For the past nine years, Demi Lovato has been revealing and unpacking a history of trauma, layer by layer, in documentary form. First, with 2012’s Stay Strong, which starred a seemingly sober Lovato and detailed her post-rehab recovery at 18. (She later revealed she’d been using throughout filming.) Her 2017 doc, Simply Complicated, was billed as an “apology” to fans that laid bare the true depths of her addiction and chronicled the making of her brassy R&B album Tell Me You Love Me, released that fall. But as she makes clear in the four-part YouTube Originals docuseries Dancing With the Devil — directed by Michael Ratner and coinciding with the release of her new album of the same name — Demi has really only ever allowed viewers, the cameras, and even those closest to her to see how much she wanted them to see. Until now.
Dancing With the Devil is Demi at her most authentic and autobiographical. She relives the night of her near-fatal 2018 overdose in painstaking detail, and speaks candidly on how years of micromanaging her recovery led to a breaking point; she shares for the first time allegations of sexual abuse; she reflects on how all these experiences have ultimately freed her. With commentary from Demi’s loved ones, caseworker, former assistant, doctor, head of security, and even Elton John, Dancing With the Devil is finally her unfiltered truth. Here’s what we learned along the way.
Episode 1, ‘Losing Control’
Demi filmed another full, unreleased documentary.
Following the release of Simply Complicated and Tell Me You Love Me, Demi filmed an entire documentary in 2018 that captured her life on tour. Though it appeared onscreen Demi wasn’t holding back, she cloaked much of her reality. “In that documentary, I was allowing the cameras to see the tip of the iceberg,” she recalls. There’s a vulnerable moment during a break from tour, though, that seems to depict the distress Demi was facing: “I’ve been working on trying to be free for 13 years.” While certain clips from the unreleased doc are included in the latest docuseries, after Demi was hospitalized for her overdose, the version started in 2018 was permanently shelved. Any filming stopped until she began making her new docuseries in spring 2020.
The control around her eating disorder and sobriety made her miserable.
Demi has battled an eating disorder since age 8, and prior to her 2018 relapse, employed a team of assistants, a wellness coach, a dietician, a nutritionist, and therapists to help her. Still, her eating issues persisted to the point that they began infringing on her own inner circle; friends and team members say they needed to be careful about what they ate around her. “There were times where I had to spend the night because she, like, ate a cookie,” recalls Jordan Jackson, her former assistant. While her friend Matthew Scott Montgomery believes her team was put in place to help her avoid relapsing, “it totally backfired.” “The control and the restriction was way too toxic for her and she was miserable,” he says. According to Lovato, outsourcing management of her eating habits and wellness took away her agency: “I feel like decisions have been made for me, more so than I’ve made decisions for myself,” she puts it.
One month after her sixth anniversary being sober, Demi relapsed.
Lovato celebrated her sixth year sober onstage with DJ Khaled at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, on March 15, 2018. But one night, just a month later, she says she picked up a bottle of red wine and within 30 minutes called someone whom she knew had drugs on them. “I remember being at a photo shoot and just thinking to myself, I don’t even remember why I’m sober anymore. I’m so miserable. I’m not happy,” she says. At a party later that night, she ran into her drug dealer from six years prior. “That night I did drugs I’d never done before,” Demi recalls. “I’d never done meth before. I mixed it with molly, coke, weed, alcohol, oxycodone, and that alone should have killed me.”
She began doing heroin and crack cocaine for the first time in 2018.
The singer began using heroin recreationally not long after relapsing, but soon realized “recreational” use wouldn’t be a long-term possibility for her. After going on a trip to Bali a few weeks later where she’d write “Sober” — revealing she was no longer off drugs and alcohol — Demi discovered she was “physically dependent” on crack and heroin; her drug use at the time is captured in the film through Demi’s personal photos and videos.
The night of Demi’s overdose, no one knew she was using hard drugs.
Demi had told the people in her life that after being sober since she was 19, she wanted to try drinking and smoking again “recreationally.” Lovato did not make anyone aware she was using hard drugs, admitting she “manipulated” those closest to her intentionally so they wouldn’t find out. On July 24, 2018, after her friend Dani Vitale’s birthday party and a night of bar-hopping, Demi invited her friends back to her house to continue the night, but they declined. While she told them she was going to bed, she really ended up calling her drug dealer to come over. In her account of the night, Vitale recalls feeling uneasy about leaving Demi’s home. “We were halfway away from the house and we pulled over, and I look at my friend Janelle and I said, Do you feel weird, and she says, I feel weird. Should we have stayed? And I’m like, What is she going to do? She’s going to go to bed. No, she’s fine.”
Episode 2, ‘5 Minutes From Death’
Her then-assistant found her the morning of her overdose.
Demi’s assistant, Jordan Jackson, came to her house the morning after the party to bring her to a doctor’s appointment. When Lovato didn’t answer several knocks on her bedroom door, Jordan entered the room to find Lovato naked, on her back, with vomit around her. Jackson thought she was drunk or hungover, but upon realizing Lovato was unresponsive, she called Max Lea, Demi’s head of security. As more of Demi’s team members came to assist, the situation became dire. “There was one point that she turned blue — her whole body completely turned blue. I was just, like, she’s dead for sure. It was the craziest thing I’ve ever seen,” Jordan recalls. Eventually, Jordan snuck downstairs to call 9-1-1, fearing she might get in trouble for calling; in order to curb expected media attention, she is heard on a recording of the call requesting “no sirens” but is told by emergency services that could not be guaranteed. It wasn’t long until Demi’s condition became a national headline.
Demi was on the brink of death.
Following the overdose, Demi suffered three strokes, a heart attack, and brain damage from the strokes; because she asphyxiated, she had pneumonia and multiple organ failure. “I’m really lucky to be alive. My doctors said I had five to 10 more minutes and had my assistant not come in, I wouldn’t be here today,” Demi says point blank.
Demi woke up in the hospital blind.
The singer’s brain damage affected her vision center specifically, to the point that Lovato woke up legally blind and remained that way for the next two months. Although her younger sister, Madison De La Garza, was at her bedside, Lovato was unable to recognize her. Demi revealed that since the overdose she can no longer drive and still experiences blind spots in her vision. “Sometimes when I go to pour a glass of water, I totally miss the cup because I can’t see it anymore,” Demi says.
She was allegedly sexually assaulted the night of her overdose.
The night of her overdose, Lovato says her drug dealer supplied her with what she believes were “aftermarket” (or counterfeit) drugs laced with fentanyl. While the dealer remains unnamed in the the documentary, driveway security footage is shown of the man leaving the scene. “He ended up getting her really high and leaving her for dead,” says musician and Demi’s friend, Sirah. In addition to giving her drugs, Lovato claims her dealer physically took advantage of her. “There was one flash I had of him on top of me,” Demi recalls. When interviewed by hospital staff in the immediate aftermath of her overdose and asked if she had consensual sex that night, Lovato says, “I [saw] that flash and said ‘yes.’ It wasn’t until a month after my overdose that I realized, ‘Hey you weren’t in any state of mind to make a consensual decision.’” (The dealer in question has since been charged for “possession of heroin and ketamine” unrelated to Lovato’s case; Lovato has not pressed charges as of publication.)
Episode 3, ‘Reclaiming Power’
Some fans began threatening Demi’s loved ones after her overdose.
Lovato’s overdose wasn’t just crippling for her but had damaging consequences for the people around her; in the aftermath, fans began attacking those in Demi’s close circle with accusations of having either enabled her or not supported her when she was struggling. “There was all this stuff about me being in photos next to her when she was having a hard time. I got a death threat,” recalls Sirah. “People showed up at my apartment to threaten my life. Dani Vitale says she not only endured death threats — about 4,000 to 5,000 per day — but suffered a major blow to her livelihood because people assumed she had something to do with the night of the overdose: “I lost all my [dance] teaching jobs. No one wanted to bring their kid to an apparent ‘heroin dealer teacher.’ I lost any artist that I was working with. They didn’t want to deal with the drama; I had TMZ following me to the studio.” She adds, “I had to rethink my future — all because of someone else’s decision, and that was terrifying.” Ahead of their respective interviews for the film, Lovato encouraged her friends to use the documentary to “clear your name.” She tells Vitale in one scene, “Don’t be afraid of saying anything.”
Scooter Braun planned to turn her down as a client.
Following her overdose, Demi went looking for new management with the understanding that she might be viewed as a liability. The only team she wanted to meet with was Scooter Braun Projects, led by the music exec who counts Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande among his clients and Taylor Swift among his nemeses. When Braun got wind of Demi’s interest, he initially planned to turn her down. “I had every intention of telling her ‘no.’ I felt overwhelmed at the time,” confesses Braun. “We had a plan for not only how we were going to say ‘no,’ but who we were going to recommend [instead].” But once Demi divulged the details of her story, Braun knew he needed to manage her and that the job would have to be personal: “She didn’t need a manager, she needed a friend. She needed someone who knew what to do, but also didn’t need her to work.” Demi adds, “He made me feel really safe.”
Her overdose wasn’t the last night she did heroin or saw her drug dealer.
After her release from a weeklong intensive trauma retreat in 2018 — and two weeks following her impassioned speech to Braun — Demi called her drug dealer her first night out. “I wanted to rewrite his choice of violating me. I wanted it now to be my choice,” she explains. “And he also had something that I wanted, which were drugs.” She was “mortified” by her choice to use heroin again: “I thought, How did I pick up the same drugs that put me in the hospital?” Deciding to have consensual sex with the dealer this time, she says, was another way “of taking the power back.” But instead, “all it did was bring me back to my knees begging to God for help.”
Lovato was also sexually assaulted as a teenager.
Demi further reveals in the doc that the night of her overdose was not the first time she was sexually assaulted. She “lost her virginity in a rape” when she was 15 years old. According to Lovato, this took place around 2008 or 2009 while she was acting on the Disney Channel. (During that timeline, she would have been on Camp Rock or Sonny With a Chance.) When she and this person (who remains unnamed in the doc) were “hooking up,” she says she told him that she was a virgin and didn’t want to take things further; she claims he ignored her. Lovato says she then tried to regain a sense of power by seeing him again, just as she would later attempt to do with her drug dealer. “I called that person back a month later and tried to make it right by being in control, and all it did was make me feel worse,” Demi recalls. Adding to the trauma, she had to continue seeing her alleged rapist regularly at work, which she says contributed to her eating disorder and self-harming. “I stopped eating and coped in other ways — cutting, throwing up, whatever,” she says. “My bulimia got so bad that I started throwing up blood for the first time.” Demi says that while she told somebody about the alleged rape, her attacker was never penalized, legally or professionally. “They never got taken out of the movie they were in.”
Episode 4, ‘Rebirthing’
She has redefined what sobriety means to her.
In the series’s final episode, Demi makes it clear to her audience that she no longer believes there is only one way to be sober, and that the path she’s chosen might not necessarily be right for everyone. For her, that currently means not practicing total sobriety. “Recovery isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution,” she states. Lovato now drinks and smokes marijuana in moderation (sometimes referred to as “Cali sober“) and receives injections every few weeks of VIVITROL — a drug used to prevent alcohol and opioid relapses — to help curb her addictions. “Telling myself that I can never have a drink or smoke marijuana, I feel like that’s setting myself up for failure because I’m such a black-and-white thinker,” she explains. “It doesn’t work for me to say, ‘I’m never gonna do this again.’”
She was misdiagnosed as bipolar.
In 2011, Demi was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and became a public advocate for its awareness and treatment. Seven years later, she was told that she was misdiagnosed. “I was acting out when I was 18 for multiple reasons, but I know now from multiple different doctors that it wasn’t because I was bipolar,” she says. Lovato doesn’t reveal whether she was given a new diagnosis, instead saying that she “needed to grow up.”
Demi “didn’t actually know” her ex-fiancé Max Ehrich.
When the documentary began filming again, Demi was in the middle of a whirlwind romance with actor Max Ehrich; the pair were engaged in July 2020 after four months of dating. Unfortunately, it was short-lived, and both the paparazzi and documentary cameras captured the aftermath of their breakup. (He appears in the doc via selfies from Lovato’s phone.) As the then-couple were celebrating their six-month anniversary, old, clout-chasing tweets in which Ehrich detailed his love of Selena Gomez and insulted Lovato resurfaced. While she initially shot down rumors about trouble in paradise on social media, she called off their engagement in September 2020. “I think I rushed into something that I thought was what I was supposed to do,” Demi now admits. “I realized as time went on that I didn’t actually know the person that I was engaged to.”
Her sexuality is now fluid.
The breakup allowed her to “look within” and reconsider her sexuality. “I also feel like I’m too queer to marry a man in my life right now,” Lovato explains, adding that she’s “not willing to put a label on it” right now. “I want to allow myself the ability to live my life in the most authentic form possible,” she says, “which I just haven’t done because of my past and some things I’ve needed to work on.” (She now identifies as pansexual.)
This post has been updated following the release of each episode.