An addict's mother gets the call she dreads

Paul Clark

Anne Seaman can’t bring herself to go downstairs to her son’s room. Even though Stuart Moseley had struggled with drug addiction for more than 12 years, his recent death due to drug toxicity is too painful for her to be around his things.

Anne Seaman had so many folders containing information about her son Stuart's various drug treatments that she kept them, collated by year, in a container marked "Stuart."

Getting the news July 3 that her son had died in Asheville after ingesting a suspected opioid wasn’t a shock, the Montreat resident said last week. She and her husband William “Bill” Seaman had been preparing for it for a decade or better.

Still, it was unexpected. “He had been doing all the right things,” Anne said last week. Stuart, 30, had a part-time job and was going to college. He had been sober for nine months, living in the house his mother shares with her husband. Life was looking the best it had in years.

Stuart is one of the latest casualties in the alarming rise in deaths locally and nationally due to opioids and heroin. Opioid deaths have quadrupled since 1999, claiming some 33,000 lives in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Deaths in North Carolina are up 14.5 percent since 2014-15, the organization’s data indicates.

Anne Seaman had her husband William shoot this photo of her and her son Stuart on his cell phone.

Mission Hospital in Asheville treated nearly 3,000 people for opioid-related problems in 2016, compared to 1,611 people in 2012. More Americans die now from opioid and heroin overdoses than from suicide, homicide and car wrecks, Dr. Blake Fagan, assistant director of the MAHEC Family Medicine Residency Program and MAHEC's chief education officer, has said. He called it “a national and local crisis.”

Like many of its victims, Stuart had been in and out of many residential treatment facilities over the last several years, his mother said.

Stuart was a creative, inquisitive boy while growing up in Florida - “maybe too inquisitive,” she said. He liked to investigate, to explore and try new things. “He was a fun, gregarious child,” Anne said. “His brother will tell you that that sort of changed when his father died.”

Stuart was about seven years old then. His introspective, older brother Patrick reacted by getting quiet and withdrawing. Stuart started to act out. Despite being active in church choirs and high school band, he was “challenging,” his mother said. “He was always about ‘new,” she said.

Anne Seaman can talk about her son's life by the treatments he was getting each year, each carefully filed in folders she keeps.

“He wouldn’t take your word for it,” Bill Seaman said. He had to experience things for himself.

Stuart’s father died without a will, so when Stuart turned 18, he inherited “tens of thousands of dollars,” his mother said. He lasted only one semester at Radford University in Virginia before dropping out (due to drugs, his mother suspects). The money was gone “in a very short time,” she said. An avid reader, he wanted to know what it was like to live like celebrated Beat writer and traveler Jack Kerouac. He hopped trains and hitchhiked across the country, sleeping under bridges.

“I never knew where he was,” Anne said. She got phone calls. Stuart didn’t share his exploits, sparing his mother, who reveres the notions of safety and order, the pains of hearing about the chances he was taking. But he’d listen to her tell him that when he was ready to come in from the cold, she’d “be there for him.”

“He was seeking,” she said, “and he could never fill that hole. He would use anything (any drug) that was available or new, because he wanted to try it. I told him if you try it you may not able to stop it. He would dismiss (that).”

It got so bad that she kept naloxone, a drug that blocks the effects of opioids and reverses an overdose, in her car. “I was hoping I’d never had to use it,” she said. “But I’m a very practical person.”

In 2009, Anne and Bill Seaman moved full-time from Florida to Montreat, the kind of small college town they’d envisioned when they thought about living some place cooler. It was there that Stuart called them, the first time he asked for help. They put him on a bus from New York City to Asheville and checked him into a treatment center there. Six weeks later he was out, but the treatment didn’t stick, as it often doesn’t with addicts. Stuart bounced from one program to another.

Anne tells people she’d been living these past 12 years as if she’d been holding her breath. Any time she and Bill went out of town, they had to have a plan in case something happened to Stuart. They needed it once, on the second day of an extended stay in Europe. Friends and neighbors took care of everything, something for which Anne is “eternally grateful.”

But she and Bill didn’t rush home from Europe. Before, everything had been about Stuart. But like many families with addicts, they’d learned to put Stuart and his troubles in a compartment. They decided long ago that they were going to live their lives happily. “I had to,” Anne said, “or I would have no life. We tried very hard not to be defined by Stuart. But it was impossible to get away from the collateral damage that his addiction and the consequences caused.”

Anne Seaman tells people she’d been living these past 12 years as if she’d been holding her breath.

Times weren’t all bad. Stuart had a two-year stint as a lab technician in Asheville, a time in which he had a “wonderful” girlfriend, his mother said. He was getting counseling. His nine months of sobriety before he died was the longest he’d gone without using since he was a teenager, she said.

“He was a joy,” she said. “He was still a little challenging, but he wasn’t challenging me. He was very excited about his studies in computer network security. He liked walking with me around Lake Tomahawk several times a week. He had a network of friends who were also sober and clean.”

And he had boundaries that he knew he needed. He deposited his paycheck into his mother’s bank account and received money on an as-needed basis. An epileptic, he didn’t mind his mother driving him around. She never had to knock on his door to wake him up for morning classes. His room was messy, but all things considered, the Seamans didn’t mind.

And then he went off the rails. “I thought he was doing so well,” Anne she said “Addicts are very good at lying and hiding. This is not news. (Families of addicts) will tell you that.”

Addiction is a powerful drug unto itself, so perhaps it’s not surprising that Stuart would succumb July 3 to an opioid’s temptation.

“It was his sense of adventure, what they (fellow addicts) think is fun,” his mother said. “They don’t realize that once you trip that switch in your brain, you can’t unflip it. Your body is always looking for that (feeling).  His brother told us that Stuart told him the first time he ‘used,’ all his circuits were lit up. It was just life-changing for him.

“Stuart was highly intelligent,” she said. “He just thought he was smarter than the drugs. And he wasn’t.”

Anne’s advice to families of addicts is not to hide the addiction.

“People will understand,” she said. “And if they don’t, maybe you need to question why they’re in your circle. You don’t need to feel shamed. You want to surround yourself will supportive people, not just people who have experience with (addiction). Awareness is the first step.”