An Open Letter to Demi Lovato

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Kim Vytell
Mar 19, 2021

Dear Demi,

You are brave, talented, and blessed with the ability to change the world. Your message is important, and your platform is a sacred responsibility.

Over the years, the field of addiction has seen many attempts at providing an easier path to recovery. But the hard truth is, it is not always easy, and oftentimes the easy path is the one that leads to the grave. Recovery affords a person an opportunity to live a life beyond their wildest dreams, but that life often comes with a price tag.

I don’t say this from opinion. I say this from experience. I have worked with thousands of individuals just like you, many who have since died because they attempted to follow the same path you are following.

And that price is letting go of all that held you back. Letting go of the guilt, shame, the self hate; resolving the traumas and going toe to toe with the demons in your mind.

It is a sad reality that this fight often becomes too difficult for many. The opioid crisis has taken more than 750,000 lives in the last decade. These are not all celebrity lives; these are regular people, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters.  But these “regular” people don’t get the luxury of the platform you do.

It is exactly because of this that your bravery in confronting your battle with addiction is so important. You give a voice to the voiceless and a path of understanding for those that so desperately want to help. We are so grateful to you for that.

But with that gratitude comes a plea for responsibility. Part of your message is dangerous and needs to be pointed out.

Your admission of using vivitrol in conjunction with marijuana and alcohol in an attempt to avoid the “hard drugs” has struck a nerve with me. I am not alone in this feeling. Many others in the field have reacted in the very same way.

Let me explain my perspective.

Medications like suboxone, vivitrol, and methadone have helped keep many people alive long enough to achieve a productive life. These medications have helped restore families and reduce criminality. But they were never meant to replace the therapeutic and soul-searching work that is true recovery. To advertise it as a drug that allows the same lifestyle choices is counterproductive, and has the ability to cause great harm.

I don’t say this from opinion. I say this from experience. I have worked with thousands of individuals just like you, many who have since died because they attempted to follow the same path you are following. They sought the easier softer way because the one that works was too painful. They put down the needle, only to pick up a bottle that would soon take as much away from them, as they continued to seek a solution to numb the pain. They would say “I can’t imagine a life without ever having a drink, or smoking a joint.” But the truth was, they could never imagine a life where they could fully accept the person they saw in the mirror every morning.

Trauma has long been linked to addiction. This fact cannot be disputed. You have spoken openly about being raped at the age of fifteen. This took courage and provided inspiration to so many. But false hope isn’t the way forward.

Marijuana and alcohol are not medications used to treat trauma. They are the tools those with substance use disorders use to cope with the pain of the trauma. Individuals who ignore or suppress traumatic experiences often find that while getting sober, other addictive behavior patterns begin to replace the harmful substance use. These include unhealthy eating patterns, sexual promiscuity, and replacing hard drug use with more socially acceptable mind- and mood-altering substances. None of these behaviors help to resolve the underlying issue, and only perpetuate the cycle of guilt and shame victims of trauma live with every day.

I feel for you, Demi! Your pain is unimaginable. I am sad that the help you needed didn’t arrive and that you experienced the fear and trauma of overdose I am sad that you probably had a team of people enabling or ignoring your addiction. I am sad that you had to battle demons bigger than any dreams you ever had of stardom.

The therapists that worked with you had a responsibility. They had a responsibility to warn of the dangers of substituting substances rather than putting down the things that helped quiet the mind and allowing it to finally scream out for the help you so desperately needed. They had a responsibility to help you.

But maybe they tried. Maybe they did all they could to lay out the path ahead of you, and like so many others, the pain was too great, and you felt stuck. Maybe you felt the only way out was to find a way to continue using in moderation.

While I commend you for your openness and honesty, I feel sad. Not just for you but for the many people who look to you for inspiration and have been given the false hope that you have found a shortcut, found a solution that works.

It is not a solution. And too often its consequences are fatal.

Recovery is a beautiful journey. It allows an individual to be free from the painful past and move forward to a future of love and acceptance of self and others. For every client I have seen succumb to this disease, more than double take on the battle and recover. Some have used medication assisted therapy, some have not, but all have at some point recognized that the use of any mind- and mood-altering substance is a risk far too great for them to take.

They are not willing to go back to the lives they fought so hard to come up from. It is possible to live a life free from all substances, free from guilt and pain. Recovery is a choice. The reality is that the choice you are making is a dangerous one.

Demi. You are a beautiful soul who has endured so much and continues to persevere against all odds. I pray for you to understand that real recovery happens with hard work. Moderation for people dependent on substances doesn’t work. It never has.

Once you understand this, spread the word to the masses. Harness your power, your light, and your gift for song and inspiration.

Change minds, provide hope, and help the world heal.

We will be forever grateful.

Kim Vytell, LCADC, LSW, Director of Clinical Development, earned both her BS and MS in social work from Rutgers University and is an EMDR-trained therapist. She recognizes the impact that addiction and trauma have on individuals, and the importance of addressing both in order to live healthy and happy lives. She is dedicated to helping individuals and families who have been affected by the disease of addiction, believing everyone is capable of recovery. Kim is passionate about helping others move beyond their pasts and discover their true selves.

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