“Looking back, I’m not proud of some of the choices I made or the chances I took, but growing up doesn’t come with a handbook. Learning to navigate the boundaries of my own limits, professionally, socially, and emotionally, was a bit like walking a tightrope. Sometimes I could balance the risks and rewards, and sometimes I tumbled in free fall, hoping to survive. By God’s grace, I did. But that didn’t mean my path was easy.”
I might be a bit biased when it comes to this book and this story, but I still found it to be incredibly honest and very interesting to read. Falling With Wings is the memoir of Dianna De La Garza, Demi Lovato’s mother. I’m biased because I know and love Demi Lovato like the air we breathe, which is why I wanted to read her mom’s memoir in the first place. But my interest was also peaked by the snapshots of memories Dianna shared in Demi’s YouTube documentary from last year, Demi Lovato: Simply Complicated. That documentary was ultimately Demi’s story, so her mother only got to share what pertained to her daughter’s life. But it turns out Dianna De La Garza has had quite the storied life herself, and it’s certainly no mystery how her daughters ended up with a multitude of struggles as young adults, given that their mother didn’t admit or deal with her own load of struggles until much later in life.
Falling With Wings is split into multiple parts that chronicle Dianna’s entire life up until the present, starting from her upbringing in Texas. I was worried that I might get bored with some of her anecdotes before she started discussing Demi and her children, but that was not the case whatsoever. The stories and anecdotes she shares in those chapters are brief but effective, and really set the stage for events that will take place much later in the book. She explains how her parents had many children very young and were very conservative and very religious, so much so that Dianna was not allowed to wear pants (only skirts for girls) and absolutely no makeup. Discovering she had a gift for singing (her family even sang in a gospel group at their church for several years), she wanted to accept an gig to perform with Six Flags amusement parks and when her parents refused (mostly because it would mean she would have to miss church), she left home as a teenager to pursue her dream. It led to years of unresolved tension with her parents and Dianna explained in quite a prophetic ending to one chapter that if she ever had a child who wanted to pursue a dream, she would do anything and everything to help them achieve it.
Dianna tried for years to make it as a country music artist, performing in bands and as an opening act for a few big names for many years, but nothing seemed to fully materialize. Around this time she met Patrick Lovato, whom she would quickly marry only to later realize how unstable he was, but the leap from relationship to marriage doesn’t seem all that unexpected given how unstable Dianna had been for most of her life—other than rebelling against her parents and leaving home, she developed anorexia at a young age to gain a sense of control in her strict upbringing. She then began drinking heavily as a young adult and experimenting with drugs (including cocaine), but says that she could somehow draw the line where Patrick could not. She does also acknowledge that while she never craved alcohol, she could never just stop at one when she did drink. The marriage between Dianna and Patrick was anything but calm—he could never hold down a job, and they constantly moved back and forth from Texas and New Mexico. Their first daughter Dallas arrived in 1988, followed by Demi in 1992. The marriage had long turned abusive by the time Demi arrived, and she even recounts one incident where Patrick slammed her hand in a door causing her to permanently lose part of her finger. Dianna was eventually able to escape the marriage with her daughters, but he still remained in and out of their lives for several years thereafter. She later met and remarried to Eddie De La Garza and had a third daughter, Madison, in 2001.
Part of what I find to be so honest and fulfilling about Falling With Wings is that Dianna never fails to acknowledge her shortcomings—she knows she dropped the ball and she knows she wasn’t perfect. She was in fact so obsessed with being perfect that it altered her own well-being for too long and she didn’t know how to properly ask for help. She acknowledges that because she didn’t even know how to accept her own struggles, such as her eating disorder or her depression, she didn’t know to pick up the warning signs in her own daughters or to think that she might be passing her own struggles onto her children. It also becomes very clear very fast that, like most “stage moms,” Dianna’s endless hard work into getting her children to become stars and be famous was obviously an indirect way for her to deal with her own depression, most probably caused by unresolved issues in her childhood and abusive first marriage. She says that she always told her kids that she wasn’t forcing them to go to auditions or attend acting and vocal lessons and that they could stop anytime, but I don’t believe that is entirely true—as much as striving for stardom became a coping mechanism for Dianna and her issues (she even admits that she thought her kids becoming stars would lead to a “fairy tale life” where all her problems would be solved), it clearly became a coping mechanism for her kids as well, since striving for stardom distracted them from their own unresolved issues from ages way too young.
But one thing Dianna never once thought would happen was that when Demi finally made her breakthrough with Disney Channel in 2008, their problems would only intensify and become harder to manage. Once Demi had become a full-blown teen star in high demand, the direction of her career was quickly taken out of Dianna’s hands and into the hands of a management team, something she came to heavily regret but ultimately could no longer control. She even thought that hiring a life coach would be the end of everyone’s problems when Demi had been discovered to have been cutting herself. Denial became a blissful place for Dianna to reside and it only made her rude awakening worse once Demi broke down in 2010, leaving her tour with the Jonas Brothers to enter treatment for physical and emotional issues. Even then, Dianna still couldn’t acknowledge her own struggles and held up a fake smile for her daughter until April 2011, when everything came to a head. Still heavily depressed, anxious, and addicted to Xanax, Dianna entered treatment herself and finally learned to discuss issues that had plagued her for most of her life, and the last few chapters of the book are dedicated to her own recovery. It almost seems as though the story told throughout Falling With Wings comes full circle by the end, given that it doesn’t seem hard to understand that Dianna didn’t know how to help her own daughters when she was 48 years old when she learned how to discuss her own. It’s also hardly surprising that she clearly wasn’t kept up to date with Demi’s circumstances by that point, given that she had completely surrendered herself to her own recovery. It becomes clear that she had obviously removed herself from her daughter’s recovery based on a very blaring error towards the end of the book, when she recalls Demi’s intervention. She says it was “a few days into 2014,” which is very wrong—the intervention in question would have taken place a few days into 2012, given the timeline of when Demi got sober the first time. It could have just been a simple typo that wasn’t noticed, but I think she really couldn’t recall the right year and it symbolizes how much she wasn’t able to focus on her daughter’s struggles anymore because she was too caught up in her own—which seems to be the overarching theme of Falling With Wings.
Overall a very interesting and powerful read that will open the eyes of any Demi Lovato fan or anyone who has ever followed a child star. I can only commend Dianna De La Garza for finding a way to share her story with the world in such an open and honest way. 5/5 stars.