Dancing with the Devil shows how sobriety became just one more demon for Demi Lovato to contend with

A new documentary, told through interviews with friends, colleagues, and Lovato herself, walks us through the months leading up to Lovato’s 2018 overdose, and, with painstaking detail, outlines how the singer was literally minutes away from dying. Rachel Brodsky reports

Tuesday 23 March 2021 09:07 GMT
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Demi Lovato in the YouTube documentary Dancing with the Devil
Demi Lovato in the YouTube documentary Dancing with the Devil (YouTube)
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As Demi Lovato descended into drug relapse in 2018, she faced a harrowing choice. Stay sober and be crushed under the public pressure. Or give in, and disappoint everybody, including legions of fans.

The actor and singer, who came of age starring in such 2000s teen fare as Camp Rock and Disney’s Sonny With a Chance, ended up suffering a near-fatal overdose. She chronicles her journey through relapse, hospitalisation, and recovery in a new four-part YouTube documentary, Dancing with the Devil, directed by Michael D Ratner and airing its first two episodes today (23 March). Through interviews with friends, colleagues, and Lovato herself, the documentary walks us through the months leading up to Lovato’s 2018 overdose, and, with painstaking detail, outlines how the singer was literally minutes away from dying when her personal assistant called 911.

The events of that night were a shock for anyone who had been following Lovato’s career up until that point. Yes, the singer had done stints in rehab; in 2010, Lovato entered a facility for bulimia and self-harm, and in 2013, the singer announced that she was living in a Los Angeles sober house. Things seemed stable, though, between the years of 2013 and 2017, during which time Lovato often spoke about her journey to sobriety and body acceptance, much of which is documented in her 2017 YouTube movie Simply Complicated.

“Getting sober was difficult,” she told Glamour in 2016, “I went into rehab, I came out, and I didn’t stay sober. I still had issues occasionally. Now some days it’s difficult; some days it’s easy.”

In March 2018, Lovato celebrated six years of sobriety on her social media pages, writing, “Just officially turned six years sober. So grateful for another year of joy, health and happiness. It IS possible.” Dancing with the Devil even shows footage of Lovato celebrating six years sober during a live performance, where a huge crowd yells and shouts in celebration of the achievement. As the singer details, though, what should have felt like a major victory rang hollow in the moment. Instead of feeling truly proud, Lovato only felt an added layer of tension. Fall off the wagon as a celebrity who’s publicly sober, and you will have not only your friends and family to answer to, but legions of fans as well. This is the paradox Demi Lovato felt crushed beneath as she descended into relapse in 2018.

“It was hammered into her head: you have to be sober, you have to be this icon, this role model that my sister never claimed to want to be in the first place,” Dallas Lovato says to the camera in the first segment of Dancing with the Devil.

“I look at my fans as family,” adds Lovato. “But because I'd been so open and honest about the things that I'd dealt with, I felt like I had to be this perfect role model.”

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As a number of her friends, co-workers, and team members note over the course of Dancing with the Devil, Lovato’s personality is at once raw, honest, and deeply compartmentalised. While a handful of her associates knew that Lovato had slipped in her sobriety, they thought she was engaging in substances casually. The reality of the situation was that instead of just weed and alcohol, perhaps even pills and coke, Lovato had levelled up to a deadly combination of crack and heroin. It came out, in fact, that the heroin she’d been smoking on the night of her overdose had been laced with fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that can be 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.

Is it any wonder that Lovato cracked under the impossible pressure to maintain her sobriety? On top of speaking out about her history with drug abuse and bulimia, which set in when she was still a teenager acting on Sonny With a Chance, Lovato led a highly regimented life. As the documentary outlines, from approximately 2013 to 2017, the singer’s team kept Lovato in a tightly controlled environment where the number one priority was keeping her sober.

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“My team has consisted of assistants, a wellness coach, a dietitian, nutritionist, therapist,” Lovato says in Dancing With the Devil. “I've had all of these people in and out of my life. I feel like decisions had been made for me, more so than I've made decisions for myself.”

Demi Lovato performing at the Grammys
Demi Lovato performing at the Grammys (Getty Images for The Recording Academy)

“I do feel like she had been in such a pressure cooker of control, and trying to keep her well, and it had just eaten away at her,” adds Sirah, one of her best friends and former sober companion.

In the aftermath of her overdose – which caused her to suffer a whirlwind of health issues, such as three strokes and a heart attack, brain damage and lingering eyesight problems at 28 years old – Lovato has been forced to really come to terms with the healthiest path forward. These days, as she recently told The New York Times, she is “California sober”, which essentially means that she still indulges in weed and alcohol in moderation.

“I haven’t been by-the-book sober since the summer of 2019,” she said. “I realised if I don’t allow myself some wiggle room, I go to the hard s***. And that will be the death of me.”

Perhaps now, in this latest chapter of her life, we can allow Lovato some space as well.

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