end of the movie, though, where Julia and Dennis’s characters eyes find each other across a tent celebration, and the whole small town watches in horror and delight as they swish, shimmy, and sway across the dance floor, cackling and dancing, no less, to Bonnie Raitt’s Let’s Give em Something to Talk About.”  

I kept waiting for that moment to happen for me.  For someone to whisk me around a dance floor, hushing some of the talkers with me. 

But it didn’t.  So on top of the real pain, the real loss, I was fortunate enough to hear the whispers of “whore” and “prove you didn’t” and “she’s this and that and she’s lost God…and I’m sure she’ll have her claws in someone in no time…” 

You know the whispers about women.

You know the whispers about the hurting.

These whispers may be loud in a small Southern town, but they are not isolated here.

It was so bad, and provoked so much, that it was even suggested to me to take a lie detector test so I could just prove it to everyone.  And for my children, and for my own dignity in how I want to live, I never did shout from the rooftops the real why.  And what really went on.  That was for me to deal with, to heal from, and was never, and will never be a reason for me to justify my life.

I’m laughing now to myself as I type, because in the moment of believing this would never end, I also knew, I just knew one day this moment would be here.

And I would be telling you that while it hurt, and while it brought some residual shame, I gave myself maybe the greatest gift we can give ourselves….I decided to have my own back, and I knew one day, I would be able to look at those memories with a slight smile on my face.  I would remember digging my heels in to the request of taking a lie detector test, and deciding people would believe me or they wouldn’t, but I knew the truth.  And my truth was enough for me.  No jumping through hoops for the love of good. (Read that chapter if you haven’t)  No seeking of the stamp of “not a whore.” (NOPE)

I knew who I was.  And anyone who really knew me then, did too.

I knew I would remember walking into the kids’ school to the whispers and the stares and the fast talkers, and instead of waiting for my partnered-up-something-to-talk-about-moment to happen, I gave one to myself.

I consistently wore the tallest heels I owned and I walked in rooms with a head held high, and a deep knowing within me.

Oh, it was definitely something to talk about I’m sure.

And the fears of all the things…what would my children think if they ever heard the garbage, or what if someone I worked with OR OR OR…they were alive in my mind, but not in my life.

That’s the thing about truth and light.  It has a funny way of revealing itself in the most glorious of ways, especially in small dark corners where the whispers spread black as night.

It took a few years.  All of it.  The million big hurts and the smaller whispering hurts…but they faded.  They faded in the moving through.


So capacity??

We really don’t know what we’re capable of until we have to.  And what the books won’t tell you is this:  no one can tell you how much you get to have.  When your nails are bleeding from the clawing you’ve been doing, and the hope of new doesn’t exist anymore, that place…you have to find that capacity there.

And I will always believe it begins by loving yourself in it.

By telling yourself you’ve got you if no one else does.  By loving yourself to do the impossibly beautiful work of getting to know who you actually the hell are.  By loving yourself so well you vow to her that you will go down to the depths with her.  That you will walk with her.  That you are alive and you are real and you know what this is like.  

And on that walk down to the depths, that’s where you’ll find your capacity.

To do’s don’t bring about capacity.  Pain does.

Empathy for where you are does.  The vow to be in your own skin in the pain, to really be there…brings about what you are made of.

While you walk, while you listen to yourself, while you stay with some and ask others to go, while you fall into the darkness and claw back into the light, over and over again, there your capacity will find you.

And if you just keep moving, slowly, ever so slowly, it will carry you.  It will carry you for today, and after all, you just need capacity for the very moment you are in.  Right now, in this moment, you are capable.

And so was I.  


To read the next chapter of The Middle: On Building Boxes, click here.