The Line in Demi Lovato's New Song That Stopped Me in My Tracks
About 21 seconds into my first time listening to Demi Lovato’s new song “Sober,” I stopped looking at my computer and laid down on my bedroom floor. I’m a person who feels pretty deeply, and sometimes a song will hit me so hard that I don’t know what to do with myself. This time, the lyric that stopped me was, ‘Wake me when the shakes are gone and the cold sweats disappear.’ I’m not used to people singing about that, not so explicitly, and after hearing that line, I felt like this song deserved my full attention.
Over the past few years, Demi has helped so many people by sharing her struggles with mental illness and addiction. She has embraced vulnerability in songs like “Skyscraper” and “Warrior,” and most recently revealed even more of her story in her incredibly authentic documentary, “Simply Complicated.” But I’d argue that “Sober” is her most raw song yet. The song is stripped down, as it’s mostly just piano that backs up Demi’s emotion-filled voice. The low notes are beautiful and different. It’s one of her only songs in which she doesn’t really belt out her lyrics, in those high notes where Demi seems so comfortable. It’s brave enough for her to step out of her comfort zone vocally, but I think it’s even more admirable to be as honest as she is in the lyrics of “Sober.”
I let the song start again. I don’t know how many times I listened to it, laying there on the floor. Maybe three times, maybe 18. Then I grabbed my journal. When “Sober” started again, I wanted to write down the lyrics I identified with most. My pen couldn’t move fast enough. As someone who also struggles with bipolar disorder, it seemed like I related to every word.
While the entire song is now written in my journal, here are the lyrics that stood out to me the most:
“Call me when it’s over and myself has reappeared.”
When everything becomes too much — the thoughts, the shakes, the fears — I just want to escape. I don’t know where I want to go, but I want to get away. I want to leave my body until I don’t feel sick anymore and everything is better. Until I’m the girl I used to be. The girl who laughs with her friends between classes, who writes movies, who road trips across the country with her dad. I want to recognize myself again.
“Sometimes I just wanna cave and I don’t wanna fight.”
Dealing with mental illness is exhausting. When I’m feeling totally hopeless, or I’m trying so hard not to do something I know is unhealthy, giving in can sound like the best option. It sounds like the easiest way to make the pain stop, because it’s hard to keep fighting when it feels like nothing is changing. When I want to give up, I try to remind myself why I’ve fought so hard for this long. I’m sure many people know that’s not as easy as it sounds. It’s hard to fall and get back up, especially when it feels like you just keep falling.
In “Sober,” the lyric and the way Demi sings, “I try and I try and I try and I try and I try” evokes such pain and frustration, and amazingly captures the desperation so many of us feel while dealing with our illnesses. We don’t just try to fight these battles. We try over and over. And then we try again.
“To the ones who never left me, we’ve been down this road before.”
For Demi, me and so many others, loneliness is a trigger for going back to unhealthy old ways. No one to help us find the voice of reason, no one to distract us, no one to stop us. Feeling alone sucks.
If I look back 11 years ago when I started down this path of mental illness, very few of the people who were important in my life then are the same as the people I know today. My family, a couple of teachers, one friend. Sure, a large part of this simply comes from not being in elementary school anymore. But I’ve lost a lot of friends since then, too, year after year. Sometimes I scared people, I guess. And they left. I understand how it feels to appreciate “the ones who never left me” so much because they were there for me when everyone else ran. And how amazing they are because they continue to stay, even they know how dark the road can be.
“I’m so sorry.”
In a way, the song is a three-minute and 17 second apology. It never feels good to have to apologize for your behavior, and I think one of the worst feelings in the world is feeling like I’ve let someone who I really care about down. Demi’s apology to her parents hit me first. As soon as I feel myself start to isolate, or have to step away from something I care about because of anxiety, or slip back into destructive behaviors, I usually think of my mom and dad first. I never want them to feel like what I deal with, or how I deal with it, is their fault. I don’t want to disappoint them.
Later in the song, Demi apologizes to her fans, singing about how she wants to be a role model. Unless something really, really drastic happens, she will always be my role model. I don’t look up to people who are perfect and never make mistakes. To me, those people don’t represent real life the way I live it. I think the best kinds of role models are the ones who recognize they need help, and then ask for it. Because it’s not easy to admit that you’re back in a place you thought you’d never be again.
I’m a pretty good liar when it comes to hiding my illnesses to other people, but I can’t lie to myself. Not for long, anyway. To me, admitting to myself that I have done something I’m not proud of is the hardest apology to make. The last lyric of “Sober” captures that feeling of shame, that moment of painful acceptance. But sometimes that final apology, though incredibly hard to make, may be the realization that someone needs to lead them to get the help that the need. It’s still never easy to say. “I’m sorry to myself.”