COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) - Tom James is smiling again.
In the months after subduing the Club Q shooter, the soft-spoken Navy sailor battled his own demons, wrestling with self-doubt.
"Initially I thought I could handle everything after the fact myself. I avoided, I isolated, I self-medicated, and I treated myself in the worst way possible," admitted James. "The guilt of wishing I was faster. I was never the biggest on hero worship."
He was ambivalent about going out the night of November 19, 2022, but did so anyway -- on a coin flip.
What was his sanctuary, turned into a killing field.
"There was just a lot of shouting, wordless screams," he remembered. He and a friend were sitting on a back patio when the shots started -- which initially sounded like the beat of the music. "As I'm running in to confront them, my friend falls through the glass. And they die. It was that break in the silence of the gunshots that I chose to run in and I just started swinging, as hard as I could."
In those moments, James leaned upon the boxing skills his father taught him as a teen. But, in the process, James would be hit with a bullet; while it ricocheted off a rib, it managed to collapse his lung.
The heat from the barrel of the shooter's gun also blistered James' hand as he grabbed it, wrestling with the suspect.
That's when he remembers seeing Rich Fierro, another Club Q hero, also credited with subduing the suspect.
James' actions, garnered praise from Colorado Springs Police Chief Adrian Vasquez. "Thomas James, he engaged the suspect, immediately. And it was dramatic and just amazing how he did that."
For James, though, the recovery came with mountains of guilt: "wishing I was faster."
That feeling took him down a dark road of self-isolation.
"It started, one day, I woke up, surrounded by bottles, just tired and sick and miserable -- and I thought, 'Something's gotta change.'"
With the help of his friends, and trusted therapists, James is learning to re-contextualize the events at Club Q.
"It was a gradual healing. Just last session, my therapist said, 'You are actually smiling more.' I think I'm finally having a good day. I'm socializing again; I'm learning to enjoy myself again."
Tom James is in the process of medically retiring from the Navy, after 12 years of service.
In October, the Petty Officer Second Class sailor was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal at Peterson Space Force Base, where he is stationed. The medal is the highest non-combat decoration awarded for heroism by the U.S. Department of the Navy.
James was also awarded the Civilian Medal of Distinction by the Colorado Springs Police Department and the Police Foundation of Colorado Springs.