Demi Lovato is no stranger to a revealing documentary. In 2012, she chronicled her recovery after her first stint in rehab with Staying Strong. Five years later, in the film Simply Complicated, she opened up about her bipolar-disorder diagnosis and admitted that she had been using cocaine while filming Staying Strong.
In the new four-part YouTube docuseries Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil, Lovato, her family, her friends, and her team chronicle a near-fatal 2018 overdose that had the singer and actress reaching a breaking point in her addiction and mental health that she had never reached before. The 28-year-old candidly speaks about breaking six years of sobriety, trying harder drugs, as well as traumatic sexual assaults that have shaped her relationship with drugs and her own body.
Dancing With the Devil premiered at SXSW’s virtual festival earlier this month and began rolling out on Lovato’s YouTube channel on March 23rd. Here’s what we’ve learned from the first two episodes of the explosive series. (Episodes 3 and 4 will air on March 30th and April 6th, respectively.)
Lovato was filming another documentary in 2018.
Following the release of her sixth studio album, Tell Me You Love Me, in late 2017, Lovato invited a camera crew to capture her on tour that following summer. Unfortunately, her descent back into drugs and alcohol that led to a near-fatal overdose that July was happening behind the scenes. Cameras captured a bit of her partying again and even writing her confessional ballad “Sober,” but the project was scrapped after she was hospitalized. Some of the footage is used in the new film, although much of it picks up in 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic.
The star felt guilt over her dad’s death.
Lovato and her dad, Patrick, were estranged for most of her life due to his own battle with addiction to drugs and alcohol, as well as his abuse toward her mother. He died after a battle with cancer in 2013. The date and time of his death are unknown: Patrick’s body had been left undiscovered for more than a week and was too decomposed for an open casket. Father’s Day happened sometime between his death and the day he was found, and the holiday now holds significance for Demi. “Every summer now that rolls around, I spend it thinking, ‘Was today the day that my dad died? Was it tomorrow?’” she says. “And then also knowing by the time Father’s Day rolls around he was lying there rotting. That was the fear I always had for him, that he would end up alone. And he did. He died alone.”
As an advocate for mental health, Demi has struggled with feeling like she wasn’t practicing what she preached with her own father, who had bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. “Ultimately, I realized that he was too far gone at that point,” the singer adds. “He needed to realize he needed help himself.”
Pageants prompted her struggles with food at a young age.
Lovato began doing beauty pageants at a young age. The focus on looks and beauty created self-esteem issues before she even reached puberty. “I remember actually making a pact with myself saying, ‘If I don’t win this pageant, I will never eat again,’” she reveals. Her own mother also struggled with eating disorders.
Lovato goes on to thread her competitive nature to her life on television and as a pop star, noting that she carried that same self-punishment into her teen years. Her present-day friends, who were interviewed for the documentary, noted that they have had to be “careful” with what and how they eat in front of her due to restrictive policies put in place by her former team to help her not relapse. Those restrictions, however, only made her relationship with food more complicated. “I feel like decisions have been made for me more so than I’ve made decisions for myself,” she said in footage for the scrapped 2018 documentary. On that tour, she began relapsing with her eating disorder and over-exercising because she felt uncomfortable in the more-revealing stage outfits she felt like she needed to wear.
Lovato broke sobriety two weeks after she celebrated six years sober.
“I don’t even know why I’m sober anymore,” Lovato remembers thinking to herself on a photo shoot. Feeling miserable and stifled, she decided to drink red wine that night and within 30 minutes had called someone she knew who had drugs. “I’m surprised I didn’t OD that night,” she admits. She went to a party and ran into her old drug dealer. Lovato went on a “shopping spree” that night and combined meth, molly, coke, weed, more alcohol, and OxyContin.
At the time, her friends and family knew she was drinking again. While they were concerned, she seemed fine. They had no idea about her renewed relationship with her dealer, or even what happened that first night off the wagon.
Two weeks later, Lovato was “introduced to heroin and crack cocaine.”
Continuing to spiral deeper into drug use in private, Lovato continued to experiment with drugs she had never tried before. She thought she would use them both recreationally only to realize that’s impossible with a drug like heroin. Her friend Sirah caught her smoking heroin in the bathroom during a game night at Lovato’s home and encouraged her to get help.
Lovato wrote her ballad “Sober” while on a trip to Bali.
While on vacation in Bali, Lovato realized that she had become physically dependent on heroin. It led her to pen the powerful ballad “Sober,” admitting publicly that she had relapsed and apologizing to her family, friends, and fans. After the song was released in June 2018, she went on tour in Europe where she stayed away from drugs but was drinking heavily. After the tour wrapped, she went back to L.A. and began using again. In footage from a concert at the California State Fair a day before she overdosed, Lovato forgot the words to “Sober” onstage.
“Demi’s good at making you believe she’s OK.”
Lovato admits that she had kept her increasingly dangerous and heavy use of heroin and crack cocaine a secret from her loved ones. And all of the people who were around her at the time emphasize how good Lovato had become at keeping secrets from them and convincing them that she’s doing all right. On July 23rd, 2018, she had been out with friends bar hopping. To them she seemed “normal” again, drinking like the rest of them and having a good time. After the bars, they all came back to her house and partied until 5:30 a.m. on July 24th. At that point, she had told her friends she would be going to bed but instead called one of her dealers to come over.
Lovato’s overdose made the news before her mom knew it happened.
On the morning of July 24th, Lovato was discovered by her now-former assistant Jordan Jackson, covered in her own vomit. Jackson alerted Lovato’s head of security, Max Lea, then made the 911 call that saved her boss’s life. Hours later, before Jackson and Lea had the opportunity to tell Lovato’s mom, sisters, best friends, and team, Lovato’s inner circle found out that she had been hospitalized from the flood of texts they received from concerned friends who saw the news alert on TMZ.
The overdose has left Lovato with permanent damage.
The 24 hours after Lovato overdosed proved to be harrowing. Her mom compared the experience to a “horror movie.” After enduring severely low oxygen levels, Lovato had three strokes and a heart attack. The strokes left her with brain damage and blind spots in her vision, so she can no longer drive. She also experienced pneumonia from her asphyxiation and multiple organ failures. When she first woke up, she was legally blind. As Lovato admits, she was not purposefully aiming to overdose that night. She believed that because she was smoking heroin and not injecting it, she had a lower chance of overdoing. “At the end of the day, if you do too much of anything it’s gonna kill you,” she says.
If Lovato had been discovered 10 minutes later, she may not have survived.
Jackson, her assistant, only went into Lovato’s room to wake up her boss because Lovato had a planned doctor’s appointment on July 24th that she had hoped to make. Jackson knocked on the door repeatedly, thinking that Lovato just wanted to sleep in or needed some privacy. When Jackson realized they may be late for the appointment, she finally entered the room. Lovato reveals that if Jackson had waited even five to 10 minutes longer to wake her up, she may not have survived.
She only tried crack and heroin because she had previously enjoyed the combination of uppers and downers.
Lovato explains that her cocktail of choice when she first battled addiction had been cocaine and Xanax. On the first night she relapsed, her dealer didn’t have those two drugs for her, and instead offered crack and heroin. “I’ve always wanted to try it,” Lovato explains her thinking at the time, noting that it seemed like the pair would have a similar effect on her. Her friend and former sober companion Sirah adds that oftentimes addicts return to a harsher bottom than where they had previously been when they relapse, chasing a bigger high.
Lovato believes she had been sexually assaulted by her dealer that night.
After Lovato’s friends left her home that night, still unaware that she was using hard drugs again, the singer drunkenly called up her dealer Brandon Johnson who gave her “aftermarket pills.” It is now understood that she was given a drug laced with Fentanyl. In a disturbing interview with TMZ a month after her overdose, Johnson claimed they had a “sexual relationship.” Lovato details a different version in the docuseries: She was discovered naked and blue that morning, and when she came to, the doctors had asked if she had consensual sex the night before. All she remembered was a flash of her dealer on top of her but has since come to realize that she was in no state to consent to sex with anyone.
“That kind of trauma doesn’t go away overnight,” she says. “And it doesn’t go away in the first few months of rehab either. That’s something that sticks with you for a while after.”
Lovato’s friends felt an immediate backlash after her overdose.
As concerned fans of Lovato attempted to piece together what happened to the pop star, blame was placed on those closest to her. Sirah faced death threats both online and outside of her home. Choreographer Dani Vitale faced the most intense scrutiny and online harassment, however. It was Vitale’s birthday party that Lovato had attended the night before her overdose. Vitale received thousands of messages a day on social media telling her to kill herself and to stay away from Lovato.
“It was awful to see what happened to Dani,” Lovato says. The ensuing blame resulted in Vitale losing teaching gigs, clients, and privacy as TMZ would follow her relentlessly. “My fans are amazing. They’re passionate. But they’re a little out of line sometimes.”
Scooter Braun initially did not want to take Lovato on as a client.
Following the overdose, Lovato settled down in a rehab center to detox and get well. She reached out to her longtime business manager Glenn Nordinger with the request to hire Scooter Braun (Justin Bieber, Demi Lovato) to manage her career.
“We had a plan for not only how we were going to say no but who we were going to recommend,” Braun says in the documentary. But after meeting with Lovato, he realized that he had to take her on as a client. “She didn’t need a manager, she needed a friend. She needed someone who knew what to do but didn’t need her to work.”
Lovato relapsed after she had returned from rehab.
The 2018 overdose was not the last time Lovato touched heroin. Upon re-entering her life post-rehab, she re-connected with the same dealer she had bought drugs from before. “I had just done a week-long intensive trauma retreat, and the night I had come back from that retreat, I called him,” Lovato admits. As she still tried to process the assault she experienced at her dealer’s hands, she attempted to “rewrite” that experience by reconnecting with him.
She was raped as a teenager.
When Lovato was 15, she was hooking up with someone who took their physical relationship further than she was ready for, even after she said no. A month later, she had a similar “textbook trauma reenactment” to what she happened with the dealer who had assaulted her and reconnected with the person who had raped her.
“I was a part of that Disney crowd that publicly said they were waiting until marriage. I didn’t have that romantic first time and that sucked,” she says. “Then I had to see this person all the time. So I stopped eating and coped in other ways: cutting, throwing up, whatever.”
Lovato revealed her trauma privately, but the person who raped her was not punished for what happened or taken out of the movie they were in. With both assaults she has faced in her life, the pop star chose to remain publicly silent because of how she saw women like Rihanna treated by the public following their physical traumas.
At press time, Lovato has not named her abuser.
Quarantine has been beneficial for Lovato’s mental health.
As confusing and terrifying as the pandemic began, being grounded at home has been a huge help for the star in her recovery journey. “It feels dirty to say this but she’s had the best year ever,” her friend Matthew Scott Montgomery says. She has been able to add healthy rituals to her routine, like meditation.
Lovato calls her relationship with former fiancé Max Ehrich “false advertising.”
Lovato and actor Ehrich began dating last March and ended up spending the early part of quarantine living together with her parents. They got engaged in July, just as she was beginning to work on this documentary, but then broke it off two months later. Speaking about the relationship, Lovato indicates that there had been a shift in Ehrich as the relationship progressed, leading her to miss the person she had first quarantined with. “The hardest part of the break-up was mourning the person that I thought he was,” she tells her friends in one scene. “I’m not the only one who felt fooled.”
She feels she is “too queer to marry a man in my life right now.”
Lovato has expressed her sexual fluidity in the past. In interviews leading up to the release of the documentary, she has come as pansexual and gender fluid.
She is “California sober.”
“I’ve learned that shutting the door on things makes me want to open the door even more,” Lovato explains of her approach to sobriety. “I know I’m done with the stuff that’s going to kill me.” She is lenient with herself when it comes to marijuana and drinking in moderation, in an effort to understand what works for her. Her friends, family, and team have different opinions on her not being entirely sober at the moment. Some feel like the restrictive nature of her life leading up to the overdose was what caused it. Meanwhile, others like Elton John, feel like it’s a bad idea.
“Moderation doesn’t work. Sorry,” John offers. “If you drink, you’re gonna drink more. If you take a pill, you’re gonna take another one.” Braun also does not agree with it and now has the stance that he can’t push her to make the decisions he thinks would be better for her recovery.
Lovato may have been misdiagnosed as bipolar when she was 18.
After being diagnosed as bipolar by her doctor when she was 18, Lovato shared her diagnosis with the world, hoping that it added reasoning behind her actions. But she admits now that she had never gotten a second opinion. “I was acting out when I was 18 for many reasons, but I know now from multiple different doctors that it was not because I was bipolar. I had to grow up,” she explains.
“Realizing the high I wanted would kill me is what I needed to get me clean for good.”
Having relapsed after her overdose, Lovato had the terrifying realization that heroin was not strong enough anymore because she had done fentanyl the night she nearly died. “I’m not going to pretend like I’m invincible,” she explains. “I have to work every day to make sure I’m in a good place so I don’t go to those things.”