Momma, I'm So Sorry I'm Not Sober Anymore...
As I sat in the car with my teenage daughter this weekend, she asked me if she could play a song. As the melancholy tune of Demi Lovato's new ballad "Sober" filled the car I listened to the lyrics, and I took in my daughter's face, the way she listened to the words so intensely. "It's really good, isn't it?" she said as it ended. "Yes," I replied, "but very sad."
In the wake of Lovato's recent fall from grace, followed by an almost fatal drug overdose just last week, I am reminded that mental illness is not something that is easily cured, or even cured at all. It is a chronic, lifelong illness that needs constant attention and treatment. We can help to tame the darkness inside, or even learn to cope, but the depth of mental illness needs to be constantly attended to with the risk that it can rear it's ugly head at anytime.
The story of Demi Lovato hits somewhat close to home for my daughter and I. Lovato, as a troubled eighteen year old with substance abuse issues entered treatment at Timberline Knolls outside of Chicago - the very same treatment facility that my daughter resided at just a few months ago while seeking treatment for her anxiety and depression. And while in treatment for her substance abuse issues, Lovato learned that she was bi-polar and additionally received treatment for an eating disorder.
You see mental illness shows its face in many different ways, many different addictions:
to alcohol, to drugs, to food or lack of food, to sex, to gambling, to self-harm... Mental illness makes us feel bad and these "addictions" make us feel good. Yes, believe it or not, even forms of self-harm make us feel good. All of these addictions release the "good' chemicals in our brains - endorphins - that make us feel happy, even if it is short lived. Most times people with mental illness are seeking relief from pain - the pain of anxiety, depression, sexual trauma, physical abuse - and it just boils down to the tools they use to remedy this pain.
Demi, who is known for her advocacy of mental illness and who spends her days in the spotlight, was six years sober. She was admired by many for facing her demons and overcoming them. While that should be enough to keep most people on the straight and narrow, it didn't take much for the monster of mental illness to once again rear it's ugly head. Maybe it was one instance; maybe it was two; maybe it was a downwards spiral over a series of time. Whichever it was, it is obvious by her song that she knew she was no longer able to cope in healthy ways and that she needed help to do that. And for whatever reason it was, she just didn't have the strength to do it just yet. And it is also obvious that she was ashamed that she was not strong enough. A shame that made it harder to stop the things that made her feel better...
So rather that condemn or persecute Lovato for where she has landed, maybe we can offer her a lift up. Maybe we can look at her mental illness as a real, tangible illness with symptoms and side affects the same as any other physical illness. Maybe we can be the advocate for her, for her getting well and healthy again. And maybe we can let her know that there is not one person among us that is perfect - that we all fall from grace sometimes.
I was reminded just a couple weeks ago that we are the sum of our actions. We are seen for the cumulative person we are, of which any negative problem or issue is just a small part. One relapse does not negate six years of sobriety, or the advocacy for all those suffering from mental illness or the strength it takes to face your weakest moments in the public eye.
I, for one, am pulling for Demi Lovato. My heart is heavy for her, her parents, her friends. And I am praying that she will find the strength once more to face her demons and to add six or fifty-six more years of sobriety to her belt. I know that she has given a lot of hope to the girls at Timberline Knolls who came after her and I know that they are lifting her up in their hearts and sending positive vibes her way.
"Sometimes you don't realize your own strength until you come face to face with your greatest weakness" - Susan Gale