PTSD is like carrying a bucket

A lot of homeless people have PTSD. How do I know this? Because so do I.

PTSD described by me:

It’s like carrying around a bucket all the time. A bucket that hangs off and goes to every place you go to. No matter if you’re on vacation, your child’s play, your anniversary dinner, camping with a bunch of people you love- it doesn’t care it’s gonna be there. It is heavy because that bucket is always about halfway full of triggers.

My triggers are related to smells the most. Or at least that is where I notice them the most. For example, cigarettes and liquor on the breath is a pretty lousy trigger for me. However, I work with the homeless. Quite a few have this similar smell. I go once per week to spend several hours with my homeless friends. While I am with them, my bucket is about 3/4 of the way full. It is dangerously close to being completely full. I do mean dangerously, because when it tips, well. It’s rough.

I believe that is why God drew me to my homeless friends. I see this so clearly now. I understand the bucket. The difference is, I know the things I need to do to keep the bucket from overflowing. I understand that all other stress that I can avoid has to be avoided.

That’s crazy talk, though, because I am not in this world alone. I am with people- and a lot of them. I spend time with hundreds of people every week. I am not complaining, though, because I love it the most. I love an adventure. I love that I get to use my skills for something good. This is a blessing in my life. Having people that I love is an enormous blessing. Taking a bad thing and helping others to learn from it. Also, learning and growing as a person. All amazing.

My homeless friends, not so lucky. I can’t imagine their buckets.

I go on vacation and cry about where I am going to sleep, or my children are going to sleep. If I am not feeling safe or comfortable, I know what is going to happen. That damn bucket is going to ruin my whole vacation.

Homeless people, with PTSD, live in a tent and sleep on a cold ground. I am repeating it, I can’t imagine their buckets. I feel like they may carry a lot more than one bucket. They’re dope sick, lonely, disgraced, ashamed… I can go on- but all those things that I just mentioned are not even part of the bucket. They are both completely separate amounts of weight to carry. It certainly doesn’t help the situation.

PTSD can take a seemingly normal person to a completely melting down and quivery mess in the drop of a hat. That’s because we can’t see the damn bucket. It’s invisible. We have to take a good guess. I know that guess better than anyone I am talking to, but the person I am talking to has no clue. Not unless they know me very well. And I mean really know me. They have seen me at my worst and still love me. That’s what it takes too. People that will always love you and learn to live with you lovingly.

Good luck with that.

When a PTSD sufferer is hurt by a person, that’s an automatic overflow of the bucket. It’s instantaneous. It’s a full alert the flood is coming- every man for himself; the damn is going to burst.

However, If I am with people, I fully trust, then my bucket feels weightless. So I let my guard down some. That’s a relief of astronomical proportions. Remember, I drag this damn bucket everywhere.

So when you see someone struggling, think about their buckets. Look at them as human beings that are carrying around buckets. Then, see if you can help them remove any of them. Because even if you have 4 buckets and the 3rd bucket has just a few drops, eliminating those drops has now eliminated an entire bucket. For my homeless friends, that trigger could have been hunger pains from going hungry as a child. Think of how much of that bucket you could relieve by giving them something to eat, let alone heat, clothing, shoes, or really any human necessity. Especially our Veterans. Many of them have PTSD from fighting wars. My father and many of my friend’s fathers have had no help from Vietnam. They took the flood home with them and drowned their families with overflows. And the vicious cycle has now brought our world to complete distress. Buckets are overflowing everywhere.

Always remember that anyone who doesn’t have control of the bucket will always drown and drown everyone around them. They were never taught to swim. That is why we must throw them a safety ring.

Challenge yourself to do this and pray about what God wants you to see from this kindness. I guarantee it won’t be something small. It will be life-changing.

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I don’t need your help.

The holidays are over. I am both sad and happy but glad that we can focus better now. I like to stay focused even if I find it hard to do at times. I do miss all the joy with my family. I don’t take them for granted, that’s for sure. I love to spend time with people I love.

The holidays are a great time to see the world come together. More people were eating out together, going to church, going to parties, helping at local organizations, and just a general togetherness. I miss that. I wish we had the Christmas spirit all year long. Of course, that never happens because of the stupid responsibilities that come with keeping up with everyone you know. The holidays are all about doing too much. You can’t do that all the time. So here we are- bored and liking it.

That giving thing is the part that I am going to work hard for this year. I have big plans to get out there and do a little more. Or at least find people that want to do more with me. You know that would make a big difference. We need to take good things and multiply them. Only good things will come from it. I mean, nothing is perfect, but you get what I am saying. Turning the wheels in the right direction gets you closer to the finish line. I hope. I think. I do have faith in that because I have seen it first hand.

People always ask me if I need help with anything for The Treasa Barley Foundation. I always say the same thing- I don’t. I don’t need help. At any time, I can do less or more. It doesn’t matter because the need is so great. I can always choose to feed two people or 100 people. Of course, I prefer to feed 100. That is the better choice. I have done it myself and enjoyed every minute of it also. I guess enjoyed is not the right word. It’s hard to have a word to describe the experience. I get the same amount of joy from doing it all myself as I do with a large group of helpers because I am there for myself — my personal growth.

It’s not that I need help. It’s not that the homeless need our help. It’s not that the hungry don’t need or couldn’t use help. Or myself, I don’t have all the time in the world. It is nice having someone to help create, organize, and work side by side. However, I don’t need it.

You need it. It would be best if you changed. You. Well, and me. I am part of the collective “you” in this story. There is not one person who is without needing to be a better human being. We all need a reality check. Helping a person who is less fortunate than me does precisely that.

You will become so connected to God. I don’t believe I am saying this. I was so against even talking about God. Like some bad thing that no one should ever discuss. I avoided healthy things. Why? I don’t know.

What I do know, being a person with PTSD, I struggle when I see people who are hurting. I do get emotional and have a hard time grounding myself. It takes me back to the past. I don’t want it to, but it just is unavoidable. You can’t take the past out of your mind. It is not a possibility. Not unless you get your memories erased. But this is not Marvel, so you are stuck with your memories. Sorry to say. And sad memories do weaken me. But now that I pray and walk in the path of Jesus, it is different for me. God is using my pain. He is a driving force that is going full speed ahead. I do still feel it. Like today I am feeling a little emotional. But God is putting this fire in me.

It’s hard because my best friend had her life taken from her. Her father molested her for her entire life. So she killed her self with the heroine. I watched her be destroyed by it. She withered away a little at a time until the end. Then she died in front of me. That is not something you easily forget. It is life-changing. This war against drugs is fierce. It’s so hard on everyone who has been touched by it. These are people we love, like our parents and siblings, our children, and even grandchildren. It is such a catastrophic problem, and there is no easy solution. Although it appears that everyone thinks they know what to do. However, no one does anything. The end is insurmountable. So we pray it goes away.

Here’s a news flash for you- It won’t, especially if we spend all of our time judging and not doing.

But God is with me. He is showing me every time I go into battle that he went there before me. God didn’t just know I was there. He went before me. That is what it says in the bible. Deuteronomy 31:8 “8The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” I would have laughed about that before. Now it gives me peace in my heart. Now I go because He is with me. Jesus showed me the path to forgiveness. It is a battle. You can see it. You can see the blows. You can see the blood and sweat from the battle — the death and awaking. We are fighting drugs and sexual violence. We are making a difference too. That’s not because of me. God is using my pain to make a difference in my life and the lives of others. There is not a person that will convince me otherwise.

If you want to see your purpose in this world, go outside of your comfort zone and help someone you said you would never support. Find a person on the side of the road. That guy that begs for money, and start a conversation with him. Please don’t ask questions like how did he get here. Why won’t he work?. Ask his name or if he needs anything besides money? Can we have some lunch together? Want to sit in my car and get warmed up? Tell him about yourself. Talk about his family, the president or the mayor, their families, or friends. It’s scary. What if he robs me? What if he does something worse? What if they are high and will hurt me? Well, you don’t have to let him sit in your car. But you can still talk to him in public with a lot of other people around. Just do it. Help, because you won’t be disappointed that you did it. I believe you may be disappointed that you didn’t do it sooner.

When you are sitting with your new friend, remember, loneliness is a leading cause of depression and self-destruction. Look up how loneliness affects us. It affects our bodies and our minds. I have even read that it makes a person colder. Homeless people are already freezing in the winter, and that is a big reason why homeless people stay together. They want to avoid loneliness. Unlike popular belief, they don’t want to die. Their minds are just so corrupted by the enemy that they can not see past the despair. A drug controls everything, and they don’t see an end, just like we don’t see that end. So they avoid doing the right thing, just like we as a society are avoiding it. However, we have a nice bed where we sleep and a family that loves us.

So no. I don’t need your help.

General, Uncategorized

Fred’s Boots

This story is about how a pair of boots will change my life.

For my readers that don’t know me, every month, for the past year, I have gone to homeless camps once a month to deliver a hot, homecooked meal to the homeless. I have also cooked and served homecooked meals to the homeless for nearly 2 years. I call them Wednesday Lunches with the Homeless. I have met with hundreds of homeless people. Not everyone I see is homeless. Some are in homes but love the company of the Wednesday lunches.

I wish I would have started to write about the people I met a long time ago. I have come across some miracles, tons of love, and some grave disappointment. So many ups and downs. People. We are connected to them for a reason. I do believe that. I see it often actually.

Something I strive to do, bring awareness to why people “choose” to be homeless. My goal is not for people to feel sorry for the homeless but to have genuine empathy for others, in general.

Loneliness is no joke. When a person gets a place that is far from their family of other homeless people, they do get lonely and discouraged. It’s sad to see them deteriorate. You would think getting a place would be better for them. I wouldn’t argue that point with anyone either. I do believe it is better to have a roof over my head. But I have learned that a home is just that- a roof over your head. It’s the people in the house that makes all the difference.

It’s not uncommon to go a few months without seeing someone. They will find their way back to me. It’s pretty awesome to see them again. They light up when they see me. It feels good to be loved that much. They aren’t just homeless people, they are my family. Some have cried, and some come to me starving because they are unable to get to the foodbank. Not all of them are like this, though. I have seen just as many people turn their lives around. That is why they stay in camps. It’s comfort in so many ways. If a homeless person is forced to choose- having a roof over their heads and being lonely, or living in a tent with a community of loved ones, they always want love. Just because they don’t have it together, maybe they are addicts, doesn’t mean they don’t need love. They still need people to love them. Period.

It’s hard to love people that have hurt us. I have been hurt and had to cut people out of my life more than once. Mostly for the safety of my family or myself, as well as my mental health. It’s hard. Losing someone you love because they can’t stop using or drinking, lying, or whatever it is that is hurting others is really hard. You want them to stop, but they can’t. I know I feel bad sometimes.

Especially when my parents died, I wanted nothing more than to have a good relationship with them both. Because my father was an alcoholic, that never really happened. That is really hard to do if that person is always drunk. It’s impossible to get close to someone that hurt you when that same toxic behavior is present and lingers in your life. They are unwilling to change, and you need them to change so you can have a real relationship with them. It’s a vicious cycle that seems to not end, leaving you drained mentally. I don’t hate the people that I have cut out. I just don’t trust them. I pray for them. I pray that they have people in their lives to love them because I do love them. I think that is a huge reason I do the things I do with the homeless. I believe God led me there because someone prayed for those people that I help. People that love them asked God to help them.

Many homeless people are homeless because they are toxic to people in their lives. That is the bottom line. But someone prays for them, just like I pray for those that are not allowed around me for the very same reasons.

What does this have to do with Fred?

Fred showed up at the last Soup Run. He stopped to talk to me and a few other volunteers. He was so excited about his new boots. Someone donated some really nice boots that were also Fred’s size. He also traded bookbags with us. He needed a larger one but left his smaller one for someone else.

Our conversation was about his boots and how God led him there that day. He said that he wasn’t going to come, but for some reason, he came. Fred insisted that God led him to us to get those boots and supplies. He told us he got a new job and had to walk half a mile to the bus stop every day. Fred didn’t have a good pair of shoes, and his feet were suffering from it. Now he has new boots.

Fred said something really important. “I prayed I would meet you today.”

Um. No Fred. I prayed I would meet you today.

His gratitude and love for God really touched us. This is why we were there. Someone prayed, and here he was. I know I prayed for him, maybe not specifically for Fred, but for God to move in this foundation. I prayed many times for God to bless the work we all do with the homeless.

Answered prays are always so inspiring. Not because we have so much. Everyone thinks having money is a blessing. Fred had no money. Fred couldn’t afford to buy a pair of boots. Such a simple thing. My husband needed boots and went to the store and bought them. He just did it. “Hey honey, I am going to get some new boots,” and off he went. To Fred, those boots were like winning the lottery.

Fred’s happiness reminded me why I am there, and to show me that we can be grateful even in the hardest moments of our lives. Did the boots change his life? I believe he can get to work now in comfort. So yes. Did Fred’s boots change my life? Absolutely. This often happens when I interact with those that are down on their luck. They are so grateful and willing to tell you about how much it means to them.

Helping others helps us in so many ways. It doesn’t enrich our pockets with wads of cash. It enhances our very existence. And if it enriches our lives in this messed up world, I can only imagine what it does for the next life. I am not saying we have to feed homeless people to get into heaven. I know that Jesus already gave me that gift. However, I believe what we do here does affect the next life in some way. We may not be standing at the pearly gates with a long list that weighs our accomplishments versus our sins. I don’t think a God that is omnipresent needs that. I just think we are here for something, and not only to suffer. I like to believe that our lives have a purpose, even when things are not going our way.

Fred’s boots proved that to me.

General, Uncategorized

My Cabin

I have this “cabin.” It’s a shed. A nice shed made up to be a cozy spot.

I originally got this cabin for my dad. He wanted to move back to Ohio. I thought it would be nice to spend time with him after mom passed. I wanted that. Many people want to have relationships with their parents, even in trauma-induced situations. That was my dad, even if he wasn’t my blood. He wasn’t perfect, but he was mine. He’s the man my mother married, and she loved him very much. He was part of my life. I wanted that relationship to be the best it could be.

John was a stubborn person. He wouldn’t even look at the cabin. Although it was for the best in the long run, I wanted that to happen. It was a terrible idea. I was just mad that we went through all that preparing, that he agreed to do it, and then he wouldn’t even look at it.

I let that cabin sit. I was frustrated with it. Mad. So mad. He took my mother from me. That’s how I felt. He was a difficult person, and his decisions made my life a living hell at times.

That is what trauma does. It makes you feel one way while wanting another thing. It’s an overwhelming amount of emotions. Many people just shut down completely. They don’t grow up with Clair Huxtable as their mother. Clair was famous for sitting with her family and counseling them, so we all wanted Clair to be our mother. That is why the show was so memorable. That is also why the world was so shocked by the behavior of Bill Cosby. What a disappointment to anyone who grew up watching that show. The truth is the world is full of “Bill Cosbys.” I think that is why our society is obsessed with binge-watching TV. It is a release from the real world. A place where we can hide for a few hours.

That sounds so familiar to addiction. We all seek relief in some form or another.

That is why I can relate to homeless people so well. I know that feeling of wanting something better but not being able to make that better thing happen. Yes, I have a wonderful marriage. A nice home. Beautiful children. But those are not the sign of success, in my opinion. I think it is more successful in finding peace amongst a world of discontentment.

So I was outraged and did nothing with that cabin. Then I read about Airbnb. I started thinking about my cabin and cooking for others that stay there. I could have my own bed and breakfast. Those are my reality-escaping dreams. I want to buy a huge plot of land, with a lake. There is a house close to me that has all of those things. It’s empty, so it’s easy to really dream about those places. What if I could just win that lottery? My husband and I like to trespass on the property and sit by the lake. It is the middle of nowhere.

So how cool is it that I now have my own bed and breakfast. I may not have 1.5 million to buy that farm, but I can use what I have, where I am. The cabin is now a hot spot on Airbnb. And guess what every review says? Breakfast! Oh my, does that make me happy. I thought I was going just to make a couple hundred dollars. I wanted to put a beach at the pond.

God never ceases to amaze me. He is using that cabin for so much more.

One of my favorite things about food is how it evens the communication field. People that you don’t know, you can talk to them with ease over a plate of delicious food. You can sit across them and find out a lot about them. Sometimes we are so busy racing around we don’t take time to sit with others. Food forces that awkward connection with others.

Today one of my guests left crying over his overwhelming feelings. He shared his story with me. His story is very similar to mine. He and his wife were so open about the homeless. They also minister to and help with the homeless. They are not the only amazing guests. I have had so many. Almost every guest sits with me in the mornings, over coffee, and farm-fresh breakfast. We talk about everything. They are mostly looking for a respite. Here? They find peace and solitude in my back yard. I look at my backyard and see toys, a broken fence, tree stumps, and many other imperfections.

Why do we do that to ourselves, anyway? Why do we always feel like we are not enough or do not have enough? Then someone comes into your life and reminds you that what you have is so much more than what we realize. That is what I am learning from this experience, feeding others. To appreciate my life. How does that even happen? Feeding people teaches me to appreciate my life? I don’t think it’s a coincidence. I see a larger purpose in it. It’s hard not to.

God. He always brings people into my life like this. He uses food to do it too. I am obsessed with food. This is why. That is a success in my eyes. Not because I am a successful chef, or bed and breakfast owner, or that I can provide a roof over my head. It’s that I found peace in every aspect of my life.

It’s not like it’s all gone. I still struggle with anxiety and depression. Those are always going to be part of my brain’s make-up. But what God is doing with it-that is where success is measured.

If you’re holding back for any reason, especially because you’re angry, don’t. You never know what God is going to do with your life. You don’t have to be a “bible-thumping Jesus freak” to be used by God. He knows our stubbornness and will and loves us anyway. It’s his will that we undervalue in our lives. Finding peace is not easy. I cried today; actually, I cried yesterday too. It is hard to let God use us because it puts us in a vulnerable position. I hate vulnerability the most. Guess what? He uses that too.


Why I feed the Homeless

I started this blog 2 years ago. I really wanted to write and share my cooking abilities.

God had plans for me.

God was really laying on my heart to help the homeless. I started cooking for them and have made roughly 9,000 meals in the past 2 years. In the midst of this work, something happened that I was not prepared for.

I lost my friend to addiction.

She died too soon. We were friends for 27 years. I decided not to let her die without it meaning something. So I started to dig deeper into helping others. It has been quite the journey.

You can read her story and what this fantastic foundation does here,

Naturally, I want to share my experiences with the world. I want others to recognize what this means to our world. We have people starving in our towns and cities. Last winter, in Akron, 4 people froze to death, local rivers are contaminated with diseases, and there are thousands of vacant homes. Ohio is experiencing a catastrophic economic crisis. This is the result of over 600 homeless people.

Akron, Ohio. The closest big city to where I grew up and where my mother worked for 20 something years. Akron, Ohio. Not a third world country. Not New York City. But little ole Akron, Ohio.

I always felt like I wanted to help others. I grew up in a very dysfunctional family. I lived in multiple group homes and foster care for a few years. That is where God started using me. That was 30 years ago. Until recently, I didn’t understand why God would allow my life to be the way it was. Now it all makes sense to me.

I made my first meal, roast beef, and mashed potatoes for my 7 foster siblings. They loved it! My foster mother, who was a lovely person, was not much of a cook. She bought mostly frozen dinners. I grew up eating what was grown in our garden. Going from garden-fresh to frozen processed was not an easy adjustment.

My stepfather, like so many men in the 70’s, was a Vietnam Veteran. He was a heavy drinker. He had PTSD. It was not a healthy combination. He couldn’t keep a good job. He didn’t get along with others. He wasn’t a hard worker. My mother did all of that. But he wasn’t a horrible person. He had severe problems and handled it poorly. One thing he was good at was cooking. I was raised in a home that always had good food.

What God has done with my life has really helped me understand my father more. I don’t feel anger for him anymore. It is true. Helping others helps the giver just as much as it helps the receiver. I hope to prove it to the world too.

I don’t mean that I am a saint now. Although a lot of people call me a missionary, a minister, and other things, I don’t feel I am. It’s hard to take praise for doing something we all should be doing. We aren’t in this world to help ourselves, although hurt people think that way. I believe that is because they build walls to avoid emotions. I know I have done my share of wall building and not caring. It never ends well. That is what I know about that.

The truth is, we are all healing from something. Pain is part of life. Some of us are fortunate to have others to love us when we experience life’s abuse. That is the difference. We all fall; we don’t all rise. The people we have fighting in our corner makes a big difference.

Please don’t take this as it’s the parent’s fault. Addiction is something different. You can’t help someone who steals from you. I mean, you can. You can feed them. You can give them clothes. You can tell them you love them. You can help them with rehab. You can listen to them. You can forgive them. You can try everything. Living with you or your grandma, No! You can’t expose your children to their lifestyle. And most importantly, you can’t stop them from using.

They become homeless.

I couldn’t sit across the room from my father, and I sit with addicts and alcoholics all the time. That smell of alcohol and cigarettes is actually a trigger for my own PTSD. I use to cry for “no reason” when I was around those that drink too much. Especially when you add in my personal alcohol abuse. That smell makes my heart beat really fast. Indeed it makes me lose my mind. I have gotten into fights with spouses, boyfriends, other bar members, and friends over this. Not just little scraps either. Horrible battles that ended marriages, relationships, left me with black eyes and created words that no one meant to say. Every heartbreak left me with thicker walls.

Now my life is very different. My husband loves me, unconditionally. Everyone in my life knows why things are the way they are. When I was young, I didn’t understand or do the right thing. So I rebelled against the world. I am still a rebel, but I rebel against the bad now. I use my anger for good.

God got ahold of my heart, finally. He waited so long for this season of my life.

I remember going to a group home in the middle of the night. I cried all night long. I didn’t know what was going to happen. I didn’t know if people would like me. When you’re a kid, those things really matter. I hated God for all the pain. I thought God was punishing me. Now I know God hated that pain too. He was lying in that bed, crying alongside me. There were times I wished I were dead. God never let that happen. He knew what was coming. God knew I needed to heal so I could help others to also heal. He knew that I was punishing myself, and he needed me to stop.

I am grateful I see His love now. I am even more thankful that he can use my light to light the world.

I am going to attempt to share the ups and downs, along with recipes for the 100 weekly meals. I use all my frugal ways to do it. God still does not allow me to forget them. I will never stop finding ways to save. The more we save our money, the more we can give. That is my new addiction.

I hope you will all join my journey, and most importantly, it inspires you to do more.