Thirty years ago this week I pulled into a parking lot, shut off the car engine, put my head on the steering wheel and cried.

On paper, my life looked pretty good. I had a job, I was married, three kids, owned a home, perfectly normal. Except for one thing: I had a merciless drinking problem.

The reality of my life was the story of a small-town boy raised by God-fearing, non-drinking parents. I just didn't know about the broken branches on our family tree where drunks had plunged to unpleasant endings.

Drinking began early in my life. Much too early. We all wanted to grow up fast.

By high school we were seasoned on the sauce. It was part of our culture. Crown Royal and Canadian Club. Southern Comfort and Jack Daniel's.

Beer was abundant, but liquor was quicker.

We thought we were cool. There was no such thing as a DUI in those days.

Various disguises

In college I opened the faucets and let alcohol become the lifeblood of my existence. My intake was limited only by the availability of money and what I could shamelessly mooch off everybody else.

But I thought everybody drank that way, in excess, to extremes. So I slipped comfortably into the newspaper business, a safe harbor in the old days for poets en route to oblivion.

I never intended to be a drunk. It just came naturally. But we're not all the same. We come in various disguises.

Some are binge drinkers, who suddenly disappear for weeks at a time. Others are functioning alcoholics, who carefully walk the line between discovery and disaster. Then there are the closet drunks, the ones you never suspect because you never see them sober.

I was the kind without an off button. One was too many; a million wouldn't be enough. Once I started, I would drink until they quit making it, or I couldn't stand up, which ever came first.

Had enough

That afternoon in the parking lot, I finally got out of the car and walked into my first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

Fortunately, they're not that hard to find. The local number is 843-723-9633.

When I walked through that door that day I saw people like me, talking about what life was like then, and what it's like now.

I knew what they meant. Life as a drunk is a complicated, deceitful, disgusting, depreciating way of life. I'd had enough.

I walked up to the first person I came to, stuck out my hand and said, "Hello, my name is Ken. I'm an alcoholic."

That's why I'm alive today.

Reach Ken Burger at kburger@postandcourier.com or 937-5598 or follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Ken_Burger.