You know that old saying: “when the going gets tough, the tough get going?” Well, we’re pretty sure it was inspired by Cara Brookins.
Once trapped in an abusive marriage, the petite Arkansas native can’t put her finger on the moment she realized she needed to scoop up her four children and flee. “I’m this extreme optimist, so I just always thought that, no matter how bad it was, maybe I could make it better,” she told CBS News. “Maybe I can fix this. But eventually, I realized there’s no way that I can ever make this situation better. It was the realization that maybe if the kids and I are out of here, then we have a shot.”
With her mind made up, Brookins and her children left the home they shared with her husband in 2008 and moved to a small house outside of Little Rock. She didn’t have enough money for a house that would be comfortable for all of them, but at least they were safe. Then, she says, she had an epiphany.
“I had rented this cabin for a Thanksgiving getaway, and driving there, we passed this house that had been ravaged by a tornado. It was this beautiful dream house and it was sort of wide open,” she recalls. “You don’t often get the opportunity to see the interior workings of a house, but looking at these two-by-fours and these nails, it just looked so simple. I thought, ‘I could put this wall back up if I really tried. Maybe I should just start from scratch.’”
So Brookins scraped up enough money for an acre of land and everything she needed to build herself a house—with the help of her kids, of course. And start from scratch she did.
“Once I had bought all these supplies and they were all piled up, there was no way out,” Brookins told CBS News. “There wasn’t enough money to pay anyone to put them together. There was no plan B.”
So, with little knowledge of construction, and only the help of YouTube, the Brookins family jumped in. Despite her fears that the two teenagers wouldn’t be willing to help, her kids were with her every step of the way. Her daughter Hope took care of the marking while her son Drew managed the nail gun. And someone was always assigned to watching her youngest child, Roman, as the 2-year-old toddler played in mud on the job site.
It took them nine months, but together they did it all—from hand-mixing the mortar for the foundation to running gas lines and framing walls.
“It hurt,” she told CBS News. “It was not something that was a great match to us physically, but my kids got up every day and they came out here. I was working all day and they were in school, and we would work into the night sometimes by headlights. It was incredibly intense. There was nobody going to the movies. There were no dates, no hanging out. It was all hands on deck.”
Brookins says the act of building the house pulled her family together. Now, years later and with a stunning home and four happy, healthy kids to show for it, Brookins has a message for other women who feel paralyzed by domestic violence. She shares her story and words of encouragement in her book, Rise, How a House Built a Family — A Memoir, which comes out Jan. 24.
“Forget everything you’ve been told about taking baby steps. Everybody says, ‘If you just take a small step every day, it will get better.’ In my experience, though, it doesn’t. You have to make a big leap. It has to be this huge, enormous act,” she told CBS. “For us, it was building a house. For somebody else, it could be something totally different. But you need to do something big that changes your perception of yourself.”