Review: Dancing with the Devil displays Demi Lovato’s vulnerability with emotional struggles, drug abuse

Actress and singer Demi Lovato released the first two parts of her new YouTube Original four-part documentary titled Dancing with the Devil on Tuesday.  

The first two episodes were a little over 20 minutes each, but they were powerful accounts of what led Lovato to her 2018 drug overdose. 

This isn’t Lovato’s first time sharing a documentary, with her YouTube original Simply Complicated released in 2017. The film first revealed to the world her battles with sobriety, eating disorders and mental health issues, and Dancing With The Devil expands upon that story.

The documentary shows that Lovato is a complete warrior. The fact that she’s alive after sustaining three strokes, a heart attack and having multiple organ failures is nothing short of a miracle.

Having her doctors, friends and family discuss how close she came to death was extremely hard to watch and painted a gruesome picture of what addiction and relapse can look like.

Lovato embraced sobriety in 2012, making it six years before her relapse in 2018. Before getting sober the first time, Lovato’s drugs of choice were cocaine and xanax, but that wasn’t all.

She eventually began using harder drugs like crack and heroin. Hearing this was shocking and scary because her outward appearances looked as though she was in a great place mentally and emotionally.

As a woman, one of the hardest things to watch was Lovato recounting that she was sexually abused by her drug dealer and that he gave her drugs laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that’s 50-100 times more potent than morphine. 

I remember the days of people ripping into Lovato for her drug use as a Disney star, but anyone quick to pass judgement after watching this documentary isn’t grasping how complicated and messy drug addiction is. Sobriety is a process that a lot of the time includes relapsing.

Lovato taking accountability for her relapse by not making excuses definitely came across as genuine in this documentary, and it’s hard for any person with a heart to not have empathy for her situation.

I personally identified with her discussion of hiding her inner emotional battles from the people in her life so nobody could see she was hurting.

Dancing with the Devil included unreleased footage from what was supposed to be a documentary about her 2018 "Tell Me You Love Me" world tour. One of Lovato’s dancers described how happy and present she was in a behind the scenes clip, only a month before Lovato’s overdose.

Lovato said herself that at that time she was only letting people see what she wanted them to see. She manipulated people’s perception of her sobriety and mental state.

Being a child star, losing her father to addiction and watching her mother struggle with the same issue were all obstacles Lovato dealt with that set the stage for her own addiction.

Lovato also discussed her eating disorder, which she struggled with since before her drug usage began. During the "Tell Me You Love Me" era, she was under heavy restriction from her team in terms of diet, exercise and social life, which may have contributed to her relapse.

Even though she’s a famous musician, when she said she didn’t have agency over her own body and life and that she was constantly being reminded of her addictions, I couldn’t help but empathize with her. 

As a viewer seeing the pressure she underwent to stay clean and be an advocate for addiction and mental health, it’s easy to understand how somebody could crumble under the weight. 

It made me think about how difficult living life in the public eye is, especially when battling the type of demons Lovato faced. It is easy to watch this documentary and think, ‘She has it all, why would she throw it away by relapsing?'

But it isn’t that easy for people who have never dealt with addiction personally to understand why recovering addicts relapse. This is partly because societally we still don’t treat addiction like the public health crisis it is. Instead, many use relapse as a way to shame and judge people.

A big lesson learned from watching Dancing with the Devil was that it doesn’t matter how famous you are or how much money you have — anyone can be dealt the life-long challenges of drug and alcohol addiction, eating disorders and mental health issues.

I already had a huge amount of respect and admiration for Lovato prior to this documentary, and after viewing, I can only commend her more for her ability to vulnerably share her story.

In a world where shame and secrecy run rampant, it’s amazing to see someone like Lovato continue to use her platform to advocate for herself and others. Dancing with the Devil is a harrowing display of bravery.

@alexushurtado

features-editor.shorthorn@uta.edu

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