You are by now familiar with Ruben Dyall. We introduced him to our readers in connection with dinosaurs before we realized he was a vaccinologist, who shared his enlightening views on many aspects of Covid and vaccines. This week, Ruben undertakes a daunting task. Opening up about what he calls “the most difficult fight of my life”. Together we discover his 25-year battle against Dual Diagnosis. Through talking about this very personal aspect, Ruben hopes to “to bring a glimmer of hope, not only to the mental patients, suffering from that atrocious disease, but mainly to their loved ones”. His method may not work for everyone. But he has the merit of initiating what we hope to be a necessary and useful dialogue.
First, what is Dual Diagnosis?
This is defined as a combination of mental disease (in my case, Bipolar Disorder) and addiction (in my case, Alcoholism). This is not going to be an easy issue for me. Right off the bat, I would go for my disclaimer: I am going to tell my personal story. This has nothing to do with the medical aspects that I understand you would address with a psychiatrist as a follow-up interview.
Yes that is understood. So where does the story of your life begin?
The story of my life is one of a trained professional performing on a closed circuit: Do not attempt at home! Right from my early childhood, the odds were stacked heaven high against me, and my chips were down. I was born in the textbook case of a dysfunctional family.
You were born in a highly educated family, weren’t you?
Yes, that was the worst possible case scenario for anybody, as you do not think of questioning anything until too late: only when you find yourself in a psychiatric hospital.
How do you define a dysfunctional family?
There are mountains of information on Google, so I would only give the basics. These include lack of empathy, control, poor communication, perfectionism, excessive criticism and loads more of dirty stuff.
“Somehow, I am thankful that all this mess happened in my earlier life, otherwise I would never have understood what happiness is.”
That sounds like almost every family in Mauritius, doesn’t it?
Maybe. As a result, I have been robbed of my childhood as I was unhappy, suffered from pathological anxiety, severe psychosomatic conditions and did not participate in crucial activities that define and guide the life of a healthy, normal child. I was Godless, with little respect for almost everything that really matters, and with zero coping skills. An obnoxious, egocentric brat with a mega superiority complex. But what nearly killed me was the lack of spirituality in my life.
Yet, families in Mauritius are religious, aren’t they?
If I answer this question, I am going to need 24-hour police protection and wear a bullet proof jacket all the time. I will restrict this to my personal experience, not that of others.
If there was no spirituality in your life, what was there an excess of?
The importance given to academic excellence.
You sound more and more like a normal middle class Mauritian child…
(Ignoring my comment) I over-performed academically and my parents proudly made me jump two grades at school. Small physically, due to all my psychosomatic issues, two years younger than my classmates and being a complete misfit resulted in bullying. Being a genius, at the ripe old age of 15, I found the panacea: a couple of beers everyday kept me very happy and solved all my issues in life.
“I understood what I really wanted in life, what matters and what does not, and a promise from God that I was going to be happy. Not a single drop of alcohol since then and never felt the need for it.”
How did that end? Badly?
Not initially. In fact, settling my nerves resulted in over-performance academically, and I found myself with a French Fellowship to study in France. That was the first questioning of my life: why did I waste my time, stressing myself, studying Math? I never liked that subject and just could not understand why these perverts were obsessing about triangles.
And how did the France chapter play out?
I discovered two terrible secrets then: first, that I did not have to study to do well in my exams and, secondly, if obtaining pass marks allowed me to reach the next level, I should not bother about getting better grades.
So, you had a lot of time on your hands. How did you use it?
Life in France was a four-year vacation. Bordeaux, as from 1984, gave me an incredible opportunity to discover the southwest of France, French culture and allowed me to explore the region. That included the gastronomy and, surprise, surprise, all the wine regions of the Bordelais. Incidentally, the main campus of Bordeaux, Talence, is located in the middle of the Graves region. The Girondins were a winning team then (unlike red wine, they did not age well) and I would not be surprised if I spent more time in their stadium than attending classes. The French from the southwest are very friendly and warm so I spent numerous evenings socialising. When I returned to Mauritius, I was a heavy drinker. Very heavy. Somehow, I knew that my future was in Mauritius. But I soon realised that I was not trained enough to do anything ‘honourable’ for my country and decided to do my Ph.D. That opportunity came through a USAID fellowship and I walked myself into the IVY Giant, Cornell.
Basically, you face two types of people: Those who understand your predicament, are happy that we got better, support you and respect you for getting out of it. Then, there is the rest: do we really need to worry about the rest? And I am being polite.”
So New York, here I come!
Yes. Three weeks later, still nursing a nine-hour jet lag, and trying to survive a culture shock, I modified something in one of their state of the art, million dollar ‘machines’ to make it become 7-10 times more efficient. I thought that this was what was expected and did not pay any attention. However, that put me on the radar of the most influential faculty members who, unknown to me, started keeping an eye on me. In a very subtle way, I was ‘helped’ when I went into completely crazy projects. Bis repetita: getting a whole lot done and painting NYC red. It was a huge responsibility as it’s a very big town to paint red. That took a lot of time, effort, dedication and devotion. Surprisingly, that did not help my drinking problem.
And what happened when you graduated?
Initially, the plan was to wrap up the publications and get a one-way ticket to Mauritius. However, I met my future-ex-wife (or ex-future-wife). Love at first sight. I decided to stay in NYC. I dug up an incidental result from my earlier days and used it as a novel vaccination strategy. I got incredible results that led to an international patent.
No, that was pretty much my death sentence. My life changed completely: increased responsibilities, participation in high-level clinical meetings, and the start of back-stabbing. Unknown to me, my extended stay in NYC, and all this unexpected, unwanted stress started taking its toll.
But you were happy, weren’t you?
Yes, I found love and was going through an extended honeymoon. As my ex-wife was a high-flying scientist too, we were very confident of our future. Being in love, successful in my research, and enjoying NYC, I never suspected the exponentially growing insidious stress in my life. I was on a collision course.
When did that realisation hit?
At the age of 32, at the peak of my career, I had my first psychiatric hospital admission. The verdict came: Dual Diagnosis: Bipolar Disorder and Chemical Addiction. I do not have the courage to relive the following four years. In July 2002, after my third suicide attempt, (that was a really good one: I survived 3.5 times the lethal dose of blood alcohol), I flew back to Mauritius barely alive, broken, bankrupt, having lost everything, including my wife, without a hope in life.
So what did hell look like?
Fifteen long years living in a semi-vegetative state, blissfully unaware of anything around me, living between the psychiatric hospital and homes. I had some short periods of respite but nothing lasting. I have ground intelligence from hell to give you: as much as people would ask you to go there, don’t. It is 1000 times worse than what you think.
Then you snapped out of it all? When did that happen?
Thirteen hundred and seventy-five days ago.
How did it come about?
A miracle happened and I saw God. In a few nanoseconds, he restored me to sanity. I realised that I did not have one single problem. I understood what I really wanted in life, what matters and what does not, and a promise from God that I was going to be happy. Not a single drop of alcohol since then and never felt the need for it.
Didn’t any of the therapies you went through in the USA help you?
These therapies are the reason why I am still alive today and why I managed to beat Dual Diagnosis. The best that these treatments can do for you is to prepare you for life after that miracle happens and maybe, to provoke that miracle. But they do not function like a fast food joint where you choose your miracle on the menu. Twenty years later, when I saw God, I immediately understood what happened and was ready to do my part.
So you are telling me that only religion can get you out of alcohol? That’s rather sad, isn’t it?
Yeah, very sad indeed for the atheists! However, I am 55 years old, and I have yet to meet one. But, seriously now, read my disclaimer: I am giving you MY personal account of MY experience. It cannot be generalised. My experience showed me that discovering God helped me. Whether or not there are other paths to reach the same result, honestly, I do not know.
We started this interview with the idea that your experience might help other substance users and their families. The message you are conveying is that you literally need a miracle. How does that give hope or guidance to anyone?
I would answer with a quote from Leo Tolstoy: ‘The two most powerful warriors are patience and time’. The miracle happened to me. I could not control that. But the key question is: did I provoke it? And I also described how the therapies I went through almost 20 years before I saw God helped me. I would not have handled that situation as well if I had not been through those therapies. They are well worth the investment.
You mean therapies help you when you are ready for help?
Yes and they are essential. You might not see the results immediately; it might take time. The idea is to never give up! It is a never ending uphill battle, but if you win it, you will be the happiest person alive.
What are the odds of success?
I would use a quote from General Solo: Never tell me the odds! The odds are slim when you look at the statistics, but you are an individual. Fight for yourself. At the end of the day, focus on yourself, not on others. Keep believing.
This experience leaves a lot of scars, doesn’t it?
Yes. However, the ability of the human body to heal itself is unbelievable. Even if you think that you have serious physical problems, you will solve them easily once you get better.
Do you ever have any urges to start drinking again?
What was your initial feeling when you came out of this sickness?
The sickness lasted very long during which I was not responsible for my actions. While you are using, you do not see the stupid things that you are doing. In my case, as soon as I stopped, all these caught up with me, causing overwhelming shame, regret and fear. But that is part of the sickness. I assume that once you get out of it, if you have the unconditional support of your loved ones, that would help a lot. I was not that lucky. Basically, you face two types of people: Those who understand your predicament, are happy that we got better, support you and respect you for getting out of it. Then, there is the rest: do we really need to worry about the rest? And I am being polite.
What about your bipolar condition? How are you dealing with it?
Medication: 1 pill a day. And avoiding egocentric imbeciles; they are my most dangerous relapse factors. You can beat Dual Diagnosis and reach a level of happiness that you never could imagine.
What have you been doing with your life since you became sober?
Sober? Did I ever say sober? I am not using alcohol, but 24 hours a day I get high enjoying the simple pleasures of life. And that kind of high, no drug on earth can match. For these almost four years, I have been very active and productive professionally, although I work on my own. I have been very busy with dry research leading to protectable IP on 5 Biology/Biotechnology projects. Soon, I will start the wet part and I am very confident of my success. But more than anything else, I have discovered happiness as I define it: every single night, when I go to bed, I am thankful for having lived a wonderful day. And when I wake up in the morning, I am thankful because I know that I am going to live another wonderful day. I bet I would shock everybody when I say that somehow, I am thankful that all this mess happened in my earlier life, otherwise I would never have understood what happiness is. I have been very religious since then, but I am a free thinker (regarding both religion and politics). I have found my comfort zone in life and I am very confident that I will exceed my new goals in life.