The Addiction Nobody Will Talk About by Joshua Shea

In 2014, Joshua Shea was arrested on possession of sexually explicit material containing minors and for sexually exploiting a minor. Shea was a the founder of a popular lifestyle magazine, a founder of a large film festival in Maine, and a former member of the City Council of Auburn, Maine. Behind his professional success and his devoted wife and two children, Shea suffered from bipolar disorder and addictions to work, alcohol, and pornography, which eventually went too far.

“In rehab and jail, I met some of the most real people on earth, once they were willing to let down their guard and accept who they really were. They were never just an alcoholic or a porn addict. There was always a suitcase full of other issues happening, and addictions are just coping mechanisms to deal with sadness, anger and self-loathing, and fear. Toss in pre-existing mental conditions, and you’ve got a lit fuse that will eventually go off.”

I’ll admit to going into The Addiction Nobody Will Talk About with a lot of trepidation, and the crimes Shea was convicted of were only a very minor part of that. I’m not a fan of “addiction memoirs” at all. While I often enjoy stories about addiction, memoirs about it too often engage in propagandizing for the rehab industry as well as wallowing in cheap sentimentality. The fact this book is supposed to be about porn addiction didn’t help. While porn addiction obviously exists, anything that gives pleasure can be addicting, the people who speak about it tend to have a thinly veiled agenda.

Thankfully, none of that is a problem with Shea’s memoir. He avoids placing any blame on the wide availability of pornography or singing the praises of rehab and sticks with is own personal story. He also avoids writing melodramatically for the most part and tells his story in a straightforward manner. While the book claims to be about porn addiction, Shea focuses just as much on his addictions to alcohol and work and how they were all ways to cope with his bipolar disorder and pressures in his life.

Shea tells his story from when he launched Lewiston Auburn Magazine with his colleagues up until he was arrested and sentenced. He notes how his work created more pressure on him and in turn made him drink and look at porn more, creating a vicious cycle where his dependencies fed each other.

His increasing porn usage caused him to begin downloading videos of girls who were under 18, though he claims to have avoided looking at porn of prepubescent children. The exploitation charge came from using chat sites where he convinced girls to take off their clothes in front of their webcams while, unbeknownst to them, he recorded them. One of those girls ended up being underage. One could say he’s simply engaging in self-justification in detailing those things, but nothing I could find contradicts what Shea says here. It’s likely his sentence would have been much longer than nine months if police had found evidence of something more serious.

The biggest problem I had with this book is that I simply found it mostly unengaging. Shea spends a lot of time discussing the minutiae of running the magazine, organizing the film festival, selling ads, giving speeches for awards the magazine received, and his campaign for City Council. Some may find these details interesting, but I didn’t. The book is at its most interesting when Shea engages in introspection about his addictions and family problems. The rest just feels like padding to me. A large chunk could have been edited out and it would have been more focused and engaging.

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