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When Coping Fails – Demi Lovato’s Brutally Honest Depiction of Addiction and Sobriety

Demi Lovato’s first performance in about a year and half since she was hospitalized offers a different vision of hope, one that strips away empty platitudes and embraces harsh realities. Read More

demi lovato soberDemi Lovato’s first performance in about a year and half since she was hospitalized offers a different vision of hope, one that strips away empty platitudes and embraces harsh realities. Lovato has been incredibly transparent and honest in her journey of sobriety. She’s subverted and complicated the typical celebrity narrative when it comes to addiction: Celebrity has addiction, overcomes addiction, and lives happily ever after.

Lovato provides a more real and brutal narrative: overcoming addiction is a continuous and ongoing process. In July of 2018 she was hospitalized for a drug overdose, after being sober for 6 years she admitted that that was no longer the case. This hospitalization occurred a month after she released her song “Sober”, a startling confession of not being “sober anymore.” Since being released from the hospital she kept out of public eye, but nonetheless in the time between then and her latest Grammy performance, she has been on the long and difficult path of sobriety.

Her own narrative provides wisdom on its own. If you give in to addiction again after being sober that’s not the end, it’s possible to get back up and try being sober again. Sobriety is not a one-time deal, it’s not impossible to become sober again after faltering. Lovato’s song “Anyone”, that she performed at the Grammy’s, further complicates her sober journey, for some it might provide an uncomfortable truth about sobriety, for others that discomfort may provide comfort. Many things can be said about “Anyone”, but the one thing that rings true is that it’s a brutally honest, and vulnerable, song.

Spencer Kornhaber writes in an article featured on the Atlantic that “the awards show [the Grammy’s] had wrapped itself in bland affirmations.” With the news of corruption and sexual assault against the former CEO of the Grammy’s and Kobe Bryant’s death, Alicia Keys stated that “music is the most healing thing in the world.” Lovato instead, Kornhaber writes, “ditched motivational pablum. She debuted a song that said that singing…would not fix everything.” Lovato has said that she recorded “Anyone” four days before she overdosed, with that context one can listen to the song as an obvious cry for help.

The lyrics of the opening verse are as follows: “I tried to talk to my piano, I tried to talk to me guitar. Talked to my imagination/confided into alcohol/I tried and tried some more/ Told secrets ‘til my voice was sore.” These opening images provide a picture of someone trying to use coping mechanisms and failing. She sings about healthier coping mechanisms, such as playing piano or guitar, but then reveals the darker ones and destructive ones, such as alcohol. The “secrets” she’s referring to are her singing about her addiction. The song continues with a striking revelation for the singer and listener: these attempts of coping are not working. As the song continues, she sings “A hundred million stories/ and a hundred million songs/I feel stupid when I sing/Nobody’s listening to me/Nobody’s listening.”

The idea of “nobody listening” recurs in the song, to further develop her feelings of hopelessness. Putting these lyrics together, “Anyone” is a song that goes against the typical recovery narrative. Lovato is admitting in the lyrics that in the midst of her addiction and depression, none of the tools she was given were working for her, not her fans, not sobriety coaches, not religion, and not music. While grim and seemingly devoid of hope, this is a message that is rarely if ever talked about.

That message being, what do we do when our tools and coping mechanisms aren’t working? Many people on the outside want to hear clean and polished stories about addiction and sobriety. The want to hear the inspirational tales of how people rose above the odds, found faith in God or community, and then got better. Unfortunately, few people want to hear about the continuous struggles, or worse yet, want to hear about when coping fails.

In the chorus of the song the lyrics deliver and ultimate plea, “Anyone, please send me anyone…I need someone.” One counter to these lyrics could be “but she has someone, she has her fans, God, her coaches, her family,” but the song is explicitly asking for someone to listen—for someone to listen to her when she says nothing is working. When applied to the context of the typical celebrity narrative, she’s calling out a culture that only uplifts those who succeed, and sneers at those who falter. “Anyone” calls out those who will make statements like “why aren’t you better already?” or “how could you not stay sober?”

In an interview with Apple Music before the Grammy’s, Lovato says “I wish I could go back in time and help that vision of myself…you kind of listen back to it and you kind of think, how did nobody listen to this song and think, Let’s help this girl?” Lovato’s song is one that asks for confrontation and intervention. It is a song that says to go and help those who are in desperate need, and not to ignore their pleas. How can one glean hope from such a seemingly bleak message? The answer rests in the performance of Lovato. In the midst of her despair, addiction, and overdose, she is still alive, still performing, and still trying to be sober. Lovato’s narrative is one of survival—hard fought but worth the pain.