STEAMBOAT SRINGS, Colo. – “For me, this is just where I find peace.”
High in the mountains, among the most beautiful parts of our country is a place Austin Eubanks was afraid to return to.
“I grew up bass fishing in rural Oklahoma.”
Fishing was his lifestyle. One he loved to share with others.
“I moved to Colorado. That was when I met Corey and he had always been a fly fisherman. I taught him about bass fishing he taught me about fly fishing.”
Throughout high school the two friends battled teenage life struggles together in a place where peace flows from the Rockies.
That is until two of their classmates — two who were unable to grapple with their own teenage struggles — made a decision to enter a school and harm or kill 33 people.
“I was actually one of the injured survivors of the Columbine shooting. I was in the library on April 20, 1999 and I lost my best friend right in front of me. We were under the table and I was shot as well.”
“Just moments after I scrambled out the back door of the library I was medicated.”
Doctors wanted to help, giving him multiple prescriptions for pain medication even after his physical pain was gone.
“Every time I took these medications, it made me feel better. I didn’t have to engage in the stages of grief. I could avoid that intense emotion.”
For years, prescription medication helped him avoid dealing with that horrible day
“What started as prescriptions, eventually became alcohol, marijuana, illicit narcotics.”
He failed both outpatient and rehab twice.
It wasn’t until he turned 29 that he was able to overcome and turn his life around
It’s been six years since Eubanks last used. Today, he’s helping people whose struggles are very familiar to him. He’s the COO at the Foundry Treatment Center in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
“Most of the people who come to us because we are a long-term treatment center have generally had one or two attempts prior that have failed.”
Eubanks now speaks critically about how our healthcare system treats addiction.
He shared his journey as part of a TED Talks series just made available online.
“We’re going into a health care system that is intended primarily to treat physiological symptoms so when you walk into an emergency room, they’re not assessing emotional pain. They are assessing physical pain. And the pain management strategy for someone who had just broken a leg as a result of an avalanche or somebody who sustained that exact same injury but they also lost their best friend in the same avalanche would be identical and I think that’s a big problem.”
Eubanks says as a society we’re slow to get help for addicts.
“Nobody walks into a doctor’s office and says, ‘You know we detected a lump in your breast you know. Come back in three years and we will see how that’d doing.’ With addiction we’re literally waiting until somebody has been in active addiction for 10 years maybe a couple suicide attempts to literally pick them up off the floor and say, ‘You know maybe we should get this guy some help.'”
“I’m continually amazed by the life that I have today.”
He’s no longer trying to forget what happened in high school but instead honors what he lost that day, the friendship he believes still exists.
“It’s always nice whenever I catch a fish that’s above the normal or something special about it. I always tend to look up and give a nod to him. And I know he still looking out for me.”