By Mary Cucarola 6/20/19

“They are so frail humans.  So easily crumpled and broken, like flower petals under foot.”  ~Jennifer Hudock

Austin Eubanks

When I heard Austin Eubanks died from a heroin overdose last week, I was shocked and saddened.  I had watched his Ted Talk several times, because I related to it and found him to be authentic and articulate.  He talked about witnessing his best friend being murdered by the Columbine killers in the cafeteria at age 17.

He said he was confused, afraid, sick and vulnerable and the emotional pain was much worse than the physical pain.  He had been shot, too.  He was medicated within 45 minutes of coming out of the school to treat his physical pain and soon became addicted to the pain pills.

In his talk, he said opioids are more effective for treating emotional pain than physical pain, and he became addicted to them for 10 years.  He said he pressed a pause button on his emotional growth for those 10 years because he never addressed the emotional pain.  Pain changed Austin.

When he finally decided to get sober, he spent 14 months in treatment.  He realized that feeling better was different than being better.  He figured out he needed to lean into the pain, instead of medicating it.  He said he had to feel it to heal it.

He was sober for eight years before he died suddenly of an overdose in Steamboat Springs, where he worked and lived.

Here is Austin’s Ted Talk on YouTube – its worth listening to.

I wonder what happened.

I know addiction is chronic and relapse is part of it, but the statistics say the longer one is in recovery, the better the chances are of staying sober.  Stepping outside the trenches of addiction requires work, perseverance, and resiliency.

It is hardly an easy path to take, but Austin had taken it and was helping others in the process.  He was a professional speaker, recovery advocate, and worked as a chief operations officer at The Foundry Treatment Center in Steamboat.  He served on several nonprofit boards having to do with addiction and trauma.

If I listen to what he said in his Ted Talk, I have to believe the emotional pain had returned for him in some way.  It was the pain he talked about the most in his talk.  Life in sobriety is tainted with reminders of the past.  His was a difficult past, burdened with trauma, which he tried to leave behind and come to understand and ultimately accept. Even with long-term sobriety and the good life sobriety had given him, it was fragile.

Sobriety is fragile.

Recovery is a life-long practice – there is no cure for addiction.  It isn’t something one sets their sights on, achieves, and forgets about.  Recovery requires patience, diligence, and humility.  A recovered soul will always be a student of the Universe, not a master of it.  Austin generously spread his knowledge to others, and even though I didn’t personally know him, I believe he was always improving and progressing in recovery.  He helped others in order to help himself.

He ended his Ted Talk with these words.

“You keep what you have by giving it away.”

I love those words – so selfless and humble.

Rest in peace, Austin.  You gave generously to the world and touched many people, me included.  You left a legacy of hope and the truth of human fragility.

Mary Cucarola 6/20/19

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