The dark family history of Demi Lovato is unpacked in her mother’s revealing new memoir, Falling with Wings.
Dianna De La Garza had big plans of becoming a country music star, but her life went in a different direction than her dreams. She developed an eating disorder early in life to gain a sense of control in her strict upbringing. As she continued to struggle with body image and her obsession with being perfect her entire adult life, she was also met with other difficult situations. Her husband and father of her two eldest daughters, Dallas and Demi, had his own troubles that affected the entire family. She coped by using alcohol and pills, forming a long-lasting addiction.
Falling with Wings contrasts that tumultuous history with the great highs of watching her daughters break out in Hollywood to become strong, empowered young women. De La Garza’s entire story will be available on March 6, when the book is published. But until then, the author has shared with EW an exclusive preview of the prologue, in which she delves into the darkest struggles that she and Demi have gone through together. “It’s time to start a new chapter in our lives,” the prologue concludes. “Our family’s survival depends upon it.”
Read the excerpt below, and pre-order Falling with Wings here.
Excerpt from ‘Falling with Wings,’ by Dianna De La Garza
There are days when you get out of bed and instantly know that everything is going to slide downhill. This isn’t one of them. My certainty rests in the fact that my mood is as bright as the sun that’s streaming through the window of my Los Angeles home. For the first time in months, I’m not rushing off to spend eight hours on another movie-studio lot or listen to my attorney go through the intricate details of one more contract. My only concern is getting to the airport to catch my flight back to Texas. I’m going home!
A proper southern girl always looks her best, but I linger longer than usual in front of the mirror, checking every last detail. No mascara smudges, hair in place, just enough lip liner. I’ve dreamed about this day for so long that I want everything to be perfect. Satisfied, I race outside where the car service is waiting with a black, shiny sedan. Out of nowhere, a gusty breeze pushes past me, grabbing my long, red locks and pulling them in every direction. I laugh all the way to the street.
“Good morning, sir,” I chirp to the driver. “LAX, please.”
By afternoon, I’ll finally be in my “safe place”—our family’s house in Colleyville, Texas, a suburb of Dallas. A little over two years ago, my husband, Eddie, and I packed our bags and headed west to help our girls—Dallas, Demi, and Madison—pursue acting and singing careers in Hollywood. We left filled with optimism, our dreams pinned to the stars, though many told us we were crazy. Today, I finally get to say, “I told you so!”
So many amazing things have happened recently that sometimes I fear that at the stroke of midnight, I’ll wake up to discover it’s all a dream. My middle child and one of the two children from my first marriage—Demetria Lovato, better known as Demi—is on the cusp of becoming a legitimate star. Thanks to the Disney Channel and Hollywood Records, she’s now a popular actress and promising new recording artist. The whirlwind of the past few years— filming Camp Rock, starring in her own television show, and opening concerts for the Jonas Brothers—has catapulted her into the limelight of fame. At the thought, I clasp my hands together to steady the rush of nervousness leaping from my stomach to my chest. Sometimes all the changes are too much to comprehend.
Happy as I am to be returning to Texas, it seems odd to be leaving without my children. My life has revolved around my daughters’ needs for so long that I feel as though I’ve forgotten to pack something essential. But I won’t exactly be alone. My good friend Lorna will be joining me so we can escort each other to our thirtieth high school reunion, just a day away. I have so much to tell her that I suspect we’ll be talking and laughing past midnight, just like we did as teenagers.
As I open the door to our former home, the past rushes back to greet me. Each step across the marble entryway echoes in eerie stillness as I smile at the familiar landmarks of the life we left behind. The same assortment of framed pictures—mostly Monet lookalikes from Eddie’s bachelor days—still clings to the walls. There are no pictures of my children anywhere in sight, an oddity that reflects my lack of zeal for home decorating, which ranks about number 257 on my priority list. It’s sad to admit, but our home has changed little in its decor since the day my girls and I moved in back in 1996. A perfect example is off to my right where the same eight wooden chairs stand like soldiers gathered around our table, guarding the Waterford crystal stored in a nearby hutch. The showcase area, I murmur to myself. But I have no desire to stop, no desire to touch any keepsakes. My feet know where they’re going. When I reach the formal living room—so often referred to as “the junkyard”—I finally feel the pull of gravity. Within seconds, I’m floating in an orbit of pleasant memories.
The oversize room—with its threadbare sofa, two Kool-Aid-spotted wingback chairs, and a mahogany coffee table marred by mysterious carvings that no one ever admitted to—was always the happiest, noisiest, most magical room in the house. For years, I joked that it was the boundary between where the serene and beautiful ended and the madness began, mostly because of a grand assortment of music equipment that is still squeezed into every available nook and cranny. There are two five-feet-tall Madison Tower Speakers, two massive floor monitors, a gigantic Marshall 4×12 stack, a sixteen-channel cabinet mixing board, and a P80 Yamaha performance keyboard, all purchased by Eddie off eBay soon after Demi and Dallas got accepted into Linda Septien’s Vocal Productions Master Class, which now seems like eons ago.
I shake my head, trying to decide if the conglomeration of equipment makes it look more like a storage room or a prop lot at Universal Studios. For sure, it’s enough to make a bona fide hoarder anxious! Only the vaulted ceiling gives the room some spaciousness. But truthfully, the cramped conditions never bothered us because every inch was tailored to our dreams and every fiber quivered with our energy. I wistfully remember how a joyous confusion erupted every time the doorbell rang, causing each one of us to run and jump over obstacles like we were training to be Olympic hurdlers.
Now silent, it’s hard to imagine that this room was once the epicenter of our family’s existence. By day, the room was full of laughter and chatter; by night, things always disintegrated. That’s when the cacophony of throbbing bass, screechy microphones, and high-pitched vocals always spiraled out of control. Negotiating peacefully wasn’t exactly in our grab bag of strategies, so more often than not, we resorted to yelling at one another. I can still hear our passionate lines, like ghosts rising out of the darkness. . . .
“DALLAS!” Demi screams, while leaning over the banister from upstairs and peering into the living room, “Tone it down! I’m trying to write music.”
“But you had the room for two hours,” Dallas fires back, waving a sequin-covered sleeve in the air and flushing as red as her lip-stick. “Now it’s my turn!”
Then we all brace for Dallas’s next round of vocals that will be ten times louder than before. Madison, who never could fall asleep in a quiet room, is sound asleep on the sofa, oblivious to the drama around her.
“Y’all need to go to bed,” I holler from the kitchen. “It’s nearly ten o’clock.”
But Dallas never goes down without a fight. “That’s not fair,” she wails. “I just got in here.”
Eddie, who has work in the morning, intones his mantra from the master bedroom, “GO . . . TO . . . BED!!!”
“You heard Eddie,” I echo from the kitchen, listening for the stomping on the stairs as Dallas resigns herself to the fact that the bargaining is over.
Well, almost over.
“You always take too long of a turn,” Dallas hisses as she passes by Demi’s room, unable to resist one more push back.
“Whatever,” Demi growls before firing off a few guitar riffs for emphasis.
One, two, three, I silently count before bellowing, “Don’t make me come up there.”
It’s the final benediction that finally ushers in some peace.
When the doorbell rings, my daydreams vanish. “Come in. Come in,” I exclaim to Lorna, standing on my tiptoes so I can wrap my arms around her. “I have sooo much to tell you.” We barely make it through the living room before I start babbling about my girls. “You’ll never believe it,” I tell her, “but Madison’s role on Desperate Housewives was renewed for another season; Dallas is busy doing voice-overs, and Demi’s in South America right now with Eddie on the Camp Rock 2 Tour with the Jonas Brothers.” Breathless, I grab Lorna’s hands and gently squeeze her fingers.
“Damn, girl! When you gonna have time to sleep?” Lorna barks, throwing her hands into the air and shaking her golden hair as that old familiar grin seeps across her face. “You ready?” she asks.
“Right this way,” I say, leading her to the kitchen. We’re on a mission, and it’s time to strategize. “Bless your heart,” I sigh. “Your roots have got to be done.”
“Then do it!” she demands.
“Well, I could,” I reply, “but I just might turn your hair orange.” We laugh, embracing the sweetness of each other’s company—then promptly make a hair appointment for the next morning. “There is one thing I can do for you,” I tease, waving a package of false eyelashes in the air.
Lorna tries to put the eyelashes on but fumbles, which makes us both a bit giddy. She struggles some more before looking in the mirror. “You look fabulous,” I exclaim. We toast our success and chatter away, even contemplating whether we should hire a limo to take us to our class reunion. At times, we toss questions back and forth like handfuls of confetti. What should we wear? How should we fix our hair? Who will we impress? And, yes, we even admit that we hope to look better than any of the cheerleaders from back in the day. I sheepishly confess that I resorted to tanning and getting Botox, just so I could look “real good.”
“Isn’t that what you do before a thirtieth reunion?” I laugh.
Just as Lorna and I start talking about Demi’s collection of memorabilia that I’m donating to our class auction, my phone pings. Glancing down, I notice it’s a text from Demi. “Hmmm, wonder what she wants?” Texting between us isn’t normal when she’s busy on tour. And, though I haven’t told anyone, our communication lately has been strained by a barrage of teenage angst that stretches between us like the Grand Canyon.
Demi’s message sends a chill down my spine, causing my knees to buckle.
“What’s wrong?” cries Lorna.
I struggle to breathe as the light in the room slowly dims. I try to talk but can’t. As though trapped in a bad dream, I fight through the grayness and read the message one more time: “I’m sorry ahead of time.” The words electrify every nerve in my body, telling me that Demi is in serious trouble. Oh, I’ve pretended that everything is wonderful to my friends and the media—and even to my relatives—but it’s not. For the past few months, Demi has vacillated between cheerful and sullen, as though her moods are altered by the pull of a string. At times, the darkness in her eyes frightens me and her late-night escapades aren’t slowing down, either. It’s clear that something is terribly wrong. A sudden flashback pushes my anxiety even higher.
A few weeks earlier, I had walked into Demi’s bedroom to wake her so she could get to Hollywood Center Studios for the filming of Sonny with a Chance. I remember how peaceful she looked, but when I gently touched her, I froze. Next to her on the clean sheets was a bloody rag. I felt as though someone had slapped me in the face. “Demi, Demi! Wake up,” I shouted, fearing she was dead.
She awoke with surprise, her eyes clouding with fear. “Why? Why?” I cried, my hands shaking.
“I can’t . . . I shouldn’t,” she stammered, her eyes wide and bristling with tears. “Oh, God, I won’t do it anymore. I swear; I’m so sorry.”
As we held each other tightly, I wanted to believe her. So did Eddie. But the problem wasn’t new. Demi had started cutting her wrists long before that morning. Once we noticed, we had a family meeting and decided to hire a life coach, figuring that if Demi could sort through the issues behind the cutting, she would stop. And she did. Everything seemed fine until I saw those bloody rags that morning. Despite the alarms that went off in my head, we pushed the incident aside. There wasn’t time for talking. As Demi raced to the studio out one door, I left through another to take Madison, my youngest, to the set of Desperate Housewives.
From then on, Demi’s schedule was an endless blur of photo shoots, press interviews, fittings, and filming that left little time for discussions. The pressures of the industry consumed not only Demi, but me, too. As mother and schedule keeper, it was my job to maintain control and to not let anyone down. So many people—music representatives, television executives, castmates, and management—were depending on Demi to be strong and to do her job. Nothing was just a family matter anymore. Walking away wasn’t an option. A wave of regret tumbles over me as I realize I sent Demi off that terrible morning with nothing more than a hug and some silent prayers. Guilt claws at my heart. How could I have been so naive? Why didn’t I do more?
“Oh, God, what have we done?” I cry, watching Lorna’s eyes grow wider.
A slow tremor vibrates at my feet then rises to my chest. My whole body aches as I recall a haunting dream. The hazy sequence involved Sammy, one of Demi’s favorite makeup artists, who was carefully applying foundation and eye shadow to my daughter’s face. As Sammy bent over to apply the finishing touches, I suddenly realized that Demi was lying in a coffin. The dream was so real that I jumped out of bed, tears streaming down my cheeks.
The dream, the bloody rag, and the text—they suddenly add up to one terrible conclusion: My daughter’s going to take her own life! I grab my phone and frantically start punching in Demi’s number.
“No answer?” I cry. Was she in her hotel room? Did she take a handful of pills? Did she cut too deep? Questions fly through my head so fast that I can’t think.
“DIANNA!” Lorna shouts. “What’s wrong? What’s happening?”
Her words sound far away, a mere echo compared with the thoughts rising and crashing around me. No, God, don’t let her kill herself! I try Eddie’s number, again and again, but he doesn’t answer, either. With my eyes closed, I mentally prod Eddie to rush into Demi’s room and save her, but the pounding of my heart tells me I’m already too late. No, no! Don’t let this happen. Suddenly a reel of memories begins to play, and I can see my sweet, young girls laughing and teasing one another in the backyard, then sitting at the dining-room table as I help them with their homework, and finally, huddling around the television as they watch and sing along to the happy theme songs for Barney & Friends and Rugrats. Each scene cuts through me like a bolt of lightning. I’m losing my little girl.
I try Eddie’s number one more time.
“Hello,” he answers, his voice too calm, too flat. “Eddie!” I scream, “Where’s Demi?”
“She’s here . . . next to me,” he says through clenched teeth. Typically friendly and upbeat, Eddie’s response unnerves me.
Clearly, he doesn’t want to talk.
“Is she all right?” I ask, trying not to panic though the look on Lorna’s face tells me she, too, is worried.
“No . . . not really,” he says, frustration tugging at every word. “What’s going on?” I demand.
“Not now!” he snaps. “I can’t talk.”
Oh, no, no, no. He did not just say that. And so emphatically, like I’m bothering him. “Oh, you’re going to talk,” I say. “You’re going to tell me right now what’s happening.” Only then do I hear the raggedness of his breath.
“We’re on the plane,” he begins. “There was a fight, and she punched one of her dancers in the face . . . it’s serious.”
What? She hit someone? My mind can’t quite assemble the pieces of Eddie’s story, but I know anything less than “Demi just killed herself” is welcome news. I look at Lorna and mouth, “She’s okay.” “Eddie, don’t worry,” I say a bit too optimistically. “We can deal with this.”
The silence on the other end of the phone isn’t exactly golden.
The truth is I’m rattled to the core but relieved, too. Demi isn’t dead, and that’s enough to convince me that we’ll work the matter out as a family. After all, that’s what we always do. But I can already feel the weight of everything I’ve tried to hold together slipping from my grasp. I wonder if we’ve waited too long to realize the extent of our problems.
“This Hollywood dream isn’t going so well,” I finally confess to Lorna. “We’re all having a hard time.”
Once I start shedding my secrets, I can’t seem to stop.
“The past few months have been hell. No one in my family knows, but Dallas just got out of rehab. She’s struggling with feeling inadequate and ignored because of her sisters’ successes, and Madison is being bullied on the Internet about her weight, which according to the press, is all my fault.” I pause, twisting the tissue in my hands. “But it’s Demi I’m most worried about. She battles depression a lot . . . and I’m pretty sure all those parties she goes to are full of drugs and alcohol.”
Lorna has the kindest look on her face, which suddenly confuses me.
“What am I supposed to do, Lorna? My family means everything to me. All I’ve ever wanted to do is help them; yet, I feel guilty nearly every waking hour because I don’t know how to do that anymore.”
With each admission, my perfect world begins to crumble. None of it is pretty, but hearing my own voice acknowledge our family’s problems releases the knot wedged below my rib cage.
“Dianna, you’ve always put your children first,” Lorna offers, but I shake my head.
I can no longer ignore that our family needs help, especially Demi, who is rail thin, exhausted, and in a very dark place. This latest crisis means that all of our previous attempts to help her—cutting back on her schedule, hiring life coaches, pep talks, and punishments—were nothing more than Band-Aids on a very serious wound. Now, it’s time for surgery. But as the doubts and questions about what we can do begin to multiply, I start wailing like a baby.
Lorna watches as I pace back and forth, raving like a lunatic. “What did I do wrong? . . . How could this happen? . . . Doesn’t Demi know how much we love and support her?” Then my mind does a U-turn. “Why did she hit someone? . . . Did that girl provoke Demi?” Exhausted, I mumble that Demi’s career is probably over.
Lorna jumps up and grabs my shoulders. “Good Lord, Dianna! Everything is going to be fine. You’ve still got her! She’s alive—everything else will fix itself.”
Her words sting my heart, making me even more emotional. Five years earlier, Lorna had lost her own son, Trenton, in a Halloween prank that went terribly wrong. The tragedy was hard on us, too, because Trenton was like a brother to my girls. That’s when it hits me—Lorna never had a chance to save him. We, at least, have a fighting chance to turn things around.
“We will be okay,” I tell Lorna, trying to sound strong. “We will work this out.”
But as I head toward my bedroom, one labored step after another, I know without a doubt that the magic is gone. There will be no happily-ever-after ending for our Hollywood success story, no magic wand to erase the mistakes. It will take more than faith to turn our lives around, but I know it’s where I need to start. “Dear God,” I whisper, “send us the help we need.”
It’s a simple, heartfelt prayer. Though I mean every word, I have no idea how long or how hard each of us will have to work to turn our lives around. Nor can I comprehend the emotional layers beneath our troubles or my own deteriorating mental health that is woven into our family’s issues. Only one thing is certain—I won’t be attending that thirtieth high school reunion that seemed so important a few hours ago. It’s time to start a new chapter in our lives. Our family’s survival depends upon it.