'Dancing With the Devil' Docuseries: Demi Lovato Explains Why She’s "California Sober"

Demi Lovato in 'Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil' Docuseries
OBB Media

In the docuseries’ fourth and final episode, Christina Aguilera, Elton John and Will Ferrell join while the singer looks back on her previous whirlwind engagement and her misdiagnosis of bipolar disorder, and discusses why she’s now drinking and smoking marijuana in moderation.

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil.] 

When it comes to her recovery, Demi Lovato says she's learned that "shutting the door on things" makes her "want to open the door even more."

As she explains in her Dancing With the Devil docuseries' fourth and final episode, Lovato now describes herself as "California Sober," a term used to describe those who decide to quit consuming drugs and alcohol but with a few exceptions. Though Lovato assures she’s done with using hard drugs following her near-fatal overdose in 2018, "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."

Once again, Lovato’s family, friends and team — including her manager Scooter Braun and case manager Charles Cook — sit down to offer their take on Lovato’s decision. The fourth episode also welcomes some famous figures, including Christina Aguilera, Elton John and Will Ferrell. In an interview ahead of the docuseries’ premiere at the South by Southwest festival, director Michael D. Ratner spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about why it was important to have Aguilera, John and Ferrell join.

"I talked to Demi about how she not only impacts millions of Lovatics, [but] she has these incredible relationships with icons … I think that hearing how she's impacted others who have walked in similar shoes and have had a lot of eyeballs on them, have gone through some similar things, is really interesting. It just shows a totally different side of it," Ratner told THR. He added that it was clear when speaking with the singers and actor, they each have "meaningful relationships with Demi and that's because she's a special person."

During the episode, Lovato also chronicles her previous whirlwind engagement to actor Max Ehrich. Last July, Lovato shared the happy news writing below a photograph of herself with Ehrich, "I knew I loved you the moment I met you. It was something I can’t describe to anyone who hasn’t experienced it firsthand but luckily you did too." However, two months after Ehrich proposed to Lovato, the couple broke off the engagement. Though Ehrich has been vocal on social media following the split, Lovato has remained mum — until now.

Later in the episode, Lovato discusses being misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder when she was 18 as well as embracing her sexuality. and looks to the future.

Below, THR takes a look at takeaways from episode four of Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil. 

"California Sober" 

Though Lovato previously revealed that she had touched heroin again after her overdose, the question remained as to whether the singer is completely sober now. But she offered an explanation as to why she wasn't: "I've learned that shutting the door on things makes me want to open the door even more. I've learned that it doesn't work for me to say, 'I'm never going to do this again.'" With tears in her eyes, Lovato adds that she's "really struggled" with her decision. Though she confirms she's "done with the stuff that's going to kill me," she says she still yearns to "get some relief" through marijuana.

"Telling myself that I can never have a drink or smoke marijuana, I feel like that's setting myself up for failure cause I'm such a black-and-white thinker." After enduring years of being told "one drink was equivalent to a crack pipe," Lovato has made the decision to continue to smoke marijuana and drink in moderation. "After almost dying from the OD and after so many years of being the poster child of sobriety, I didn't want people to criticize me for that," she explains. She also expressed fear that if she revealed her choice, it would convince others to do the same. "It isn't for everybody. Recovery isn't a one-size-fits-all solution. And you shouldn't be forced to get sober if you're not ready. You shouldn't get sober for other people. You have to do it for yourself."

To offer his perspective, case manager Cook says that it's clear Lovato is continuing to search for what truly works for her. "The weed thing is very new," her best friend, Matthew Scott Montgomery, shares. "She's exploring her boundaries with that now." However, not everyone agrees with Lovato's decision. Her former assistant Jordan Jackson admits it scares her "to know that she isn't sober." Her manager Braun noted that Lovato knows he opposes the decision but also says, "If I push her to do what I want, I push her away. I can't control her. What I can do is be a friend and hope that she's right."

Bipolar Diagnosis

In 2011, Lovato revealed that she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. But, Lovato clarifies that she has now learned that her doctors believe she was misdiagnosed when she was 18 years old. "I came out to the public when I found out when I was bipolar because I thought it put a reasoning behind my actions," she explains of the moment she punched her former backup dancer while on a Jonas Brothers tour. "But what I didn't do was get a second opinion." She adds that she was acting out when she was 18 "for many reasons," but it was not because she was bipolar. "I had to grow up," Lovato says.

Christina Aguilera, Elton John and Will Ferrell Join 

Throughout the first three episodes, Lovato's close family and friends sat down for in-depth interviews to offer their perspective on the singer's journey thus far. But now Christina Aguilera, Sir Elton John and Will Ferrell join to share their thoughts.

Lovato was featured on Aguilera's song "Fall in Line," and the two performed the single at the Billboard Music Awards 2018. Aguilera praises Lovato for being "real" and having an "honest soul about her." Aguilera says, "When you look at artists like Demi, and people that publicly have to go through struggles, nothing can define you within a moment in time. But I think you truly do have to go through some things and some lessons to catapult you to the next level. She's a real gem, that one."

Meanwhile, Lovato had a cameo in Ferrell's film Eurovision Song Contest. "She was sharing with me how a lot of my movies really helped her through her rehab experience. It really touched me," the comedian said. He also recalls after watching Lovato's emotional Grammys performance of her song "Anyone," he messaged her to let her know he found the performance incredible. "I don't write emails like this usually. I just felt connected and wanting to let her know, 'Hey, you are now affecting me in a way that you should feel really proud of.'"

John also reflected on meeting Lovato for the first time when he asked her to duet with him on "Don't Go Breaking My Heart." "I loved her so much," he says. "When you're young and you're famous, my God it's tough. You are put on a pedestal and you're not supposed to be human … She's human and she's adorable and she's brave." However, John, who has been sober for 30 years, also reacted to Lovato’s decision to be "California sober" and emphasized his opinion that "moderation doesn't work." He says, "If you drink, you're going to drink more. If you take a pill, you're going to take another one. You either do it or you don't."

Getting Engaged

As the world began to grapple with the novel coronavirus pandemic, Lovato explains that time in lockdown proved to be rather beneficial for her mental health.

"It feels dirty to say this, she's had the best year ever," Montgomery shares, with her other best friend and former sober companion Sirah adding, "She's grown so much."

Lovato says that she was ready to take time for herself during lockdown, during which she spent time with her family and then-boyfriend turned fiance Max Ehrich. "He just fit right in with the whole family," Lovato's mother, Dianna De La Garza, says of Ehrich.

"There have been times in my life where I've felt so alone. Now that I've found him I feel amazing," Lovato could be overheard saying alongside photographs of her and Ehrich. In a video she recorded of herself on July 24, 2020, Lovato gleefully showed off her engagement ring after their proposal. "I was so happy that she was with someone who was making her so happy," De La Garza added.

However, a few months later, the engagement was off. In another self-recorded video filmed on Oct. 1 of last year, Lovato explains that her life was "flipped upside down." She says, "I'm no longer engaged. I'm really sad that things ended that they did. Good news is, I haven't picked up any hard drugs or anything like that. I'm hanging in there. It's just shitty." But in another video filmed later that night, Lovato films herself crying as she expresses her heartbreak: "The video I made earlier wasn't an accurate representation of what I'm going through … I just miss the person that I started quarantining with. And I don't know how to give my heart to someone after this."

To offer more insight into what happened to have their engagement end, Lovato explains that she thinks she "rushed into something that I thought was what I was supposed to do. I realize as time went on that I didn't actually know the person that I was engaged to."

While having a sit-down with Montgomery and Sirah, Lovato further explains that after being together for four to five months, it was "false advertising." She explains, "The hardest part of the breakup was mourning the person I thought he was."

Ehrich garnered attention for his multiple social media posts in which he spoke about Lovato and alleged that he learned about their breakup through a tabloid. "I was just as shocked as the rest of the world at some of things that were said and done," Lovato says. No further details behind the breakup were given.

Lovato Addresses Her Sexuality

"There's so much more of me that I have yet to explore and one of the good things about this experience is that I used this time to look within. And also I feel like I'm too queer to marry a man in my life right now," Lovato reveals. Preferring not to "put a label on it," Lovato explains that she is looking forward to living her life in "the most authentic way possible."

Eating Disorder Recovery

Every year, Lovato would receive a watermelon cake for her birthday rather than an actual birthday cake as a way to keep her weight down. But after no longer facing the restrictions from her former team, Montgomery shares that during a trip they had three birthday cakes, "which was a huge deal for her." In footage shared from their trip, Lovato could be seen excited to have an actual birthday cake for the first time. "I watched her in real time realize that that was something she could do and it was really beautiful," Montgomery says.

Says Lovato, "That's the best part about my life today is that I'm in control of it. What I eat is my decision. What I don't eat is my decision. What I do is my decision and I'm really, really grateful of the team that I have today," pointing out her head of security and chief of staff Max Lea, her day-to-day manager Scott Marcus and Braun as some of those people.

Path to Healing

As she continues to move forward in her recovery, Lovato shared the safety measures she puts in place for herself and coping mechanisms to ensure she is doing everything she can to maintain her sobriety. "If something happens with me, if I'm feeling a certain way, I don't wait until I'm triggered to do something. I text my therapist. I text my case manager, I text whoever it is, 'Hey, my depression is acting up.' … Just so someone is aware," Lovato explains. "In that moment it takes a little bit of the power away. I deal with depression on a level that most people will probably never understand, which is why I always turn to drugs, to an eating disorder because all of these things stop me from taking that permanent step. I'm constantly talking about it and I'm constantly open about it, that way I'm not waiting till the last minute and I'm suicidal to get help."

Lovato also reveals that she takes the Vivitrol shot, which blocks the opioid receptors and prevents someone from getting high. "Do I ever want to touch heroin again? No. Do I think I will? Absolutely not. But I still get it just because at least for a few years, it can't hurt me."

Given Lovato, as well as her family and friends, have stated that she is known to be a good liar, the singer is questioned how this time is different when compared to what she's said in her previous documentaries, Simply Complicated and Staying Strong. "The one slip-up that I ever had with those drugs again, the scariest thing, to me, was picking up heroin and realizing, 'Wow this isn't strong enough anymore,' because what I had done the night I overdosed was Fentanyl. That's a whole other beast." Lovato says that "realizing the high I wanted would kill me was what I needed to get me clean for good."

Lovato emphasizes that she has "full faith that you're not going to open up TMZ and see another overdose headline." But she adds "with humility" that "this is a very powerful disease" and she won't pretend to be invincible. "I have to work every day to make sure that I'm in a good place so I don't go to those things. Time and trust is the only thing that will work for people and over time you'll see that I'm good. You can't change someone's mind who thinks I'm a junkie. And I'll always be one. I'll just have to show them differently."

New Music

"My life has changed more in the last two years than it has my whole life. With that, comes reworking of an album," Lovato says, explaining that she's ready to release music she's been working on for years. Braun says for the new record they're more concerned with telling a story rather than having "the pop radio hits."

Her new album, Dancing With the Devil … The Art of Starting Over, which features the docuseries' title song "Dancing With the Devil," released April 2. When comparing her previous works, Lovato says she's "the most proud" of her new album because she's "evolved so much. … It's going to be about where I am today and what I'm looking for and who I am. Me embracing my queer self."

New Hair

To be free of her "developmental trauma," the "gender norms" and "sexuality norms" that were placed on her at a young age, Lovato says she cut off all of her hair. She says her new haircut "represents the femininity" she's "always been too afraid to let go of. … It's very symbolic of letting go of my past, letting go of the old me, part of me that was too afraid to really live my truth."

Ratner told THR that Lovato called him prior to her haircut, informing him the cameras should be there for the big reveal: "If you're signing up to direct Demi Lovato, you'd better be ready to keep filming. There's so much growth and so many developments that you'd better be ready to go along for the ride," he said.

Though she knows people are bound to have opinions and say things about her new look, but she feels confident in moving forward. "I'm not living my life for other people or their headlines or their Twitter comments." She adds, "I've had a lot of lives, like my cat. I'm on my ninth life and I don't know how many opportunities I have left. It's interesting … Life is fluid and I'm fluid and that's all I know."

All four episodes of Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil are now available to stream on YouTube.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with mental health and substance abuse disorders, contact Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) by calling 1-800-622-HELP (4357). For People struggling with eating disorders can call the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) Hotline at 1-800-931-2237. If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, contact the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).