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Face of Defense: Former Chaplain Uses Comedy to Battle Emotional Demons

By Air Force Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard 633rd Air Base Wing

JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va., Aug. 24, 2016 — As an Army chaplain, James King served nearly two decades taking in others’ pain and feeling helpless as his comrades were sent to war.

Eventually, the now-retired lieutenant colonel realized that the buildup of emotions he carried needed to be addressed.

“I became aware that my life was becoming unmanageable, and that I was depressed,” King said. “I was carrying things [inside] myself. I was bottling things up. I was isolating myself. I was not using healthy practices. I was not eating healthy.

“I was drinking more than I needed to,” he continued, “and I was letting things get to me that shouldn’t have. My wife and people close to me expressed concern. And, after initially not listening, I finally did.”

Personal Struggles

King’s said his duties as a chaplain included helping people through difficult situations. However, he said, providing spiritual and emotional aid to others became overwhelming.

“It’s vital, but to be there time after time, to see the family’s responses, to experience their pain and not be able to do anything about it because you just can’t change the basic fact that the one that they love is not going to come back alive is hard,” King explained. “I went through some emotionally difficult things with their families, but I’m still here and I’m physically whole. So, it’s hard to complain.”

King received counseling and through that, found other avenues to relieve his stressors. One is the Armed Services Arts Partnership comedy boot camp, a nonprofit organization that provides veterans an artistic outlet to deal with issues in a safe and understanding environment.

“One of the things I am learning is that I can’t bottle things up, so I’m expressing some of my struggle through humor, and it’s working so far,” King said.

Healing Through Comedy

Since starting the class in April, King has not only performed in local comedy shows, but has taken the class as an opportunity to show others that it’s possible to overcome personal demons.

“Jim came in ready to be the best, but he helped everyone out,” said Fred McKinnon, an Army veteran and comedy boot camp coach. “He took the class seriously. I think the sky’s the limit for him. If he puts forth the effort I could see him having a lot of success.”

But for King, the class was more than a place to showcase his talent. It was a salvation.

“Without the boot camp and counseling, I’d be an even bigger problem waiting to happen,” King said. “If I had not gotten help to find avenues to deal with the issues, they would still be bottled up inside me. And, the problem is that the more you bottle something up, the more the pressure builds.”

King said he understands that some people may have difficulty admitting or revealing personal issues or asking for help. However, he added, tackling personal demons ultimately makes people stronger.

“If somebody wants to say that we are weak because we seek help, they’re just proving themselves weak,” King said. “We have sense enough to get help for everything else; we need to get help for our emotional, mental and psychological needs.”
Distribution channels: Military