Demi Lovato on being 'California sober' after 2018 overdose, and how she 'had to essentially die to wake up'

Demi Lovato's new YouTube documentary, Dancing with the Devil, lays bare some painful admissions from the pop star about her battle with substance abuse and eating disorders, her 2018 overdose and her experiences with sexual assault. With just two days to go before the four-part series — which just premiered at SXSW — makes its March 23 debut, the former Disney Channel star is opening up to CBS Sunday Morning about her recovery and finally finding joy.

As CBS correspondent Tracy Smith notes, this isn't the first time Lovato, 28, has spoken about overcoming both addiction and eating disorders. In a 2016 interview with Smith, Lovato spoke of being grateful to still be alive. But just two years later, in July 2018, the singer experienced a near-fatal overdose, triggering a heart attack and three strokes, from which Lovato says she still suffers impaired vision and hearing.

Speaking to the 28-year-old at her Los Angeles home, Smith asked Lovato about the disconnect between her 2016 quotes and still-ongoing struggles with addiction.

"I've been sober for however many years but I'm still miserable," Lovato explained of her 2016 mindset. "And then of course no matter how you're feeling in that moment you're wanting to say, 'Yes, I'm good' because I'm in front of a camera, I'm doing an interview. I, for the first time in my life, had to essentially die to wake up."

She added that, despite being sober at the time of her 2016 interview, things weren't quite so picture-perfect behind the scenes.

“I didn’t control any of my life at that period of time,” Lovato shared “But, yes, I also needed to grow up and take control. And that’s something I haven’t done until the past two years of my life, which is I’m now in control of my finances. I’m now in control of the food that I eat, how often I work out.

"Obviously I was in control of what I put in my mouth," she clarified, "but there were times where phones were taken out of — actually, every time I was in a hotel room my phone was taken out of the room so I couldn't order room service."

But Lovato refused to pin blame on others.

"Regardless of what other people may have said or done, my actions put me in the seat that's in front of you today," she told Smith. "Unfortunately, nobody can answer for my overdose but me."

The interview also touched on Lovato's preferred form of recovery: moderation rather than complete sobriety. The native Texan still enjoys some alcohol and marijuana. In her documentary, she explains, "I'm done with the stuff that's going to kill me. Telling myself that I can never have a drink or smoke marijuana, I feel like that's setting myself up for failure."

Speaking to Smith, Lovato explained that she's hesitant to speak too openly about her "California sober" approach, which has sparked some criticism that it's not strict enough, including from former addict Elton John, who appears in Dancing with the Devil. Lovato also expressed reservations that her endorsement of moderation might influence fans.

“I would say that, like, I think the term that I best identify with is California sober,” Lovato told Smith, adding, "I really don't feel comfortable explaining the parameters of my recovery to people, because I don't want anyone to look at my parameters of safety and think that's what works for them. Because it might not.

"I am cautious to say that just like I feel the complete abstinent method isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for everybody, I don’t think that this journey of moderation is a one-size-fits-all solution for everybody, too.”

Lovato gave an emotional performance at the 2020 Grammys. (Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)
Lovato gave an emotional performance at the 2020 Grammys. (Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic) (Jeff Kravitz via Getty Images)

Lovato also spoke about her emotional comeback at the 2020 Grammys, telling Smith, "I didn't know if I'd ever step foot on a stage again."

Despite her brush with death — "the doctors told me that I had five to 10 minutes... if no one had found me, then I wouldn't be here," she revealed — the singer and actress is confident that she's come out stronger and happier.

"I feel so good," shared Lovato, who has been become more vocal about her mental health and sexuality in recent years. "I feel more joy in my life than I've ever felt, because I'm not quieting or diminishing any part of myself."

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