Don Follis | The evil of addiction is never satisfied

Don Follis | The evil of addiction is never satisfied

My heart sunk when Austin Eubanks died on May 18. Eubanks, 37, was a recovering drug addict who been clean for seven years. Among the many mysterious and puzzling aspects of addiction is that there are times when the disease of addiction ends in death, sometimes after years of sobriety. Ironically, Eubanks was a well-known, highly-regarded spokesman for the recovering community. One of my friends worked as an addiction counselor for decades. She calls addiction "cunning, baffling, powerful."

Eubanks was a 1999 Columbine High School survivor. On that fateful April 20, 1999, Eubanks and his best friend Cory DePooter hid under library tables when heavily-armed Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold entered Columbine High School, killing 12 students and a teacher. Eubanks was wounded but watched his best friend die.

Just weeks before Eubanks' death, a series of events were held in Littleton, a Denver suburb, where thousands gathered on the 20th anniversary of the Columbine massacre. The 20th anniversary coverage filled Colorado's airwaves and newspapers. Eubanks himself repeatedly was interviewed by news outlets as the Columbine family gathered to remember the horrific event that changed their lives forever.

After struggling with addiction for more than a decade following high school, Eubanks apparently found lasting sobriety in 2011. In fact, he became an addiction counselor and a sought-after speaker in the recovery community. Since the beginning of this year alone, Eubanks had spoken at recovery events and to medical professionals in Vermont, Connecticut, Georgia, Florida, Indiana, Arizona and Kentucky and was schedule to speak in Idaho, Iowa and Arizona this summer.

Now, just weeks after the Columbine 20th anniversary, Eubanks lost his life to his addiction that started in 1999. On May 18, Eubanks was found dead in his Steamboat, Colo., town home. In a statement his family said, "Unfortunately, Austin lost the battle with the very disease he fought so hard to help others face. Helping to build a community of support is what meant the most to Austin, and we plan to continue his work. As you can imagine, we are beyond shocked and saddened and request that our privacy is respected at this time."

Several trauma experts say Eubanks' death highlights the lifelong struggle shooting and other trauma victims face. When he spoke, Eubanks always told his story, including how his struggle started when he was given opiates to dull his pain following the 1999 Columbine tragedy. Only 17 years old in 1999, Eubanks said he had no idea what physicians were giving him at the time. His physical injuries healed quickly, but the painkillers of Oxycontin, Adderall and Xanax he took to dull his emotional pain left Eubanks addicted.

To say the least, the decade following Columbine was rocky for Eubanks. He married. He fathered two sons. He tried advertising. He was divorced. He lost contact with his sons. He wrote bad checks. He stole cars. He fed his addiction. He was in and out of jail. He bounced in and out of recovery.

Finally, he woke up in a jail cell on April 2, 2011, with no memory of where he was or what he'd done. Eubanks had hit bottom before, but this time he stayed in rehab 14 months, determined to stay clean. He became an addiction recovery counselor. The recovery community became his family. Wherever he went he always told audiences how much he loved and needed this family.

Just days before his death, Eubanks spoke to 500 attendees at the annual event of the Pasco County Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention (ASAP) in Tampa, Fla. Following Eubanks' death, Monica Roussea, the chairperson of the ASAP board, said Eubanks connected with people like few she'd ever seen.

Jeff Howard, director of the Kentucky Department of Public Health, also had seen Eubanks' ability to connect quickly with people when Eubanks spoke in early April at a Kentucky event. "It's an unbelievably heartbreaking scenario, just incredibly sad," Howard said. "Even when people seem like they have it together, you have to understand this disease is chronic and relapsing."

Former Columbine Principal Frank DeAngelis spoke about Eubanks in the May 25 USA Today. DeAngelis was in the school with Eubanks and other students when the 1999 deadly assault happened. "Here's someone 20 years later who had all these demons and was taken as a result. He suffered 20 years," DeAngelis said. "He seemed to be doing extremely well, but he had some setbacks."

Rest in peace, Austin Eubanks. Thank you for courageously helping the recovery community. You were deeply loved. Your death is a terrible loss. May the peace of Christ rest upon all who knew and loved you, especially your sons. And may that peace surround the Columbine students who pulled for you, even as they pulled for themselves and the whole Columbine family who endured, along with you, such unspeakable evil on April 20, 1999.

Don Follis counsels pastors, directs retreats and consults with a wide array of churches, helping them clarify issues related to conflict. Contact him at donscolumn@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter (@donfollis).

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