Author: Hayley Eubanks
“If you’re going to live, leave a legacy. Make a mark on the world that can’t be erased.” – Maya Angelou
Everyone experiences moments of impact—moments that define who we are and alter the course of our lives.
These moments can be breathtaking, heartbreaking, or anything in between. But what’s most beautiful is when individuals experience their own unique moments and come together to build something incredible. When shared experiences, shared connections, bring the right people together at the right time.I have always strongly believed that everything—good and bad—happens for a reason. That each of these moments of impact add up to something beautiful, even if they were born out of pain.
One such moment of impact happened in May of 2019—the loss of my brother, Austin Eubanks. For myself and the many who loved him, this was an earth shattering moment, but one that was the catalyst for future incredible good.
During his 37 years on this earth, Austin impacted so many people’s lives through his message of hope and healing from trauma. An injured survivor of the 1999 Columbine High School shooting, Austin was prescribed opioids for his physical pain, but they ended up being the treatment for his emotional pain instead and remained so for the next 12 years of his life.
Upon finding sobriety at the age of 29, Austin began sharing his story in the hopes that it would help others cope with trauma early on and in a healthy way, as opposed to turning to any form of addiction to mask their pain.
He spoke on how emotional pain is fueling the opioid crisis we face today, that there simply aren’t accessible resources in place to help people work through trauma. Instead, they often turn to some maladapted coping mechanism to mask the pain, oftentimes unknowingly.
In his own words:
“We can (and do) approach the injustices of present day in a myriad of ways—from regulation to education to criminal justice—but if we don’t look at the underlying pain, we’re unlikely to make any progress.
If you are over a certain age, you remember April 20, 1999 as the day two perpetrators dressed in trench coats walked into Columbine High School and terrorized a few thousand students—killing 13 and injuring many more. I was one of the injured. My best friend was killed. And yet as tragic as that day was, it was the series of events that came next which proved to be more tragic, setting in motion more than a decade of isolation, addiction, and emotional pain. Trauma doesn’t have to look like my experience at Columbine. In fact, all of us have trauma and most of us lack adequate resources to deal with it. The result is disturbing trends in violence, pornography, addiction, polarization, and a list that could go on. These trends aren’t changing. In fact, if we don’t find a better way to deal with trauma and resolve emotional pain, our desensitized culture will continue worsening in these ways and more—exponentially. On the other hand, if we learn as a culture to face our trauma and resolve our emotional pain, we have the potential to strengthen the fabric of our families, our communities and our world.”
Austin has shared his story—that of the shooting and his subsequent addiction—many times through many media outlets. If you’d like to hear his full story, feel free to click through the links below.
- What the Columbine Shooting taught me about pain and addiction | TEDxMileHigh
- Brad Byrd In-Depth: Columbine Shooting Survivor Austin Eubanks
- Columbine survivor finds new purpose in life
For this post, I’ve chosen not to focus on the details of that day nor the addiction that followed, as many already know that story well. Instead, I am going to focus on Austin’s vision and hope for the future.
The inspiration behind Triumph Over Tragedy
In the weeks before his passing, Austin shared a dream, a vision of a healing refuge where survivors of mass shootings could go to work through their trauma and experience the healing benefits of community when they truly need it. His dream was that they would at last have the resources to be able to work through their emotional pain.
Austin passed before seeing this dream become reality, but his passing was the catalyst that threw family and friends into action to ensure his legacy lives on. Thus, the Triumph Over Tragedy program was created through The Onsite Foundation, a first-of-its-kind therapeutic program for mass shooting survivors, giving access to all through scholarships. The creation of this program was in part funded by the money raised for the Austin Eubanks Memorial Fund. I want to extend a huge thank you to everyone who donated and everyone who has been instrumental in getting this program off the ground. To learn more about Triumph Over Tragedy, click here.
Like all lives, Austin’s was filled with moments of impact. The horrible moments he had to endure in his teens and twenties were the foundation for him go on to help so many people. And while I wish those horrible moments had never happened, I can see that there was a greater purpose to Austin’s story.
Those of us who loved him dearly are left to deal with tremendous grief over his passing, but something beautiful will come out of it. A much-needed program inspired by Austin that will go on to help so many others deal with the emotional pain resulting from trauma. Austin left us with so many memories and gifts, and I’m thankful that we have also been left with some of his writing. I’ve struggled with how to close out this blog, nothing seems to be quite good enough. But a piece of Austin’s writing seems to fit perfectly and leaves exactly the message he would want us all to remember.
“The cure for the crisis of our culture—violence, addiction, suicide, depression, etc.—is human connection. But in a culture that’s more isolated than ever before, how do we cultivate true human connection?
I know from working with people who are struggling and my own process of recovery that the only way to heal an addicted brain—and in fact the only way to heal our emotional pain—is to stay present and connected to trusted others. When we show our pain to others, we heal. Drugs, alcohol, technology and other addictions are problematic not only because of the immediate damage they do to our physiology, but because they interfere with this possibility. The best “cure” in the world for a culture in crisis is a more loving, empathetic, connected world. Teachers, leaders, parents, policy-makers, administrators—we can all be part of the cure.”