Saturday, April 20, 2024

“Dancing with the Devil”: A docuseries on Demi Lovato’s overdose

Mosaic“Dancing with the Devil”: A docuseries on Demi Lovato’s overdose
Bianka Heather/THE REVIEW
In the docuseries, “Dancing with the Devil,” Demi Lovato talks about overcoming their demons.

Staff Reporter

Content warning: Mentions substance abuse, mental illnesses and sexual assault.

In July 2018, Demi Lovato experienced a near-fatal overdose on heroin after being sober for six years. At this time, Lovato had been on their “Tell Me You Love Me World Tour” during which they were shooting a documentary that never aired. After the overdose, Lovato focused on themself and took a break from performing. They entered back into the music world during their 2020 Grammy’s performance with their then-new song, “Anyone,” which they had written just a few days before their overdose. Since then, Lovato has released their new album, “Dancing with the Devil,” and has released a four-episode docuseries about their life before and after their overdose. In this docuseries, Lovato and their loved ones bring to light important topics such as addiction, sobriety, eating disorders, mental illness and sexual assault. 

In the first episode of the docuseries, Lovato and their friends talk about how the 2018 documentary, of which clips can be seen in the new documentary, were only showing the positive parts of their life. It’s clear that Lovato was trying to put on a facade for the world, which they express in their song “What Other People Say” with Sam Fischer, where they also talk about their estranged relationship with their birth father, a topic Lovato has always been open about. Their birth father was an addict, an alcoholic and abusive to Lovato’s mother before passing away from an overdose. Lovato always feared being like their father, but their addictive tendencies may be linked to their father and their mother, who also dealt with substance abuse in the past. 

A large misconception surrounding addiction is that it’s a choice. In reality, addiction can be due to a variety of factors, and addicts have a very difficult time recovering, whether it’s tobacco, drugs, alcohol or even self-harm. An individual’s brain chemistry also plays a large role in addictive behaviors as well as mental illnesses. When it comes to college students, it’s no secret that alcohol and drugs are used commonly. What people fail to recognize, however, is that once those once-in-a-while activities become addictive tendencies, the recovery is much more complicated. 

Lovato has always been open about their eating disorder, but in the docuseries, they talk about how their team was overcontrolling and making decisions for them in regards to their eating habits. Their friends talked about how their eating schedule had to be linked with Lovato’s to avoid leading them back into their eating disorder. However, they relapsed despite those efforts due to the extreme diet and exercise habits. This is a large reason why Lovato changed their team after their overdose. 

Later in the docuseries, Lovato speaks about how they were never even allowed to have a cake for their birthday, and instead, their team provided them with watermelon cakes, which they talk about in their song “Melon Cake.” Lovato’s team unfortunately misunderstood them and their eating disorder in ways that only harmed them more than helped. A large part of disordered eating is restriction and having this idea that certain foods are good or bad. What a lot of therapy for disordered eating focuses on is having a positive relationship with all types of food and labeling each food as neutral. However, Lovato’s team continued to feed into their food labeling, shown through the melon cakes that depicted cake as a bad food. 

The second episode of the docuseries opens with the story of Lovato’s overdose, told primarily by their former assistant Jordan, who found them after their overdose. Lovato recreates this scene in their song “Dancing with the Devil.” Lovato, their loved ones and their doctors spoke about how they found out about the overdose and how they didn’t know if Lovato would make it. Lovato had three strokes and a heart attack due to their overdose, which left them with organ failure, brain damage and blind spots in their vision. 

Lovato mentions that upon regaining consciousness, they were confused that they had overdosed since they were smoking heroin and not injecting it, which they thought couldn’t cause an overdose. According to the American Addiction Centers, while it’s not as easy to overdose on drugs from snorting or smoking than injecting, it is definitely possible. The likelihood also depends on the tolerance, the amount of the drug used and if other medications or substances are used simultaneously. Additionally, Lovato talked about how they were not even aware of what they were putting into their body because their drug dealer failed to tell them that the drugs were laced with fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid. With drugs, it’s often difficult to know exactly what you are being handed, which is why students should be careful with what they put into their body, especially at parties where substances are widely available and used quite mindlessly. 

On the night of their overdose, Lovato’s drug dealer not only supplied them with dangerous substances, but he also sexually assaulted them and left them on their own while they overdosed. Previously, Lovato hadn’t really talked about their experience with sexual trauma, but in the docuseries, Lovato expresses how they initially claimed that the sex was consensual until they realized it wasn’t due to their state of mind. What many people don’t recognize is that consent is not only mutually agreeing to engage in sexual activities but that consent cannot be given if an individual is high, drunk or unconscious. Even if Lovato had agreed to having sexual intercourse on the night of their overdose, the fact that they weren’t sober and were under the influence means that they did not have the ability to give true consent. 

As college students engage in sexual activities while under the influence, it’s important to understand the extent to which this behavior is acceptable. While one may believe that engaging in intercourse is consensual while under the influence, it’s simply not true. But what about if both individuals are under the influence? In this case, neither individual is in the mindset to give consent, and if sexual activities do take place, there is a gray area that is often explored in depth when it comes to complicated cases. 

After a difficult breakup with their ex-fiancé, Lovato found it difficult to stay sober. They have since realized that complete sobriety isn’t for them and has never worked in the long-term. Popular culture has now come up with the term “California Sober,” like Lovato’s song, which allows for an occasional drink and moderate marijuana usage. 

Until now, the concept of sobriety has always focused on “never again” and the idea that one drink will lead to a spiral back into addiction. While this may be the case for some people, sobriety looks different for everyone and isn’t always black and white. With the widespread legalization of recreational marijuana, marijuana usage has become even more popular and can bring many benefits for people. 

Lovato explains that they have been smoking weed and drinking in moderation because that is what works for them, though it isn’t for everyone. Lovato raises awareness about how recovery doesn’t always look the same for everyone and that exploring options and different paths is often the best way to figure out what works best for you. While some of Lovato’s friends and team members are concerned about their decision to not be completely sober, they give Lovato the freedom to find the method that works best for them. Lovato says that finding balance was how they recovered from their eating disorder and that for them, balance is the key to feeling their best. 

Lovato has never shied away from talking about their mental health struggles. Previously, they were diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but for the first time since then, Lovato says they were misdiagnosed. When a person is initially diagnosed, it can bring a sense of relief as they might finally feel understood and have an explanation for their feelings and behaviors. However, misdiagnosis can be extremely harmful for an individual, as it was for Lovato, who advocated for support for those with bipolar disorder when they didn’t even have it. People who are misdiagnosed often feel confused and betrayed because it may make them feel as if they’re going backwards rather than forwards. Additionally, the effects of taking the wrong medication can lead to many side effects and long-term issues as the real issue isn’t being addressed. It’s important to be honest with your experiences and symptoms, as well as getting a second opinion to make sure you are diagnosed correctly. 

At the end of the documentary, Lovato shows their personal transformation in a physical way as they get a haircut that they say they had been wanting to get for a long time. They explain that they is now in a “Good Place,” as discussed in their song. Despite their struggles, Lovato continues to strive to be the best version of themself and understand themself more and more each day. They remind us that relapse isn’t the end of the road and that recovery and growth is a path with ups and downs and obstacles that we must overcome. Reaching a low doesn’t mean that the fight is over, it simply means that there is more room to rise up. 

If you are in need of mental health assistance, call Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) for free and confidential services 24/7. If you or someone you know is in crisis, contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or dial 911 in case of emergency. 

Editor’s note: This piece initially referred to Lovato using she/her pronouns. As of May 19 2021 at 8:00 p.m., the piece has been changed to reflect Lovato’s correct pronouns.




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