If people do not believe that mathematics is simple, it is only because they do not realize how complicated life is. ~John Louis von Neumann
Tyler, the second oldest of five brothers, loved math. As a little kid he devoured fractions, spun equations standing on his head and calculated the length of a hypotenuse with his eyes shut. His uncle was an electrician and Tyler was going to leverage his figuring prowess to follow in his uncle’s footsteps. But as it often happens in life, Tyler was sidetracked and found himself venturing down a different path. His math skills would be put to use but he wouldn’t be wiring houses or configuring circuit breakers. Instead, as Tyler entered his late teens, he would masterfully translate pounds to suit whatever measurement of unit appropriate -grams or ounces, and in his head effortlessly process the best deal.
“Selling dope was good for me. I knew how much money I could make off a cut,” Tyler says quietly and with a touch of irony. He is leaning back into a deep sofa, with his arms wrapped around himself. He looks up and then quickly casts his eyes to the floor and then back to me.
“I’m really nervous,” he admits offering an uncomfortable, soft laugh. “I’ve never told anyone my story before.”
Tyler was raised by a single mother in downtown Sault Ste. Marie and money was tight. “My mom was a good parent. She never did drugs. She never drank. She smoked but she tried to hide that from us.”
Tyler speaks highly of his mom. But he admits “growing up was not that easy”. Providing enough to eat was a struggle for the young mother trying to feed five boys. There weren’t Wednesday night swimming lessons or after school guitar lessons or baseball games on Tuesday night for Tyler or his brothers. There weren’t the ‘toys’ of his generation that kept him indoors banging on control pads, eyes glued to a video screen. Instead, Tyler and his brothers ventured out into the neighbourhood, onto the streets of the downtown and found whatever entertainment was there. Back in the 1990’s in Sault Ste. Marie that wasn’t a heck of a lot –and by most opinion not much has changed today.
“I think that’s what started getting us into trouble,” admits Tyler. “Hanging out with a group of kids, doing stupid stuff.”
He leans forward, resting his elbows on his knees, exhaling and tapping the tip of his cigarette into an ashtray that abuts a plate of chocolate chip cookies and chocolate wafers.
Tyler was about 12 years old when he started getting into trouble with the law. For the next seven years he worked up a collection of mischief, assault and breach of probation charges. By this time he started polishing his B&E skills and as a minor was never caught. Every now and then Tyler and his buddies would hotwire a car for kicks.
“We were bored. We’d just steal a car, go joy riding and then abandon it.”
Tyler tried marijuana for the first time when he as 13 years old. “I was just curious. My older brother smoked it and he gave me a joint. And I liked it.”
By 14 years old Tyler had dropped out of school. He worked a minimum wage job at a water bottling plant to support his newly acquired drug habit.
When Tyler was 16 years old he graduated onto cocaine and began smoking crack. “My buddy’s dad sold cocaine so he stole some off of him and he called me up and told me to come over. I thought he had some weed or something. I get over there and he’s got these lines of cocaine busted up and I was like ‘holy fuck, where did you get that’. So we did some lines of cocaine and I liked it. So I started getting into that. And started smoking crack from there.”
At 17 years old Tyler rose up the ladder of affluence when he began selling. “There I was just this fuckin’ kid with a backpack with 30 grand in it and 16 ounces of coke. People don’t know how much dope goes through this City.” Tyler is nodding and glancing sideways at me over his shoulder as he flicks his cigarette into the ashtray, when he adds for emphasis, “There’s a lot of dope in this city. A lot of dope.”
By the time Tyler became a legal adult he had stepped up his game. He was robbing other drug dealers and the potential for severe repercussion within the drug world and more consequential charges from authorities compelled Tyler to reevaluate his direction in life.
“I started thinking I really better get my shit together or I’d be going away for a long time.”
Tyler was accustomed to coming and going through the penal system –out for two months in for five months, but he wasn’t interested in testing the limits of his stamina.
Tyler springs forward on the couch. “Can I get a glass of water?” He apologizes, saying again that sharing his story is difficult to do.
He moved down south at 19 years old looking to change his life. And he did. Sort of.
“I was doing great –like I was clean from 19 to 23. Didn’t get any new charges. I was selling but I wasn’t using and I didn’t get caught.” It is perhaps a fascinating note that Tyler has never been charged with any drug offences.
While in Toronto Tyler managed to connect to a doctor at a privately operated rehabilitation centre. The doctor prescribed Tyler for six 80mg OxyContins a day. “She was crooked. The more she prescribed the more money she got from the government.”
Using his ‘business’ connections Tyler also hooked up with an employee that worked for a pharmaceutical company that produced oxy’s. “Every little pill that was a bit off or had a chip in it or had a letter turned the wrong way would be thrown out. So this guy was supposed to destroy them but he would sell them to me. So I’d go see him once a month and pick up so many pills off of him and sell them.”
Tyler didn’t acquire a taste for opiates until he returned to the Sault at 23 years old. Reconnecting with old friends he soon fell back into old patterns. He began using again –socially at first, a line of coke once in a while and then back on the crack and then back into full blown addiction behaviour. He began taking oxy’s to come down from intense highs.
He began accruing new charges to an already pretty lengthy rap sheet. Life would take an even crappier turn when Tyler picked up his first needle at 25 years old.
“I hung out at this junkie-house over here,” he said pointing at the living room window with his cigarette between his fingers towards Wellington Street. “And I just smoked crack and stuff like that. And one night my girlfriend wanted to shoot up and I’m like ‘fuck do you really want to do this’ and she’s like ‘yeah’. And I said I’d do it with her. And ever since then –that set me off. I started shooting up morphine first and then about a month later I started shooting up cocaine and then I’d shoot up anything I could get my hands on- Wellbutrin, Ritalin, whatever” Tyler is shaking his head, his eyes fixed straight ahead. “Feeling that feeling –there’s nothing like that. You’re never going to feel that any other way.”
But opioid use was tearing at his soul. Tyler no longer recognized himself and he was full of self-loathing. The physical anguish of withdrawal from opioids overwhelmed his most basic rationale and he was horrified and heart-broken by his behaviour during these times. The torture of opioid withdrawal drove Tyler to steal from his family –a line too wide finally crossed. The exquisite shame and guilt he felt compelled Tyler to try to become a better man.
“I’ve ripped off my mom and my little brother. I broke into my mom’s house, stole her computer. I stole my little brother’s Play Station, his T.V., his guitar. Part of being an addict is you don’t care who you hurt. You don’t care what you do. It’s like a sickness. And …like man…I’ve done some stuff I’m not proud of. I’ve hurt some people…was in and out of jail. Fuck. I put my mom through a lot of stuff.”
In August 2015, standing 6’2” and weighing 139 lbs., he began methadone treatment, the beginning of a long road to recovery. Tyler wanted to get clean. “I was tired of hurting people and being a disappointment. I was literally sitting on the devil’s doorstep, waiting for him. If I didn’t get on methadone I would be dead.”
In July 2016, he stopped using cocaine. In October 2016 he stopped doing meth and he stopped shooting up.
In a December 9th Facebook post Tyler wrote:
For those who know me, know, I’ve been struggling with addictions for some time now, since October 4, I’ve been clean. For those who know me, know how bad I really was. For those who don’t know me, I’ve been an intravenous user for 4 years on and off. My brother Caleb has helped me overcome this sickness, and I can’t explain how much this means to me, in the past few years my family has been thru so much, with my brother’s passing, so I wanted to let everyone know how much I love and respect my little brother Caleb … Love and respect love you bro, can’t thank you enough for all the help.
Support for recovering addicts in Sault Ste. Marie are woefully lacking. But for appointments at the methadone clinic and daily work-outs at the gym with Caleb who gifted him with a membership, Tyler is on his own. He admits recovery can be lonely.
“I stopped hanging out with certain people. I don’t really hang out with anybody. I sit at home. Me and my brother go to the gym every day and I come home. I know if I go out that’s when I’m going to use. Literally all my friends get high. There’s one or two of them that don’t but…I can’t hang out with anyone that’s getting high because I want to get high too.”
But for Tyler the challenge of recovery isn’t influenced by a deficit in services alone. Living in a small town Tyler confides that he has experienced no forgiveness from a community who is familiar with his past that is forever immortalized through online media. But more so Tyler’s family name of ‘Seaton’ bears an unfortunate notoriety among the Sault populace. Several of Tyler’s brothers have struggled with addiction and crimes often associated with drug use, and are infamously known in the Sault –and beyond.
Tyler doesn’t expect people to forget his past or even like him and it is with sadness but matter-of-factness when he says, “When people hear my name they’re thinking right away ‘you better watch out. Lock your windows. Lock your doors. Cross the street. Don’t walk on the same side of the road as this guy’…you know? They make me and my brothers out to what we are not.”
Pulling from a street code of ethics he adds, “I’ve never been convicted of sex offences or hurting kids. I’ve never done a robbery where there are kids there. I’ve never robbed an old person. I rob other drug dealers. All of my charges are robberies and assaults. And it’s within the drug community.”
For Tyler, the fatal overdose of his brother, Trevor, while incarcerated for accusations of second degree murder and sharing a cell with their brother Caleb at the time of his death, underpins his feeling that society metes out no second chances for addicts and especially addicts with a criminal history.
“They don’t care that he died. They don’t care at all because of who he was and what he was charged with.” Tyler doesn’t raise his voice when he says this, he says it with acceptance.
He knows that the community hasn’t much love for himself or his family but beneath the oppressive darkness that has shrouded his life something greater has survived. His faith. And it is through his faith that Tyler professes his hope for forgiveness and a new life path.
After our interview last Saturday there was an important part of Tyler’s story that we never got to. Something was left unsaid. I sent him a message asking him about the role faith has played in his life and in his recovery. This is what he wrote:
I may not be perfect, I’m not a religious person but I have a relationship with Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour. On October 4th, 2016, I did what no full blown needle junkie meth addict would ever do. I stopped cold turkey and I was smashing for four years. I prayed every night and day for the Lord to help me and show me the way and on Ocotber 4th he did exactly that. He helped me, guided me thru the gates of hell and showed me there is a purpose for me. And that I do matter.
Editor’s Note: Please check back early next week for part 2 of this series where ‘Brooke’ opens up about her experiences with her personal addiction in the Sault. Part 3 concludes with a detailed look at the drug culture and recovery challenges in Sault Ste. Marie.