Columbine survivor Austin Eubanks recently shared his story of at the Susan Li conference in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Original Source: indystar.com
Austin Eubanks watched his best friend Corey DePooter die on April 20, 1999, as they took refuge under a table in their school’s library.
“Life changed dramatically for me that day,” Eubanks said.
His friend Corey was one of the 13 people, 12 students and one teacher, killed in the Columbine High School shooting when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold opened gunfire at the Colorado school before committing suicide. It was the worst school shooting in United States history at the time.
Eubanks was shot twice — in the hand and the knee — and his physical pain subsided after a few days, but his unwillingness to feel his emotional pain led to an opiate addiction that almost killed him. That same type of emotional pain, he told a crowd of about 120 people Thursday, is driving an addiction pandemic in America.
“We live in a culture that just wants to medicate,” he said.
Eubanks told his story at the Hope Academy, the only school in the state accredited specifically to help teens overcome substance abuse while working toward a diploma. His speech was part of the 11th annual Susan Li Conference hosted by Fairbanks.
Up until the Columbine shooting, Eubanks had never drunk a beer or smoked marijuana, but that would soon change. He was prescribed medications for his pain and continued to take them.
“I was medicating the underlying emotional pain and trauma of what I had just experienced,” Eubanks said.
“Really my drug of choice was just more,” he said.
He didn’t return to Columbine High School for his senior year. Instead, he had a private tutor for six hours a week.
“Talk about a perfect storm for addiction,” he said.
“I withdrew from human connection entirely.”
He started staying out all night and fell into a friend group who supported his new lifestyle. He didn’t go to college, married early and had a son.
Over the years, Eubanks increased his prescription abuse by manipulating the shooting story, saying he had chronic pain from the shooting: “I’m a Columbine survivor so you need to open your prescription pad.”
He wasn’t going through the stages of grief, because he wasn’t willing to. He just continued to numb the pain through various substances.
“If I had pain they were going to treat it because, by God, I had been through a tragedy and my pain should be at zero,” Eubanks said.
His parents intervened when he was in his mid-20s, so he went to a treatment facility for 30 days. After he left, it was only a matter of days until he fell back into old habits.
In the next couple of years, things got worse for Eubanks. He and his wife separate, his parents wouldn’t talk to him and he lost his job.
He then went into a medically assisted detox program for 22 days and then a 90-day addiction treatment program, where, for the first time, he admitted he was an addict and he wanted to recover.
He left treatment and he was able to get his advertising career back. Things were looking up, but it didn’t last.
About five or six months after treatment, thoughts started creeping into his mind about how he only really had problems with prescriptions.
“I bet I can drink and I’ll be okay,” he said.
He took a drink and woke up the next morning and everything seemed fine, so he continued to drink.
Drinking quickly escalated to smoking marijuana and taking Xanax.
“I had lost my will to live,” he said.
On April 2, 2011, he woke up in Denver City Jail and had no idea how he got there.
“I didn’t know if I killed someone,” he said.
He hadn’t killed anyone. Instead, he had passed out at a restaurant and there was a warrant out for his arrest for a probation violation.
He called his parents. They didn’t take the call. He called his wife. She didn’t take the call. He called everyone he could think. No one took the call.
He had no one to turn to but himself, and the feelings he had been trying to suppress all those years. He was 29. He was going to either end up dead or killing someone. He had to shake his addiction.
He looked up treatment centers after he got out of jail and stayed in treatment for 14 months at Stout Street Foundation in Denver.
He had to confront the feelings buried in his past. “I am done fighting,” he recalls telling his therapist. “I have none of the answers and I am done.”
He admitted that his life had spun out of control. It was like playing Grand Theft Auto without a controller.
In the seven years since that night in jail, he has remarried and has a good relationship with his sons, both of whom are from his first marriage.
“The blessings of recovery are immense,” Eubanks said.
Through his nearly 20-year journey since the Columbine shooting, he said, he has learned a valuable lesson: “In order to heal it, you have to feel it.”