As an internationally recognized pop star, Demi Lovato's battle with addiction and mental illness have received as much attention as (and at times even overshadowed) her music. It was first revealed that the young star was facing some serious issues when, at 18 years old, she admitted herself into Timberline Knolls – a treatment center for women battling addictions, eating and mood disorders. Lovato entered the facility after punching a backup dancer while on tour with The Jonas Brothers in 2010. At that point, she and her family agreed it was time for her to seek help.
For much of her adolescence, Lovato struggled with eating disorders, which started as a result of her being bullied by her peers. When she tried to curtail her bulimia, she started cutting herself. Lovato has also opened up about her substance abuse issues, admitting, "I couldn’t go 30 minutes to an hour without cocaine and I would bring it on airplanes.” It wasn't until Lovato sought treatment at Timberline Knolls that she learned she was bipolar.
Her tales of woe are scarily familiar for many childhood stars, but unlike those whose struggles have forced them to fade into oblivion, only to later pop up on "Where Are They Now" episodes, Lovato has managed to triumph in the face of adversity. She's used her story as a platform to empower others and it's because of her fans that she so confidently stands at the top of her game.
In honor of her birthday on Saturday (August 20), I connected with a few of her fans (affectionately known as Lovatics) to learn how her sobriety and experiences with addiction and depression have impacted them. Lovato has a special relationship with her fans and has grown into being the type of role model so many of them need.
“I didn’t go into treatment thinking, ‘OK, now I’m going to be an inspiration,'" she told American Way magazine in July. "At times I was resentful for having that kind of responsibility, but now, it's really become a part of my life. It holds me accountable.”
One thing is clear, their devotion to the pop star runs deep and her imperfections have only made them feel closer to the star.
"Not many celebrities would be so open to share a story like hers," 16-year-old Reuben writes me.
"Demi overcoming addiction and being so open about it is just remarkable," he continues. "Her sobriety shows that anyone can get through anything no matter what it is. She is a perfect example that things DO get better. All ages can be affected by an addiction and she shows us that it's okay to ask for help."
Another fan, Paige, 21, echoes Reuben's sentiments that Lovato's perseverance empowers her fans. "Her sobriety motivates me because it's just proof that you can hit rock bottom but come out of it stronger than ever."
When Priscilla, 17, was diagnosed with a chronic illness that affected her ability to walk and stand, it was Lovato's music and outlook on life that helped her power through. "Every time when I'm down or in a lot of pain because of my chronic illness with my back, I'll listen to her music and read her tweets – those make me smile again."
Each of the fans that I spoke to felt a personal connection with Lovato, as though her story managed to intertwine with their own.
"One of her songs 'Shouldn't Come Back' off of her 2013 album "Demi" – it made me feel a lot better. It gave me closure. The lyric that means the most to me in that song is 'All the birthdays you've missed. I was only a kid.' I related that to my father who left my family after doing horrible things. Growing up without a father was hard for me, but that song helped me accept the fact that I'm doing just as well without one as I would with one present."
"Through music [Demi] has been able to help me with my depression and my bipolar disorder," added 17-year-old Dani, who runs the Lovato Twitter fan account @LovatoWars.
"I learned how to accept my bipolar disorder ever since she started talking about hers. 'Believe In Me' and 'Skyscraper' are ballads that really helped me (and still do) when I'm feeling low. [By] sharing her sobriety with us she's basically showing us that 'if I can get through this, you can too.'"
In some cases, Lovato's impact has been life-altering.
MacKenzah,17, found Lovato to be the source of inspiration she needed during a traumatic time in her life. She recalled being taken to the E.R. because of her self-harm and listening to Lovato's "Warrior" on repeat while waiting for the doctor.
"I became depressed and began self-harming (and continued for almost a year). God, my family and Demi got me through that very dark period of my life. Her song 'Warrior' speaks to me in so many ways and I feel stronger every time I listen to it. Her wise, inspiring words, and her book have been such a comfort to me and I thank God for her every day."
Some can look at her mistakes as an example to avoid their own. Lovato's experiences with drug use have been instructional for Reuben. "Drugs and alcohol are not cool at all and can severely affect you in the long run."
After seeing what she's been through, he recognizes that it's better to be an individual then follow the crowd. "Demi promotes being yourself," he explains. "She tells her fans to be confident in their own skin, to be themselves. You shouldn't have to try to fit in with the popular people or hop on a new trend just because people think it's cool."
When Lovato decided to be open about her trials, she hoped to impact at least one life. But even her fans have adopted her compassion and generosity. Reuben says he now steps up if he sees someone in need.
"If I ever see someone upset, depressed, or struggling with something I always offer to help because everyone deserves healthiness and happiness."
Dani has also been able to connect with other Lovato fans during difficult times in her life. "Every time I'm feeling low I know I can come to Twitter and talk with other Demi fans that I met here and consider them friends."
As fans continued to share how knowing Lovato's struggles made them feel more connected to her, I was reminded that her past hasn't pushed her true fans away. In fact, MacKenzah believes it's because of her troubled past that she has such a loyal fan base.
"I believe Lovatics are Lovatics because of Demi's past struggles. Instead of being so ashamed of her past and keeping that part of her life a deep, regretful, shameful experience that she never shares; she inspires millions by speaking out."