He says he started drinking in college, when "you're young, you have a keg party, you drink at the game, it becomes fun, and then suddenly, as life goes on and you start having problems, you start saying, 'you know, maybe I need a drink."
Thomas says he always almost always drank at home, alone, and that as his problems grew, he saw himself drinking more frequently.
"I think when you're stressed, you — some people have a drink, some people do whatever they do, and once I saw that as becoming a crutch, you know, that had to be the end of it," he explains. "I did not have the luxury of all these problems. Who was going to pick me up if I fell? I couldn't have an alcohol problem. As my grandfather used to say, 'why make life worse for yourself' or as he would say, 'worser for yourself?' It's already bad, and I had to shed those burdens."
He also wrote in near excruciating detail about his financial problems, which persisted until he married Virginia in the late 1980s. He wrote in the book of unopened bills piling up, nearly being evicted from his apartment more than once, being forced to take out high-interest loans — and the humiliating experience of a rental car employee cutting up a credit card when he was on a trip out of town because the company had cancelled it.
"Finances were a chronic difficulty. I mean, remember, there was nobody to support me. From the time my grandfather put me out, I was on my own," Thomas says.
But it was only when he saw his grandfather's financial statements — which he had to produce when he was facing a confirmation hearing in the early 1980s — did he realize just how little money Anderson made.
"It made me even more angry to know he had worked that hard for so little — and that we'd all worked so hard for so little," Thomas says. "I was angry at everybody. I was just…a tinder. I was waiting for a match to be thrown. I mean, I was just a conflagration waiting to happen and any little thing would set me off, and that was just one more thing.
"You start out with that, and you constantly are digging this hole of debt to get through school, to get started in life, to buy a suit, to get enough gas in your car, to buy an old piece of car, to buy a tire," Thomas says. "So everything was deficit spending, and I wasn't the federal government — I couldn't print money. So you had to go out and earn it, and I didn't earn very much."
There was, he says, "no shoulder to the road" of his life. He talks with deep conviction and stirring poignancy of being alone, without a safety net if he fell.
"There was no margin for error in my life… I couldn't make a mistake, I couldn't become a drug addict, I couldn't have kids out of wedlock, I couldn't be arrested. I had to live life without any of those problems, because I didn't have the luxury of those problems," Thomas says. "Who was going to bail me out? Who was going to give me time to clean up my life? I didn't have it. It's similar with the debt. I had nobody who could supplement my income. I was on my own, and there was nobody to supplement my life."
He describes his life in vivid terms, analogizing it to a drive down the California coastal highway, forever conscious that he is perilously close to the cliff and the rocks below.
"There was no shoulder to my road of life. I had to stay on the road," he says. "If you could imagine that highway…along the California coast, where there's that steep drop off, that was my life.