It’s been 10 years since Demi Lovato went to rehab for the first time, and two since her near-fatal overdose.
Demi lives every day battling bipolar disorder, addiction, and disordered eating. These are not short-term diagnoses that go away after a quick stop into rehab, they’re lifelong conditions she will have to work to actively treat every single day.
In the interview with Bustle, where she discussed life in recovery, post-overdose, she said,
“I started doing all this work, allowing myself to feel the pains of all the losses that I’ve had or the adversities or traumas that I’ve faced. I think my ability to be vulnerable and be more intimate with people has really heightened.”
This language is a stark contrast to the way she spoke about recovery prior to 2018.
Demi has never been shy to discuss her struggles or confirm her diagnoses with the public, but the way she did it before the overdose was so…Hollywood. It was sugar-coated, fluffy, and affirmed the narrative that after you leave rehab everything is just so much easier.
In a 2015 interview with TODAY, she was quoted saying,
“My fans have really held me accountable, and it’s been really incredible to have them as inspirations to stay strong and stay sober.”
“Finally I’m in a great place where I can say recovery is possible.”
This is not to say that back then she hadn’t done a lot of work, or that she wasn’t doing well in recovery, but this is a rainbows and butterflies version of what recovery actually is.
She’s not alone in this narrative, either. Our culture loves a good underdog story of someone who hit rock bottom and turned their life around. We get warm fuzzies from these types of stories. We walk away feeling inspired and like we can do anything we set our minds to.
But, that’s not the reality of recovery or even just daily mental health management, because it’s actually really hard work.
A breakthrough in recovery therapy is rarely an “ah-ha!” moment like you see in the movies, it’s usually something that brings you to your knees and leaves you crying in the car on your drive home. Real recovery takes years of digging deeper and deeper into your soul, past the everyday hurt of life, down to this pain you never knew you could feel because you’ve been spending so much of your life numbing or avoiding it. And, even after you’ve found that pain, worked through it, and you’re on the other side, the work still isn’t over. You have to keep showing up and doing the work so you don’t try to numb that pain again once life inevitably throws a curveball your way.
Who wants to hear that depressing story?
The thing is, we need to hear that story because this false underdog narrative makes it seem like recovery is so easy. If recovery was as magical as our culture has made us believe it is, we wouldn’t see so many celebrities relapse, overdose, or die after rehab. This fairytale version of recovery has the potential to make someone think that if they aren’t seeing “results” (or at the very least, progress) after six months of work, then they must be broken or that they need to pretend like they’re better — either of which will only lead to further destruction.
You don’t soar back to the top 30 days, or even a year, after hitting rock bottom. Rehab may help you get a jump start on clawing your way up to ground level, but there’s still a lot of climbing left to do from there.
The way Demi talks about recovery now is realistic. It’s acknowledging that the word “recovery” does not mean the same thing in mental health as it means in an injury or treatable disease. There is no finish line, there is only work in varying levels of difficulty. It’s raw, emotional, and, ultimately, full of realistic hope.