With a rash of stars like Alex O’Loughlin and Gerard Butler voluntarily entering rehab to head off potential painkiller addictions, we’ve become used to the narrative where a famous person spends a brief time out of the limelight, kicks his/her pesky habit, and comes out brand new. In last night’s MTV documentary Demi Lovato: Stay Strong, former Disney star Demi Lovato debunked that myth with a candid look into her daily struggle with recovery after being out of rehab for a year.
Like many others, I’ve taken a cynical approach to regarding Demi: I’ve assumed that her explanations of going to rehab for an eating disorder was a cover for a raging drug addiction. And after watching Demi Lovato: Stay Strong, I have to believe that it was the other way around—drugs were one way of acting out while she struggled with crippling body image issues.
BlindGossip’s narrative makes it sound as if the situation is black-and-white: The way they tell it, Demi is an off-the-rails coke addict yo-yoing between addiction and recovery with her overbearing team yanking her out of rehab for photo ops and then locking her up again. But watching the documentary, you find it difficult to reconcile the calm, candid Demi on-screen with the starlet rumored to be doing lines of cocaine in club bathrooms. I’m not saying that one persona is more true than the other, but on the special she doesn’t look like someone who’s had a relapse.
The point of the documentary, she explains, is to finish what she started before she entered rehab back in October 2010. (The doc begins in fall 2011.) We see Demi perform for adoring fans, visiting family and her treatment center, and every day constantly evaluating herself in the mirror. She freely admits to her misgivings of getting back into a familiar pattern:
“I’m scared a little bit. I think there’s fear every time you go out on the road, especially because last time I went out on the road, I didn’t go home. I went straight to a treatment center.”
Demi’s focus and need to return to normal is difficult to watch; there’s something about the sequence where she drills her scales over and over, up until she gets hoisted up on the stage, that’s touching and sad. And the doc’s first scene, of Demi’s friends and employees constantly asking if she wants any food, gives you a real sense of how closely she’s watched. It’s obvious that Demi’s issues centered on her eating disorder and a lifelong sense of never being good enough. Even if she were using cocaine, it could have been any drug; that’s just the one that’s most readily available in Hollywood.
You might assume that Demi’s camp would want her to push some untarnished image of a sparkling new girl, but she makes it clear that although she has a new mindset about her issues, she hasn’t fully adopted her new lifestyle:
“I cannot tell you that I have not thrown up since treatment. I cannot tell you that I haven’t cut myself since treatment. I’m not perfect. This is a daily battle that I will face for the rest of my life.”