I wasn’t enticed by the click-baity headlines around Demi Lovato’s hospitalization. The sirens were already going off for me about a month ago when I heard her song, “Sober.” I don’t personally know the pop singer — but addiction is definitely no stranger to me.
Listening to the lyrics of Lovato’s song was like deja vu. I related to the deteriorating relationships and the deep isolation of addiction.
I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know why
I do it every, every, every time
It’s only when I’m lonely
Sometimes I just wanna cave
And I don’t wanna fight
I try and I try and I try and I try and I try
Just hold me, I’m lonely
No words had ever rang more true for me in my life. I didn't know why I was on such a rapid road to self-destruction nor did I ever foresee my life unfolding the way it would. I was a “D.A.R.E.” kid, and had preconceived notions of what kind of people did drugs. But that wasn't me; I was better than that.
At 19, I was swept up in a tornado of passion, adrenaline, endorphins and a series of highs and lows from bipolar disorder. Fantasy was my first drug of choice. As a kid living in Kentucky in the mid ‘90s, I was creative, curious, conscious, and I constantly craved culture. I used fantasy to escape my trauma, when the sexual, physical and emotional abuse started. I read every book imaginable, from fiction to biographies to even traveling publications. I was preparing for wanderlust. I didn’t know what was out there, but I was willing to embrace the full mysticism of divine manifestation.
So I decided to move to Los Angeles in hopes of finding a new home; I was leaving the old me behind in search of a new one. I was a black trans woman hoping those fantasies I’d once dreamt about could become my reality. I hit the streets of Hollywood like it was a yellow brick road, but I wasn’t prepared for the flying monkeys that came my way. Addiction was the strongest of them.
Being addicted to meth felt like I was in a toxic relationship with a lover who was kicking my ass and holding me prisoner from my family and friends. Out of concern, some of the people closest to me demanded that I call it quits. I couldn’t find the courage because I believed the lie that I’d be nothing without meth. I’d minimized the adverse reality of my lifestyle and subconsciously got rid of anyone I thought stood in the way of my relationship. I fantasized about the honeymoon days, chasing that first kiss of chemical euphoria.
I somehow made it to rehab despite the obstacles along the way, and I was prepared to be restored. I lost my balance in my recovery and fell back into addiction. Eventually, I got back up and continued my journey toward self-realization.
No one really understands what that’s like until they do — which is why 12-step programs are extremely beneficial. Only another addict can truly understand an addict. Yet the entertainment industry doesn’t necessarily nurture abstinent lifestyles. In fact, it’s cushioned with yes-men, enablers and people who often place wealth over wellbeing. Bowls, bongs, blunts, bumps, lines, liters, pipes and syringes serve as a social lubricant in an environment in which networking is the name of the game. The urge to self-destruct lies dormant within every addict.
Lovato’s relapse hit home because we had been sober for about the same amount of time. I have over six and a half years and sometimes forget that I’m an addict because of how great life is for me. At other times, I’m afraid to tell people who constantly offer me drinks and drugs every other week that I’m not going to have any because I’m in recovery. However, I’m learning that I can’t save my face and my ass at the same time.
Lovato may feel she failed, but there are many of us who see her as a hero. Demi had always been transparent about the demons she had to battle on a daily basis. She released the book, Staying Strong: 365 Days a Year in 2013 and a YouTube documentary about her life and career entitled Demi Lovato: Simply Complicated in 2017. Her vulnerability, honesty and courage to get back up in an industry where many suffer silently and often into the gates of death is inspiring. While thousands of people are offering their thoughts, wishes and warm vibes, others began politicizing her pain. Some expressed frustration over the fact that media showed Lovato more compassion than Whitney Houston, who died of an accidental drowning with cocaine in her system, and underscored race as the reason. Others cosigned the fact that societal attitudes toward addicts differ based on wealth and social capital.
While both observations are undoubtedly accurate, there is no reason to be apathetic toward someone’s suffering. Addiction is an equal opportunity destroyer. It doesn’t give a fuck about your race, gender, sexual orientation, political affiliation, zip code, who’s on your arm nor the whip you pulled up in. It will woo you, wreck you and wipe you out of existence. Addiction frequents the curbs of Skid Row and the palatial dwellings of 90210. The same spiritual bankruptcy is prevalent through both lenses.
As a black trans woman, I understand the hurt of seeing privileged people soak up all the compassion and empathy my ancestors and I have been denied for generations. I’ve also watched longingly as black affirming spaces celebrate one another — while using biblical beliefs to justify detachment from the murders of black trans women.
The reality is that a lot of our suffering stems from fear that we’ll never have enough or be enough. The entertainment industry thrives on that sort of self-deprecation. Hollywood is an interesting place in that you can feel overly exposed yet completely invisible at the same time. Some of my loneliest moments were while surrounded by droves of people. I know what’s it’s like to feel like you don’t measure up because you’re too busy comparing your insides to other people’s outsides.
Yet, I didn’t project my pain onto others. I’ve given myself permission to work through it in my own time and allowing myself time to heal. Lovato deserves that same opportunity. Luckily, her story didn’t end in tragedy. Yes, this is the end of one chapter for Lovato; but it’s not the end of her story.