• Kali Ah Yuen

Dancing With The Devil: Lessons Everyone Can Take From Demi Lovato's Journey to Sobriety

Demi Lovato. The name you’ve heard if you know the world of Barney, Disney Channel, soul music, the emo scene, drugs, addiction, or eating disorders.

There’s a lot of misconceptions that people with influence carry when so much of their life is seen through a digital screen. We see this time and time again with celebrities, and most recently influencers. It’s like some sort of pedestal - or grave - molded to perfection for someone we don’t even know.

Demi Lovato has always been a very complex person. One full of demons that went unseen behind a perfectly convincing smile.

But it’s more than her triumph that’s the topic of discussion. It’s how her story showcased in her docu-series that has the potential to relate to many of us, whether we idolize her or not. And it’s deeper than the physical hardships. It’s the source of who we are as human beings: the mental.

She opens up about everything she has gone through in the past nine years, revealing and unpacking a history of trauma.

With that being said, there are takeaways from each of Demi Lovato’s YouTube docu-series, “Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil”.

Episode 1, ‘Losing Control’

Demi Lovato Hides Her Addiction.

The documentary opens with a flashback to the 2018 Tell Me You Love Me Documentary that followed the release of Simply Complicated. It captured her life on tour until all production came to a halt after she was hospitalized for her overdose. “In that documentary, I was allowing cameras to see the tip of the iceberg,” she stated. There were a lot of vulnerable moments that showcased what was going on with her mental health but Demi did her best to cover it up. From the hidden drug use to alcohol abuse and food deprivation, Demi was going through a lot that was going unseen to the eye. “I’ve been working on trying to be free for 13 years,” she said.

The lesson: Hiding things that we are not proud of is not uncommon. However, it’s a common misconception that it’s “easy” to spot those struggling with any type of substance abuse. Most people are not ready to admit, even to themselves, that they are not in control of their faults. It’s easier to pretend like the demons we have within us aren’t present when we call to them and even easier to act like everything is “fine” in front of other people. Maybe there’s a better reason why we feel the need to portray ourselves as the best version of ourselves, especially in times where we’re silently crying for help.

After 6 years of being sober, Demi relapses.

Demi celebrated her sixth year being sober onstage with DJ Khalid and Kehlani at a show in Brooklyn, New York in 2018. It was a proud moment, but one that she didn’t seem too happy to celebrate because inside she was dying for a taste of the forbidden fruit. One month later, she picked up a bottle of red wine and within 30 minutes, says she called someone whom she knew had drugs on them. “I remember being at a photo shoot and just thinking to myself, I don’t even remember why I’m sober anymore. I’m so miserable,” she says. This was the night she was introduced to meth and mixed it with other substances -- molly, coke, weed, oxycodone, and alcohol. A mixture that should’ve killed her.

The lesson: There are reasons that we can’t resist bad habits. We indulge in these behaviors that we know aren’t good for us for multiple reasons. Firstly, because they give us the comfort we are seeking and act as some kind of ‘reward’ system we’ve created in our head that when we act in these habits it’s associated with the freedom of being in the present. It’s even harder when everyone else is doing it or you’ve been exposed in the past to it. It’s only human to rationalize our bad behaviors before, our minds love to find evidence that backs up our decisions, whether good or bad. And sometimes it’s just easier to slip back into our old ways than fighting to get better.

Episode 2, ‘5 Minutes From Death’

The morning of Demi’s overdose - on the verge of death.

Demi’s former assistant, Jordan Jackson, came to her house for a morning doctor’s appointment. Jackson walked into Demi laying naked in her bed with vomit around her. At first, Jackson thought it was just another hangover from a wild night out. It wasn’t until she quickly realized Demi was unresponsive. As team members came, 9-1-1 was quickly called. She had overdosed. Following this, she suffered three strokes, a heart attack, and brain damage from the strokes. “I’m really lucky to be alive. My doctors said I had five to 10 more minutes and had my assistant not come in, I wouldn’t be here today,” Demi says passionately.

The lesson: Sometimes we focus so hard on the things we don’t want to become that we eventually become exactly that. When we’re putting all of our thoughts and energy into what we don’t want, we unconsciously manifest it. Especially when it’s something we experience for a prolonged period in our lives. It’s even worse when we are constantly exposed to things that relate to what we want to get away from. As a human, it’s almost harder to let go of the thoughts we don’t want than to focus on what is better for our well-being. It’s a cycle that takes work to break because if it goes unhelped for too long, it could result in death.

Demi’s loved ones pay consequences for her actions.

Towards the end of the episode, Demi’s long-time friend and former choreographer, Dani Vitale, got to share her side of the story. Demi was last seen at Vitale’s birthday party the same night she overdosed. When the news broke of Demi’s overdose, Vitale was blamed for being a bad friend and causing the situation. She ended up losing all her work because no one wanted to hire someone who they thought might be dealing drugs. For a while, she received thousands of death threats daily. But no one knew the real story of how innocent she really was. It even affected her former assistant causing Jackson to resign from her position to stay out of the press. Both of their stories were shared as they spoke their truth to clear the air in the docu-series.

The lesson: This goes to show how others are affected by the decisions we make. Sometimes we just don’t consider all the consequences when we make a decision because we are too consumed by ourselves. This situation often happens when we are going through problems that we don’t take the time to deconstruct. It’s a lot easier to act on emotion than to think with logic during hard times. However, we can fix these problems by taking accountability for our actions. It won’t change what happened, but it could completely change someone else’s life, even your own.

Episode 3, ‘Reclaiming Power’

Expressing the sexual assault Demi experienced.

The night Demi overdosed, she was also sexually assaulted by her drug dealer. She further reveals in the docu-series that night was not the first time she was sexually assaulted. She lost her virginity in a rape when she was 15 years old around the time she was on Disney Channel for Camp Rock and Sony With a Chance. According to Demi, she was making out with someone but didn’t want to take it further and claims that he ignored her. For months on, she would have to see her alleged rapist regularly at work and act like everything was fine, which she says contributed to her eating disorder and self-harming. Even when she told someone about it they never got penalized and didn’t get “taken out of the movie they were in.”

The lesson: There will be times where our voices will be silenced and unheard when we have something important to say. This is when you need a support system to escalate the situation, which the power of social media has come through to shed light on many voices. Social media can also be a negative influence because it just shows the highlight reel of our lives. People won’t always know what is actually happening behind the scenes and that can have a huge impact on the way we deal with internal issues. It makes us want to show ourselves at our best instead of the realness of everything that encompasses who we are. We must remember that what we see, even in person, is only the tip of the iceberg of what someone is going through.

Demi finds an outlet to unleash her inner demons.

During her recovery process, Demi was left to go to what she knows best: music. She turned to creating songs in times when she couldn’t get a ‘fix’ or wanted to let out everything she was feeling inside. Out of this came songs like “Sober” and “Anyone”, which went on to touch fans all around the world. There were times when she would relapse into drugs and alcohol, but with her support system, she was able to put a lot of focus on what mattered the most to her -- and what was beneficial. Demi consistently used studio time as her outlet of expression that transmuted her inner demons into something beautiful. Her most recent album, Dancing With The Devil showcases everything she went through in the docu-series.

The lesson: Life is a combination of all types of experiences: happy, sad, stressful, etc. Despite what life throws at you, it’s important to find a healthy outlet for expression. Art, writing, music, and working out are a few methods in which we can express ourselves and decompress from life’s battles. Creative expression is a unique human experience and it allows us to positively stimulate our brain. The first step in finding a creative outlet is to become more self-aware and get to know ourselves a bit more. By working on ourselves within, we can create magic outside.

Episode 4, ‘Rebirthing’

She creates a new meaning for sobriety.

In the docu-series’ final episode, Demi has a self-realization moment where she makes it clear to her audience that she no longer believes in a one-way tactic to be sober. “Recovery isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution,” she states. She continues to drink in moderation and smoke marijuana to help curb her addictions. The slow progress is different this time. In her previous documentaries, she promised to never touch another drink or drug again. But she learned that wasn’t the best way to go about recovery for her. “...shutting the door on the things, makes me want to open the door even more,” she says. It’s all about learning how to balance everything instead of going from one extreme to the next.

The lesson: We may all be guilty of using the word “never” in this sense because we use our emotions at that moment to define our future. This is a very unrealistic approach to progressing through whatever problem we are facing. Saying “never” puts this unnecessary pressure on ourselves, which goes back to focusing too hard on what we don’t want instead of balancing out what we can work on in the present. It also comes down to understanding that your situation is unique to your own experiences, so a solution that worked for someone else is that going to be the answer for you. Taking baby steps will provide a better outcome than hoping for an overnight miracle.

Demi was misdiagnosed as bipolar.

In 2011, Demi was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and became a public advocate for spreading awareness of the mental disorder. Seven years later, she got other professional opinions and was told that she was misdiagnosed. “I was acting out when I was 18 for multiple reasons, but I know now from multiple doctors that it wasn’t because I was bipolar,” she says. Then, she goes on to explain that after some time to self-reflect, she expresses how she believes that it was more of her needing to “grow up” instead of having a new diagnosis.

The lesson: When we are unaware of what is happening internally but there are so many emotions and thoughts running through us, it’s easy to put the blame on what is out of our control. More often than not, what we really need to put the blame on is ourselves. By taking a step back and understanding that we deflect what we are going through on almost everything else, we can find the true source of our problem. It is an easier process to explain than undergo. In my opinion, this is the main lesson we can all learn from the docu-series.

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