Guiding women to their own personal comeback
By Lisa Ferguson
Photo & Make Up: Bradford Rogne LA Photography
Elle Swan’s personal tale of triumph over tragedy is a real life comeback movie.
A hopeful little girl, born and raised in Detroit, she graduated from Oberlin College in 1992. With her degree in one hand and her dreams in the other, she headed to New York to work as a music journalist. Everything was going according to her plan until two years later when she received the call that her father had been found dead. His body had been decomposing for three days.
“I just went into this infinite sadness inside myself,” recalled Swan. Feeling like she couldn’t get out, self-destruction followed. Overeating, drinking to excess and using drugs polluted all her ambition. “I was just getting through life, just getting through the day,” Swan said.
Later, in the midst of a deep depression, Swan ended up living on the streets. “The pain and agony of two years out there as a single woman,” she said, choking up while sharing the memory, “It’s horrible when it starts to rain and you don’t know where you’re gonna go.”
By May of 2000 she had made her way to Southern California, where she lived in an abandoned van and overdosed on drugs. During a near death experience she received what she calls “clarity of choice.” The following day Swan entered a rehabilitation center, where she stayed for nine months while successfully kicking her addictions.
Despite the great pain, anguish and misery that accompanied her detoxing experience, she was able to turn her life around. “I stopped drinking and I changed my diet all at the same time, and that is what caused the addiction to go away and it also caused the weight to go away, all 67 extra pounds of it,” explained Swan, “We think we’ve got to let one of these (addictions) go at a time, but we actually have the power that is within us to choose… you will be amazed at what you can do.”
Fast-forward 12 years: Swan is now a successful Inspirational Speaker, Life Coach, Author and fitness enthusiast living in Las Vegas. She presents her empowering messages during speaking engagements to groups around the world. “My message is larger than overcoming addiction. I teach women how to make a comeback and live more exciting lives.
Swan is a fixture on Las Vegas daytime television news and talk shows, and has been a guest on several national programs including “The Dr. Oz Show.” Her company, Swansense International, is in pre-production for her own TV show, which is projected to begin airing summer/fall 2013.
On her website, elleswan.com, she promotes the keys to living an “Elle-evated life” (a term she coined) via teleseminars in which she shares the decade’s worth of research she has amassed as a Life Coach. It is also home to Club e, a membership-based online coaching program through which Swan helps women reinvent the three most crucial areas of their lives—health, wealth and love.
“When I was living on the street, I recognized that what was really keeping me out there was that I had none of these elements in my life,” said Swan, “My health was in shambles. No one knew where I was. I had no love, and I was as poor as a church mouse. I never knew where I was going to get my next meal.”
“When I got sober and I started putting things together, I started asking myself ‘what are the three things that I need to rebuild my life … in a way that would make it better than anything I had before?’” Each day, she says she asks herself, “What have I done for my health today? What did I do for my wealth, in other words, how have I invested in myself? And what have I done to demonstrate that I love myself and the people around me?”
According to Swan, these questions are applicable to all women. “That’s what everyone wants. They want to be loved, they want to have abundance, to be able to take care of themselves, and they want to be healthy so they can enjoy it all,” she said.
A key component of living an “Elle-evated life” is for women to live in their power—the part of oneself “that knows it’s limitless; that knows you’re capable of anything,” explained Swan, Otherwise, “you’re left prey to all of the other (negative) voices that you hear throughout the day, or all of the voices that you’ve heard throughout your life.”
“If you’re constantly avoiding the fact that you need to lose 30 pounds; avoiding the fact that you’re in a loveless marriage; avoiding the fact that you’re secretly playing slot machines … when you know you should be going back to school—all of those messages are going to contribute to the negative behaviors that you’re participating in, and that becomes your new self-dialogue,” she said.
To eliminate negative self-talk she teaches women to take “Elle-evated” action every day. Such actions can be as simple as wearing perfume to bed or as extreme as skydiving, which Swan did to celebrate her 40th birthday.
The idea is to continue to step out of your comfort zone and explore more. “Yes, I’m sober. Yes, I lost the weight. Yes, I rebuilt my life. But that was only the beginning. Once you stop growing you start dying.”
Recently, she accepted the inner call to learn how to ride a motorcycle. It turned out to be more difficult than she had anticipated. After crashing the bike into a wall during her first lesson, Swan was kicked out of the class.
“I walked off the track with tears rolling down my face, and for a moment, I felt like I was defeated,” she recalled. Undeterred, she returned to class a few days later and this time passed with flying colors. “I trusted my inner voice about being able to do this, even though the instructor didn’t think I could do it.” she said.
“I think that falling and getting back up literally reflects pushing yourself and doing something different that introduces you to more of your personal power. By facing my fear of the bike, I was able to be cast as the only female rider in a movie shot in the Himalayas just six weeks after taking that first lesson.”
“Women have this extra sense that we have been given and it’s guiding us. … It is taking us to where we will find our best happiness, our highest “Elle-evation”, so to speak. Because (women) are emotional and emotions are fluid; that means that we should allow ourselves to grow in ways that may not look logical and may be scary, but ultimately will be fulfilling,” she explained.
“Take a look at how you are feeling right now. Take a look at the monotony in your life. Take a look at the boredom that you’re experiencing, the loneliness, and the emotions that are causing you to smoke, take pills, or overeat. … You are doing all of those things because you are not giving yourself permission to grow; to do what you are naturally born to do,” she said.
Swan says monotony is often the root cause of pain. “People think it’s their job, it’s the economy, my husband left, my teenagers are driving me crazy, and that isn’t it. We are going against our natural inclination—emotionally, physically and spiritually—to GROW. It is unnatural not to grow. It is unnatural not to have a fresh start. … You have to give yourself permission to stop doing the same things every day,” she said.
Swan thinks to make a fresh start one must first lay aside what you think you know. “How about learning a new idea … something different than you’ve already done? Doing this will warm up your mental muscles and allow you to bring new experiences into your life. Begin with something small, like changing your morning routine. When you put your clothes on, if you (usually) put your pants on before your shirt, put your shirt on (first). Do small, contrary actions all throughout the day. This will loosen up your mind and break your boring patterns,” she said.
It’s not enough for women to merely talk about making changes in their lives. “I always say action kills fear. When you take action in your life the fear goes away and when you stand up for yourself the negative self-talk goes away,” she said.
Swan also extols the virtues of exercise for its ability to get the body into shape, and also the mind. She promotes yoga and demonstrates techniques on her e-Yoga DVD. It is available for purchase, along with her books, on her website www.elleswan.com.
“Happiness is completely impossible without being healthy,” said Swan, “We’ve made fitness optional and that is what has caused this preponderance of depression in America. The truth is, the body was made to move. When you take movement out of your life, you create stagnation.”
“This isn’t about exercising because the doctor told me I need to lose 10 pounds. This is about optimizing life. … It’s not about getting fit to become a certain (dress) size, it’s about living fully,” she said.
A fresh start can also be made during this holiday season, according to Swan, for those willing to toss out the turkey, trash the Christmas tree and banish other traditional holiday happenings from their lives. “Women are mired in tradition, and it is killing them,” Swan said.
This year, she suggests, “Don’t do what you’ve always done. Don’t have the family gathering. Don’t be inside of a house.” Instead, “Let’s break tradition. What would it be like not to buy a tree? What would it be like to volunteer on Christmas Day? … When you make new choices, you excite your brain, you become inspired.”
What inspires Swan each day is the deep, cellular gratitude she feels to be alive and free of the bondage of her former thinking which led to her addictions.
“It’s the gratitude that really motivates me, and that’s what I really try to show women on a daily basis—that (life) is something we should be celebrating, not just dragging through, dying every day just a little bit more than the day before,” said Swan, “We should be living every day just a little more fully than we lived the day before.”
Along with being an inspirational speaker, life coach, author and fitness enthusiast, Elle Swan is the owner of Swansense International. For more information, visit elleswan.com