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!