Jen Brinkmann, A New Life

Jen Brinkmann, A New Life

Meet Jen Brinkmann – Women’s Intake Coordinator for our Branson Center!  On the day we caught up with Jen, classes are scheduled and the Center’s corridors are bustling with human activity.  Women pop in and out of her office asking questions while her phone is ringing.  Despite her title, her work obviously goes beyond simply welcoming new clients.  

Once class begins, however, things noticeably quiet down, and we talk with Jen about her addiction, recovery, and life at CORE.  Things get serious, too, really quickly!  While Jen describes herself as a plain-spoken woman of few words, her simple words paint a vivid picture of the scene more than two years ago where she hit rock bottom.  

Imagine a nondescript place somewhere in rural Missouri, a patch of dirt and grass that’s completely empty except for a lone woman kneeling in the soil.  She has blonde hair, and she is sniffling, then whimpering, choking back the tears, and crying so hard that she cannot fully wipe away the tears streaming from her cheeks.  Her life has been one of great heartache and personal loss.  She’d come to expect as much, but this moment was different.  She wasn’t asking for much – only to be clean and sober for the arrival of her first grandchild.  She already was resigned to life’s disappointments, but this simple thing . . . she couldn’t even get this right.

Jen is describing for us the beginning of a spiritual experience.  Unlike pretenders at AA meetings who only love talking about bright lights and ecstatic episodes, Jen candidly recounts for us an event that she says is both too painful to remember but should never, ever be forgotten. The last trace of obstinacy finally had been crushed out of her.  Jen still keeps a written record of it somewhere in her 4th Step paperwork, which she thoughtfully has saved, and it’s worth reviewing how she got to that moment.

Although her parents’ divorce during her teens left her feeling abandoned, by the age of 20 Jen was in a secure relationship with a man she loved, and they had her first child, Ryan.  She appeared to have a promising future when tragedy hit.  “Ryan was three years old,” she says, “when we lost his dad to a car accident.  I found out I was pregnant with our second a few weeks after the funeral.  So it was just us three.”  Jen set out raising the children by herself, working a full-time job, and taking classes to become an EMT.  The tragic twist of fate that stole away her partner and best friend placed great stress on her, however.  She was parenting all alone, and she did not handle it well.

She only worked as an EMT for a year before quitting.  “It was because of the car accident.  I got anxiety really bad because I thought I might find somebody that I knew.”  As the grind, stress, and loneliness took their toll, Jen began to self-medicate with opioid pills.  “I got pretty bad on those, having to have about ten a day or I was sick,” she remembers.  From pills she went to methamphetamines.  She tried to hold it together but couldn’t.  

I start neglecting my kids.  My two jobs turned into one job, then none, and we lost our place.”  Then came an encounter with law enforcement and an arrest, after which her father arrived to take her children.  After that, “I just went hard,” she says.  She lived couch to couch and trap house to trap house, but mostly out of her car with a boyfriend who was physically abusive.  The meth took its toll on her physically, too, “I didn’t look anorexic, just dead, like a walking zombie.  It’s not a great way to live.”  This went on for years, until something happened that was personally important to her, something that made her want to quit drugs for good.   

When her son turned twenty, he brought glad tidings: a grandbaby on the way!  More than anything in the world, Jen wanted to be a good grandmother to the child.  She promised that she would get it together, and she meant it.  “When she was born, I was five days clean.  I told Ryan, I’ll be a better grandma for Lucy,” Jen remembers.  Yet, despite her promise, “that only lasted for about eight months until the obsession took over and I ended up getting high again.”  

She was left bewildered, confused, and hurt by her inability to quit – all of which brings us full circle back to the day when Jen Brinkmann melted down completely:

I really didn’t care whether I lived or died.  I remember crying out to God, hitting my knees on the ground, because I had come apart – a sense of hopelessness, despair, and not caring anymore because I was so beat down.” 

We often see the best of humanity shine forth in such moments, but no one would come to her aid on that day.  Even if somebody had come, it wouldn’t have mattered anyway, and she knew it.  She didn’t really expect God to hear her, either.  As it turns out, however, her redemption already was in the works.  

How did I end up at CORE?” she asks rhetorically, “That girl,” as she slides a piece of paper across her desk before us.  At once we recognize it as CORE literature.  We also know whose picture appears on it, our own Nicole Nelson.  We reported Nicole’s story months ago.  She’s the twenty-something member of CORE who flits about saving people where she finds them.  This revelation catches us unawares but, as it turns out, the two used to run together.  At that time Nicole was already at CORE and doing well, and the two were in contact with each other.  Jen remembers that “she kept telling me, you should just come; just do it.”  Happily, Jen did decide to come to Branson, a decision that well may have saved her life.

At CORE, Jen wasted no time in working her steps.  Within two months she had experienced the miraculous change that only the Steps can bring.  Jen gives all the glory to God:

At CORE I learned about the 12 Steps.  God and the 12 Steps are why I’m recovered.  That’s what was missing before, when I tried to do it on my own and it didn’t work.  I was powerless.  I didn’t have a relationship with God before.  Now, I’m strongly connected.  I can really see how He works in my life and in the lives of others.”

Once Jen recovered, all sorts of good things began happening, too!  Most importantly, she has become the daughter, mother, and grandmother, whom she always wanted to be, and the person whom her family always wanted and deserved.  They are thrilled that she is doing so well.  Jen also moved her way up in responsibility at CORE.  From chore coordinator, she became an assistant house manager, and then house manager.  At her employment she likewise worked hard to become a supervisor, and then received an unexpected phone call.  CORE’s Program Manager Kevin Hunt called her about taking a job as our women’s intake coordinator.  “That blew my mind,” she says, “Who?  Me?” 

Jen gladly accepted and hasn’t looked back.  Although she does all of our women’s intakes, all of the girls look to her for guidance, so her job also involves a lot of problem solving, too.  “Like anytime a house manager has a matter with a girl not working her steps, or a discipline issue,” she says, “they come to me and ask, what should I do?  So I have to lean into God for answers and give wise counsel.”  Above all, Jen’s cardinal rule is to do no harm, “to be able to help, not hurt, and for them to feel loved.”  She seems to be doing just that, because everybody we’ve asked agrees that Jen has a good and sincere heart.   

Reflecting on her time here at CORE, Jen says “My journey to CORE led me back to God” and “it had a lot to do with my recovery.  I wouldn’t be here without it.  I wouldn’t have my relationships with my family.  I’d still be out there lost.”

We are so pleased and happy for Jen and her family!  We foresee a long, successful association between her and CORE in the future.  As addicts and alcoholics we can be so obstinate and stubborn.  As Jen’s experience shows, once we turn our will and life over to the care of God, real miracles happen!

The Best Thing About CORE

The Best Thing About CORE

We asked CORE House Managers, “What’s the best thing about CORE?” 

Why seek their views?  Simple: they have ample experience in our program, having volunteered to stay well beyond their initial year at CORE to give back and help others! 

Please keep in mind that they were free to answer in any way they wanted.  It could be stuff like our classes, making new friends, our residential amenities – virtually anything! Their captivating insights are set forth below:  

At CORE I arrived to a point where I could turn my will and life over to the care of God, instead of running the show myself.  There’s also accountability here and other options that will help with recovery.” 
– Neil “Duck Daddy” Finley (Duck House)

God uses CORE to bring people together in one house, one class, and one building, who normally wouldn’t mix.  We all mesh because we have a common understanding.  We want a different life.  We want to live.” 
– Mykaella Ross (JJ House)

 “There’s structure here upon which to create a solid foundation from scratch.  It’s a start and a base, and a place to gain some kind of grounding.  It’s a center for faith, too, something to hold on to while you’re growing into recovery and giving it a shot.  I’ve seen many miracles here.”
– Joe Redl (Cardinal House)

My journey to CORE was the path back to God.  That’s the best and most important thing, finding my way back to God.”
– Jen Brinkmann (Quail House) 

If you follow the clear-cut, precise directions of the Big Book, at CORE you build a relationship with God that allows you to recover.  It’s here where we learn how to step out of self and give back even though we spent all our lives just taking.  We learn what it’s like having that blessing at the end of the day, knowing we helped somebody without wanting anything in return.” 
– James Favor (Seahawk House) 

There are so many things, but one is the change of lifestyle.  CORE provides a safe, drug-free, and drama-free environment in which to make the changes we wanted by moving here.  It’s the right setting to build a new life in.” 
– Mikayla Brillos (Outdoor House)

Learning patience.  Initially I was going to leave after my year was up, but I received counsel from Kevin Hunt and began learning patience, about receiving the things hoped for when we wait.  By being grounded, working on myself, and practicing patience, things started happening.  I didn’t jump the gun just because I was feeling better, and good things came to me.  Patience probably kept me from getting ‘hit in the face’ because I wasn’t really prepared, too.” 
– Scott Bourbon (Bird House)

CORE is where I was introduced to God as my Higher Power.  It is a completely judgment-free zone where I could turn my life around with the 12 Steps.” 
– Alicia Short (Vaughn House)

Finding purpose in life, and truly knowing what it feels like to have peace and contentment.  Even before I started using drugs, I was never truly happy.  I was always trying to find the next thing to make me happy.  I didn’t understand what it meant to have a relationship with God.  I know what that is now.  I know what it means to have peace and what it means to know God.”
– Blake Wilson (Pelican House)

I was so emotionally detached when I first got here.  CORE gave me a human connection where I could allow myself to love others and let them love me.  That’s how I learned to love myself, which I had to do before I could go on to learn anything else.  It was the first thing that started the ‘psychic change’ and led to all my spiritual growth.”  – Brittany Breunig (6th Street House)

It’s the mutual trust and friendship here, the camaraderie.  Everyone here shares the same problem.  We’re going through the same thing and trying to do the same thing, which is recover.  So our community is the best thing, in my opinion – the ‘C’ in CORE.” 
– Dylan Butler (Falcon House)

The fellowship has become ‘family.’  If I really needed something, there might be 200 people here who would come to my assistance at the drop of a hat, without even thinking about it or asking what they’ll get in return.  That’s family.” 
– Kim Stewart (Swan House)

Everyone who’s a house manager or works here has already been through the program.  When I first got here, I knew that they had all been where I was.  By following their example and suggestions I was able to build a relationship with God and Jesus Christ.” 
– Mitchell Brooks (Sparrow House) 

Finding a relationship with God.  CORE is where I found it, through the 12 Steps.”
– Bracy Sams (Hawkeye House)

I love the fellowship here, welcoming the newcomer, socializing with the women, and helping them.  Spirituality plays a big role in our program here, too.  It’s really the foundation of our recovery program, and leading by example helps build that.”
– Tamara Spencer (Quail House) 

It’s a safe place to come find recovery, but even more, CORE gives you the opportunity to pass on what is given to you.  At so many places you come, you get, and you go.  Not here.  You’re not a product of CORE; you become part of CORE.  Now you are in a position to help others, to teach, and to carry a message of hope.” 
– Marty Neal (Raven House) 

CORE redirected my life.  If you knew me before CORE, I’d been a drug addict forever, was fresh out of jail, and just lost.  No communication with my family; things were just a mess.  From the second I entered CORE, I knew that it’s what I wanted.  I completely turned my life around.  So of course my family is now a big supporter.  They’re ‘Team CORE’ too.” 
– Sherrie Bowman (Dove House) 

The camaraderie that comes with it.  Everybody in leadership has come through this program already.  They struggled with addiction too.  This is not someplace with counselors who never lived it.  You come into CORE surrounded by staff who were once there too, and they have recovered.” 
– Jeremy Hampton (Condor House)

CORE is like a toolbox when you’re going to work.  They give you so many tools that when you leave the program, you can still use them every day to stay clean and healthy.  It’s a simple program, and if you just do it the way they suggest, it becomes so much easier.” 
– Kelly Creson (Eagle House)