In her debut memoir, Rhyan, a Navy nurse, writes about contending with the emotional aftermath of war.
In her third deployment as a Navy nurse, Rhyan was sent to Afghanistan to work with a British trauma unit called Bastion Hospital. She landed in the thick of war and witnessed the atrocities soldiers inflict upon one another. The experience exacted a heavy toll, and her colleagues noticed the symptoms of a dangerous downward spiral—drug and alcohol abuse, dark cynicism, and hopelessness. Rhyan’s commanding officer reassigned her to the Willows in Tampa, Florida—a psychiatric facility for military personnel struggling with war-induced trauma. There, she met Riza, her tough Cuban therapist, who was trained to counter Rhyan’s well-honed skills of evasion and misdirection. Rhyan was charged with four obligations to fulfill over the course of six weeks: attend AA meetings, write a timeline of her combat experience to be read aloud in the “War Room,” compose an autobiography, and pen a letter to the person who had hurt her the most deeply. Rhyan finally came to grips with her alcoholic mother’s cruelty and narcissism and the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of an older cousin. She also wrestled with her sexual identity—it wasn’t easy being a lesbian within an institution historically hostile to the LGBT community. But Rhyan remained in the military because of the lure of financial stability—she was the primary caretaker of both her young child and feckless mother. The author’s remembrance brims with both heartache and insight, the latter often painfully excavated from the former. Rhyan’s predicament is one not often represented in popular discourse—the PTSD suffered by those who see the effects of combat without partaking in combat itself. The writing style can be distracting—long sentences densely packed with a confetti of descriptors and a relentlessly caustic humor reminiscent of William Giraldi’s Busy Monsters. The story itself, though, and the bracingly candid manner of its conveyance are deeply affecting.
A forthcoming and brave testament to our capacity to transcend the grip of trauma.