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A Phoenix Rising

By Claire Ashman All Rights Reserved ©

Drama / Other


Claire Ashman Cult Survivor & free thinking driver Claire Ashman, born, raised, and birthed 9 children in a cult, shares how the prevalence of cults and cult-like thinking affects everyday people--even your neighbors who may have just popped into a few personal development meet-ups. Her upcoming autobiography “A Phoenix Rising” focuses on her cult experiences. She shares awakening for cult-member’s friends, colleagues and family members to recognize the signs and be present to support upon exiting. Ashman now happily married, of her own free will, to her supportive husband Mark raising their 10 kids together. By day she motivates women to take control of their own lives, by night she drives people to free thinking in her Uber. She powers herself up with Crossfit, coffee curation and patchwork quilting.

Eviction From Australia's Biggest Doomsday Cult

Eviction from Australia’s Biggest Doomsday Cult

It was a sunny but cool winter morning in early August 2006 when I looked up through the kitchen window to see a police car make its’ way slowly up the driveway. I did a quick mental check to see if I could remember any incident that might require a police visit. Nope. Nothing came to mind. My curiosity was piqued yet I was strangely at peace. My husband was hiding away in his “office” on the computer, this had become common practice in recent years in a vain attempt to hide his gambling addiction. As I knew he would have seen the police car, I called for him to join me in greeting the officers. There was no answer. I wasn’t surprised, Tony had the art of ignoring me down to a fine art these days. I went on to answer the door and hoped he would at least show his face. The older of the two officers cheerfully greeted me and introduced himself as the local Sheriff. Then he went on to tell me he had papers to hand to us as occupants of the house. I had no idea what kind of papers these were, full of legal jargon that was too much for my mind to take in. I needn’t have worried, the Sheriff very kindly explained to me that cult leader whose property we were living on, had failed to make the necessary mortgage repayments so the house and property was being repossessed. We had 12 days to get out. I was relieved but scared and nervous at the same time. My 8 kids and I had wanted to move for ages now and I’d had been on the lookout for any opportunity but certainly not expecting it to appear in this form! I thanked the Sherriff from the bottom of my heart, explaining that my children and I were grabbing this opportunity with both hands and certainly wouldn’t be causing him any problems. He so kindly gave me tips on finding emergency housing if I couldn’t find something to rent in time. After both the officers left I took the papers in to show Tony who was nonchalant and pushed them aside. He had overheard the conversation through the open door and was, as usual, ignoring anything that he considered “negative” or in any way, interfering with the perfect world inside his head. As for me I was so nervous and although had no idea where to start or what to begin doing, I thought the best thing to begin with was cleaning, anywhere, anything. Just to be busy as that helped me think and plan. My mind spewed forth thoughts at a rate of knots as my hands busily flew about cleaning. I’d never actually looked for and applied for a rental house by myself. I had no idea how to even fill out the forms! To me that was only a small hiccup, I was not going to let this chance of moving out of this hell hole, pass me by. By hook or by crook, the kids and I would be finally free in 12 days.

Some 6 months before I’d had an overwhelming urge to ruthlessly purge our house of everything unnecessary, much to my husband’s disgust. By unnecessary I mean a massive number of bags that contained second hand clothes that were to be used by our own children and possibly others during the End Days of the World. In addition to tinned food that was beyond its’ use by date and anything else around the house that was so old fashioned it would never have a use. I’d had a gutful of living in a cult and couldn’t wait to leave.

When the kids arrived home from school that afternoon, I told them we’d had a visitor. “Who was it?” they eagerly asked me. When I told them about the Sheriff’s visit they were so excited and happy! My three teenagers high fived each other then turned to me and said, “Mum, just let us have next week off school. When you explain the situation, the school will understand. We will mind the younger ones and organise packing everything up. You just go get a load of boxes and look for houses. Everything will be fine.” Wow! Here was I with 8 kids, 16 years and under. Feeling more supported by them than my husband of 17 years. Later that night I rang Tony’s employer, an old family friend and told him everything. He was very helpful in offering to write a rental reference for me, then instructed me to send Tony down to him and he would get Tony working so he would be out of my way. Scottie had known my family and Tony for years so understood that Tony wasn’t, and wouldn’t, cope well with the changes about to come about. It would be much easier for me that Tony be out of my hair so I was free to do what I needed to. The weekend was extremely busy but the children and I were so happy to be finally moving that we powered through quite a bit of sorting and packing. I scoured the only available paper for houses to rent, looking at prices and possible areas to move to. Tony was like a stone cold, silent statue the whole weekend. Absolutely refusing to believe that the move would actually go ahead and refusing to talk about it. He totally believed there would be last minute miracle to stop the eviction. I just let him believe whatever fairy tales were in his head and went on working around him. I passed on Scottie’s message that he was needed in Goulburn on Monday and sighed with relief when he agreed to go.

Mid Sunday afternoon I was surprised to hear a knock at my door, I certainly wasn’t expecting anyone. My popularity within the cult had plummeted due to persistently asking questions, so surely it couldn’t be one of them. I opened the door to see a lovely lady on the other side, who immediately introduced herself as Margie, wife of Peter, a local engineer. I knew of Peter only by name, Tony had done some work for him over the past couple of years. In listening to the children’s school chatter I had discovered that my eldest son was in the same grade as their daughter at school. Whilst the Tony and Peter chatted outside Margie came to talk to me. She told me that Tony had visited Peter and told him about our upcoming eviction. So she decided to come introduce herself and offer to help in whatever way she could. She’d cleared her diary and was ready to accompany me the next day. What an absolute lifesaver! As she’d lived in Nowra for quite a number of years she knew various people in town who would probably be able to help me out. I was a bit shell-shocked as I’d not ever had help like this. A friendly stranger just swooping in to help me find a house, Wow!

Meanwhile the kids had made short work of our meagre belongings. Most of our possessions were second hand clothes and old-fashioned items saved for the “End Days” so the kids and I were brutal in disposing of junk we had no need of, ever again. We definitely had no intention of keeping any depressing reminders. We had created 3 piles – keep, thrift shop and rubbish, the latter being the biggest pile. Oh my God, it felt so good to rid us of all this negativity and shite! As I took complete charge of everything, Tony was just like a lost puppy, a nuisance underneath my feet. I couldn’t wait for Monday morning when he would be gone.

One thing that I did need help with though was to empty several 44 gallon drums that were full of grains, sitting in an enclosed area of the veranda. It had been Tony’s grand idea to buy and store wheat, rye, corn and barley as part of the food storing exercise. A few times a week I would bake fresh bread using a variety of these grains but there were still at least 6 drums full and they had to be emptied before we moved. Tony was very disappointed but quite frankly I was glad to see the back of them.

Tony left for Goulburn early Monday morning so I was finally free to get organised. My first stop was to see the principal of the children’s school to explain the situation to him. Many of the teachers at the school already knew about the cult and that we were living there. They had been extremely helpful and understanding in helping the children to adjust. The principal quietly listened to what I had to say, then asked if there was anything anyone at the school could do to help. When I told him that there wasn’t right now, he asked me to join him in prayer. Being brought up strictly Catholic, I’d not been exposed to this new way of praying. Bowing one’s head and just simply speaking to God from the heart, asking for exactly what was needed and knowing that it would be provided. I sat there with my youngest son on my knees listening to the heartfelt prayer from this man. Tears pooled in my eyes. I’d been a born and bred Catholic since my childhood with all the harsh practices literally drummed into me. But never, ever had I experienced this simple generosity; this was real charity with no strings attached. My wounded and tired spirit could certainly do with more of this.

Next on my list was to accompany Margie to look for houses. What a rock! She asked all the right questions and helped to make decisions about whether this or that house was suitable. I honestly couldn’t have done it without her. I was exhausted by the day’s end but so, so grateful for the help that I’d been given thus far. It turned out to be a very busy week, burning the candle at both ends as I was not only looking for and applying for houses but also organising packing at home and trying to scale everything down. I didn’t realise how much rubbish we’d accumulated in this effort of surviving for the “End Times”.

Over the course of the week I looked at and applied for several houses but hadn’t heard anything back from the agents yet. Inbetween I was busy overseeing things at home, packing and sorting our things. The pile of boxes grew quickly as we stacked them in the garage. Although the kids and I felt tired, we were excited at what this mew turn of events would bring about.

Before I knew it, Friday had rolled around again and Tony was due home. I could feel a blanket of gloom fall over the house, I just wished he would stay away so we could continue our packing in peace. He was his usual silent, depressed self when he arrived home and immediately took himself off to his corner office to gamble. I didn’t bother trying to update him on anything, he wasn’t interested anyway. By Sunday afternoon however, I caught him looking at the rental section of the local newspaper and asked him what he was doing. All of a sudden it had dawned on him that a miracle just might not happen after all so he was checking to see what was around. My heart sank when he suggested a few houses, they were way out the other side of town, only 3 bedroom and one bathroom. As long as the rent was cheap, he didn’t care if we were all squished or not. I immediately put my foot down, there was no way in hell I was entertaining anything less than a decent sized house for us all. I saw this as our chance to begin living a real life and I wasn’t going to have it jeopardised in any way. Obviously he disliked the fact that I was now making all the decisions so he retreated back to the comfort of his computer. He didn’t like a woman telling him what to do. The tables had turned. He was no longer the head of the house.

I had a lot on my mind. Despite applying for quite a few houses the week before I hadn’t been accepted by anyone yet. Close of business on the Friday night had been extremely stressful for me but I kept it to myself. I didn’t want to worry the kids. Nothing was open on Saturdays and as I couldn’t do anything on that front, I concentrated on purging the contents of the house further. I’d made up my mind, whether we had a house or not, I was going to be ready to move out.

Monday morning arrived and although I was extremely worried I kept an even keel for the kids as I didn’t want them to feel my stress, they had enough on their plate to deal with at their young age. I really didn’t have any idea of what exactly I should be doing but just knew I needed to do something to keep myself busy. Tony suddenly realised that we really did have to move and that all his hoping of a miracle was in vain. It would have been very helpful if he’d left for Goulburn, right now he was just a nuisance to have underfoot. Yes I’d still be anxious but strangely enough it was more “relaxing” to be stressed on my own than have him around. Monday was spent searching for more rentals but as the day moved on I become more wound up with worry. Would I find a house? What am I to do if I don’t find one in time? Late afternoon I rang an acquaintance who although she still lived in the community was also planning to move as soon as she could, to chat. She encouraged me to call the real estate to ask about a house I’d applied for the week before in Worrigee. As there was no answer in the early afternoon, I decide to call again just before closing time. The agent still didn’t have any news for me but told me she’d call right back. I slumped down on the step on the back room, alone, with my head in my hands. I was absolutely spent and felt a huge weight on my shoulders. We needed to be out by 11am Wednesday and it was now Monday evening. I was so stressed and worried I couldn’t even cry. I’d done everything I could to get us a house and was worried for my children. Finally… 5.29pm the phone rings and I answered instantly. It’s the agent and she informs me that my application had been accepted! Oh my God! A massive weight falls from shoulders but I don’t have the time, nor anyone, to share this moment with. We have a lot to accomplish before moving in. I sent a deeply grateful prayer out into the Universe. It’s going to be a rush though because I’m unable to sign the papers till Tuesday afternoon.

Later that night after everyone was in bed I spent some time thinking about the house I’d gotten for us. It was a former display home that hadn’t yet been lived in, the kids and I were so excited to move in! Fresh, new, double storey in a new housing estate, 2 bathrooms, beautiful new kitchen with a dishwasher, everything open, airy and full of natural light…such a change from the dark dingy house we’d lived in for almost 10 years. For the kids and I this house was the sheer luxury our weary spirits needed to recover. In addition to this, it was walking distance to their school making it much easier on me.

I found that Tuesday frustrating because although there was a lot to do, much of it hinged on actually moving in. Finally at 3pm I did something for the first time in my life, I signed the rental agreement. Little did I realise then, this would be the first of many “firsts” that I would perform over the next few years. Then the keys were actually in my hands but we couldn’t move anything till the next day. I was utterly exhausted, mentally, physically and emotionally. Bed was certainly welcoming with open arms that night!

Wednesday dawned bright and sunny, I was so glad it wasn’t raining. A couple of very busy hours had fled by when I looked through the window to see Margie, Peter and an unknown man, all with trailers coming to help. Margie introduced me to Brett, the assistant pastor at the kids school. The Sunday previously Margie had asked members of her church if anyone was able to help us move and Brett offered to help in any way that he could. It was such a busy morning but a happy one and great to see everyone working together, including the kids. I was anxious to have everything out of the house by 11am but as Tony had insisted on keeping so much junk that was in the shed it took much longer than expected. I didn’t realise the hours had passed so quickly till I saw the Sherriff’s car pull up. I immediately went over to greet him. After a bit of casual chit chat he kindly asked if we had everything out of the house so he could change the locks and paste up his notices. I told him to save himself some time and not to bother changing the locks. I was so happy to be out of there and gave him a handful keys. He told me as long as we had our stuff out of the house we could continue taking out things off the property till we’re finished.

Shortly after I took a quick look around and realise I’ve gotten all that I wanted, so set off happily with the last load to finally begin making the new house into a home. My eldest daughter had stayed at the new house from the first drop off and already had the house looking quite neat. It was so exciting to finally stand in the house and actually believe this was happening for real!

Later in the day Margie asked if she may arrange my pantry because she loves doing that sort of thing and I gladly accepted! She disappeared for longer than expected and when she finally appeared, she had a boot load of groceries to fill my pantry with. I couldn’t believe it, Christians who actually practice what they preach!!! In all the years I was in the cult never did I experience anything like this. There were other people who arrived with meals for us. I was to later discover that Margie had rallied the troops from the school community, telling them of my plight. I’m in awe of this behaviour! I cannot thank them adequately enough. Their kindness melts my heart and brings tears to my eyes.

This is a long way away from a cult that constantly thought the end of the world was on the way. Added to that it was a den of adultery; ultra-religious compound whose leader had a penchant for underage girls. I’d felt like a prisoner. Not only within a cult with strict strange rules but a prisoner who couldn’t escape my home life. An emotionally and mentally abusive husband who didn’t want anything from his wife except someone to bring children into the world; build a home; bring the children up; make the meals; not have a life of her own; who shouldn’t have an opinion of her own; whilst he did nothing.

My childhood in country Victoria with a strict religious upbringing had brought me to this point in my life. So much had happened in my life and so much has unfolded since. This is my story so far.......

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