Demi Lovato is blowing up the internet with the surprise release of her latest song and music video, “Sober.” The video, which begins with montages of what might be her partying — drinking possibly included — goes into a black screen with some pretty powerful lyrics in which she admits to relapsing from her sobriety after six years. It’s a powerful song that is already drawing critics and possibly losing some fans, but I am here to tell you that as a Latina living a sober life myself it has made me love her even more.
It might sound strange to say that I, a 32-year-old woman, look up to someone who is just 25 years old, but I have been a fan of Lovato’s work for years.
I have always been impressed by her music, her lyrical ability, and her voice. In fact, I listened to her album “Confident” more times than I can possibly count. Although there were fun hits like “Cool for the Summer” and “Confident,” it was her heartfelt melodies like “Stone Cold” and “Father” that truly moved me. But beyond all of that, her music came into my life at exactly the time I needed it most. It was at a time when I was newly sober and learning how to navigate the world as a person in recovery.
Before admitting to my problem with alcohol and seeking help, I knew very little about Lovato other than what most of us probably knew: She’s a former Disney Channel darling, best friends with Selena Gomez, and a proud Latina who isn’t afraid to talk about her curves. I also knew that she had struggled with bipolar disorder, addiction, an eating disorder, and self-harm, and had gone to rehab.
When I went to rehab in the summer of 2015, I became obsessed with her story and found her openness about her addiction and mental health struggles to be quite inspiring.
So when I first watched the video for “Sober” in which Lovato fully admits to relapsing in her recovery with lyrics such as “Wake me when the shakes are gone and the cold sweats disappear” and “Momma, I’m so sorry I’m not sober anymore,” I was shocked. But to be honest, what shocked me most was how incredibly open she was about sharing this deeply personal, dark part of her journey toward sobriety.
It is not easy to open up to someone else and admit that you have a problem. It’s even harder still to admit that the problem, which you thought had gone away or at least was under control, is still there. It’s easy to feel like a failure when a relapse happens. I should know. Six months after “Confident” first came out, I experienced a relapse of my own. At the time I was too ashamed to make the admission to my parents and friends. After going to rehab, they had all praised me for being strong and successful in my recovery. To admit to having a relapse felt as if I failed. Really, it felt as if I had failed the people who loved me and supported me. Not only did I fear them thinking I was irresponsible, but I also feared that they would not support me again.
I understand the way Lovato feels in this song, and I am sure that making the decision to open up about her continued struggles with addiction couldn’t have been easy. However, it is my belief, that she has proven herself to be even stronger than she might be feeling now. I say those mostly because I have had to make a similar admission, this despite the fact that I knew that the road to recovery would hardly be a simple one. I can only imagine what gearing up to walk a similar path recovery while all the world is watching and judging can feel like.
At one point in Demi’s song, she says “It’s only when I’m lonely.” It’s a sentiment that makes my heart break because I know what loneliness can do to a sober person, how it can lure a person past a breakpoint and hurdle them back to the starting line. When I first got sober, my friends stuck by me and continued to love me. However, I also lost some friends who didn’t understand my new sobriety and, to be honest, sometimes interactions with loved ones could be awkward. I felt that same loneliness even when I was surrounded by people, just as we see Demi in the beginning of the music video. Those of us who are in recovery can certainly relate to the feelings of loneliness, to the excuses, to the pain and “drinks spilled on the floor” that she sings about. And we can certainly relate to being only human, as she states so beautifully because nobody — not even a celebrity — can overcome addiction all on their own. In fact, recovery is a lifelong struggle. We will never entirely be cured of our addictions, but what we can do is combat the loneliness and isolation that so often leads to relapse in the long, difficult journey of lifelong recovery.
Demi’s song proves to be one of her more important hits because it is a reminder that, particularly today, we could all use a bit more empathy.
At one point the singer says “sorry for the fans I lost who watched me fall again” and that she wants “to be a role model but I’m only human.” It’s a reminder that there’s a catch when it comes to role models, they’re just as human, just as susceptible to mistakes as the rest of us.
At the end of “Sober,” Demi says that she promises to get help and sings a line that expresses that she’s “sorry to myself.” As soon as I heard it, I couldn’t help but applaud the words and Demi loudly. Although she expresses her belief that she might no longer be a role model, I believe her song and admission only confirms her status as someone people can look up to. If anything, I believe that her ability to be honest about her relapse makes her more of a role model than ever before. We all have flaws, but it’s in admitting to those flaws and surrounding ourselves with our loved ones that we can find true recovery. I truly believe that a role model is someone that can admit to those things, pick themselves and keep heading towards the finish line just as Demi Lovato is doing now.