On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, two students at Columbine High School in Colorado, carried out a complex and highly planned attack on their school. They murdered 12 students and a teacher, and shot and wounded another 21 students before killing themselves.
It was one of the first of what would sadly become an all-too common story of brutal school shootings in the United States. Students who experienced such unexpected and horrific violence in their school had to come to terms with how to heal from such a traumatic event.
Austin Eubanks was a student at Columbine when the massacre happened, and recently spoke to The Fix, about the impact the event had on his life.
Facing a Tragedy:
At the time of the Columbine attack, Austin Eubanks was in the school library with Corey DePooter, his best friend. Chaos erupted when a bomb went off, and Eubanks tried to hide under a table. Austin was shot in his arm and leg, but Corey was brutally murdered in a barrage of bullets.
His physical wounds would heal before long, but the emotional pain of seeing a friend killed in front of him left a pain that went much deeper. After the murders, he never set foot in Columbine High School ever again. He worked with a private tutor until his graduation from high school in 2000, leaving the painful past behind him.
Although his injuries did not call for it, Austin was immediately given a 30 day supply of opioid painkillers. He says he became addicted within three months, taking large doses of the drug every day. In an interview with The Fix, he said, "I could literally get whatever I wanted. Telling them I'd been shot at Columbine and lost my best friend was like [getting] an open prescription book from any doctor."
A therapist told Austin he was too shutdown to process his trauma, but most of his healthcare providers were more likely to continue giving him drugs that simply kept him further and further away from really processing the horrific events he witnessed.
This is not an uncommon way of dealing with trauma and the pain of unresolved internal wounds. Many people look to mood altering drugs as a way of dealing with pain, numbing it until life gets easier to handle. The only problem is that this is a temporary fix, since bad feelings will come back as the high from a substance subsides.
If drugs or alcohol is your only coping mechanism, you can easily develop dangerous and disempowering patterns of addiction. This can further the sense of helplessness, depression, and anxiousness you were trying to solve, and does nothing to deal with the root causes
Eubanks continued to try to put his life back together while carrying the combined weight of an addiction and witnessing an unspeakable tragedy. He entered a thirty-day inpatient program to try to get sober in 2006, but was back to abusing opioids and Adderall hours after leaving.
After he and his wife separated in 2008, he went back into treatment, and achieved eight months of sobriety. He credits his downfall to a "false confidence" he began to build up, going back to drinking and then smoking weed and then to pill addictions again. It was a learning process that helped him determine what didn't work.
Eubanks says that in 2011, "I woke up in a jail cell with no idea how I got there." This was the final bottom that led him to create real change. He joined a therapeutic community, or a group of people focused on eliminating the behaviors of addiction together. This is when he began to be more public about his addiction, speaking to others and telling his story to educate and empower others to seek their own sobriety.
With five years of sobriety, Austin Eubanks is now working at The Foundry, a substance abuse treatment center in Colorado. When asked about the main message he wants to communicate to people struggling with additions like his, he declares, "Ask for help because it's there. I finally took the road of recovery and never looked back."