By Steve Raymond
News Report Staff
Last year, Corey Blair enjoyed a traditional Thanksgiving dinner – turkey, dressing and all the trimmings.
In fact, he helped prepare some of it.
But the meal was the only traditional part of that holiday.
He was 1,200 miles away from home and ate his meal with about 80 other people – none of which were family.
At that time, he was a resident of Faith Farm in Okeechobee, Florida, in the process of recovering from alcohol and drug addiction.
Corey, the son of Donnie and Tonya Blair, of rural Mason, began drinking when he was 12 years old. It only escalated through the years, and by the time he was 18, he was also involved with drugs.
The alcohol also caused other problems. He was involved in numerous 4-wheeler and vehicle accidents, received numerous DUI charges and was charged twice with domestic battery and once for aggravated battery.
Corey spent ample time in jail and served two years in prison in Taylorville.
“As I got older, I was mean when I got drunk,” Corey admitted. “Life for me was very tough and I drank to forget. I was out of control.”
By the time Corey graduated from Effingham High School in 2001, he was a functioning alcoholic.
“I could still live my life,” he said. “I had a job and paid my bills. I couldn’t live without the alcohol, but I could still live.
“I tried to keep it under control and had spurts of success,” Corey recalled. “But I was wrapped up in a party lifestyle, and the more times you screw up, the more you carry on your shoulders. I’m a stubborn person, but it finally broke me.”
That came in April 2016 after he was arrested with a .42 blood alcohol level (.08 is the legal limit).
“I should have died right there,” Corey said. “I finally reached a point I had to make it or break it. I was told I laid on a concrete floor for three days and didn’t move. I don’t remember any of it. I was that out of it.”
That was followed by two to three weeks of detoxification in the Effingham County Jail.
“I was so sick,” Corey explained. “I couldn’t eat; I couldn’t even keep water down. I had the sweats and my whole body was shaking. It was the worst thing I had ever experienced. It was terrible.”
Thankfully, that’s not where Corey’s story ends. In fact, that actually turned out to be the beginning.
With the love and support of his family, assistance from the legal system, a rededication to his faith, the recovery program at Faith Farm and the determination of Corey himself, this story took an abrupt about-face.
It is now one of hope and admiration. It is a story of a man now employed and enjoying a deeper relationship with his 12-year-old son. It’s a story of a man that trusts God and is looking forward to the future.
It’s a story of Thanksgiving.
But Corey has experienced some dark days in his journey.
“I had a good upbringing; good parents. I was raised in the church,” he remembered. “But I started drinking beer when I was younger and everything got slowly, but progressively, worse from there. I developed a party lifestyle from a very young age.”
He then got involved with drugs, mostly opiates or painkillers.
“But as my drinking became more of an issue, I tried just about any drugs imaginable,” Corey added. “I did meth, heroine, everything. I was still working 10-12 hours a day and then I’d party 4-6 hours at night. I’m lucky to be alive.”
But things started to change after he was arrested that final time. Tyrone Harvey, a local man that worked with people with addictions, visited Corey in the jail. He told him about Faith Farm and how it could help.
“I told him he was nuts,” Corey said. “Effingham County didn’t do furloughs for that type of stuff. I didn’t think there was any way they would release me to go there. But I started praying and asked God for help. I just knew this was my last chance.”
With the help of Judge Kim Koester and State’s Attorney Bryan Kibler, that opportunity was made available.
“I can’t say enough about Judge Koester. She’s great,” Corey said. “There were a lot of people that didn’t want me to be released, but Judge Koester and Bryan Kibler made it happen.”
On May 27, 2016, Corey checked into Faith Farm, a faith-based life recovery program. There are 65 to 80 people there at a time, ranging in age from 18 to 80 years old, and all struggling with some form of addition.
The name accurately reflects the operation. The ministry, which began in 1951, is a 1,200-acre farm that raises cattle and grows oranges. There are also dormitories, staff homes and a church on the campus.
“God got me in there,” Corey emphasized. “People that commit battery are not normally considered. But a man named Micha told me they felt like I needed to be there. It was the perfect set-up for me.”
Everyone is assigned jobs and works 40+ hours each week. Corey worked with the cattle, worked the delivery truck and also helped in the kitchen. Residents were not permitted to leave the campus and very little communication from the outside was allowed. Corey could have one eight-hour visitation session per month.
In addition, he attended classes Monday through Thursday and church twice each week. The classes included information about drugs and alcohol; parenting; anger management; marriage; the role of a father; and a foundation in Christ.
It was a much different life than Corey was accustomed to. And he admitted it took a while for him to adjust.
“Things weren’t changing at first,” he recalled. “I still had that party mindset and the desire for alcohol and drugs was still there. It took quite some time.
“But then I rededicated my life to the Lord and my life finally started falling into place,” Corey added. “My desires changed. My wants changed. And my plans changed. Rick Aspden, the director of Faith Farm, was the pivotal person for all that.”
In March 2017, after 10 months, Corey was discharged and headed home.
“They told me I had reached my full potential,” Corey said.
Corey has been home about eight months. He is employed as a machine operator at Stevens Industries in Teutopolis.
“There are still things I need to work on,” he noted. “Once in a while, still today, the temptation to drink is there. But the desire is not.”
Corey has been drug and alcohol free for 19 months “and I’m not willing to take a chance. I’ve put too much work into my life. I don’t want to return to those bad habits.”
Corey is also trying to be more of a father to his son, Cody, who is a seventh grader at North Clay.
He also hopes to have his driver’s license in a couple weeks. Corey hasn’t been allowed to drive for 13 years.
And, he is starting a new program – Celebrate Recovery – for anyone with “habits, hurts and hang-ups. This includes people that have been abused in any way – mentally, physical or sexually; or who have addictions of any kind.”
Corey and Tammy Leonard will guide the class that includes a 12-step program, which Corey learned while at Faith Farm.
The first meeting of Celebrate Recovery is scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 30. It will begin at 6:30 p.m. at The Journey, which is located inside Village Square Mall in Effingham.
Corey already knows some people that will attend and is optimistic about the program. He said a similar program at the Cowden-Herrick Christ Tabernacle draws between 80 and 100 for their sessions.
He stressed that everything discussed during the sessions is confidential.
The future appears bright for Corey.
“When I first got home, some of my old friends called and wanted to get together. But they were only interested in tempting me,” Corey said. “I told them things were not what they used to be. I found out that people that are miserable want you to be miserable with them. Misery loves company is a true statement. It’s not easy to let friends go, but if I was going to stay sober, I had to do it.”
This Thanksgiving will be much different.
A year ago, he started cooking at 4 a.m. and helped prepare food for more than 100 people at Faith Farm.
This year, Corey and his family will be at the home of his sister, April Higgs.
“But I won’t be cooking,” he quickly pointed out. “I’m going to sit back and enjoy my first holiday home with my family.”