With a physical illness or injury, when the pain is evident, it’s understood that healing takes time. No one is going to ask you to run a 5K with a broken leg, but sometimes, getting through daily life with a broken heart can be just as painful. We don’t have as developed a playbook for our emotional pain, but it may be time to start writing one, and my first contribution is that the deeper the injury, the longer the recovery time. This applies even more so to emotional trauma, and I learned this lesson with a little help from some new friends.

In the span of 18 months, my husband was in a nearly fatal car crash, and I suffered a miscarriage in my second trimester. Judaism teaches us that we were made for connection These hardships knocked me sideways, subjecting me to a dizzying blur as the rest of the world kept right on going. I had a baby to care for, insurance calls to make, work to complete ... I am fortunate to have caring family and friends who helped out in whatever way they could, but at my core, I felt deeply alone. I had to keep the balls of daily life in the air, so I pushed pause on my pain and didn’t allow myself to process it. After several months had passed—and thank G‑d, my husband was home and my body had healed—I was puzzled by a lingering sadness. I felt like I should have been able to move forward, but was not successful in doing so.

Thankfully, recovery arrived in a way I wasn’t expecting. I knew a woman from my synagogue in Chicago. She runs a Jewish women’s healing retreat in Florida and asked me if I would help with the phone registration in exchange for a percentage of the profits being donated to my own nonprofit organization. I readily agreed, but did not have any intention of attending the retreat myself. To be honest, it didn’t sound like my thing. I’m all about healing (I have attended therapy for years), but have always considered it a private affair.

I enjoyed hearing what the women hoped to gain from the retreat, but I still wasn’t counting myself among the participants. Nevertheless, after the organizer asked “and you’ll come?” for the fourth time, I relented. After all, a few days in the Florida sun couldn’t hurt. I figured I would mostly be an observer, but tried to keep an open mind. As I rounded up the women at the airport, I noticed that the group included a diverse spread of ages, stages and backgrounds.

As each woman gradually opened up and we began to connect to our essential selves, I realized that I was not only there to witness the healing of others, but to admit that I needed healing, too. While each woman had her own challenges that she was facing, I identified two common themes: not being able to forgive oneself for imperfections and feeling alone in one’s struggles.

Despite the fact that no one is perfect, we seem determined to be—constantly worrying about how we measure up. It’s a losing battle comparing ourselves to others, but there is a more subtle danger in comparing our current self to a former self. We expect ourselves to perform at our highest level regardless of our circumstances, and this expectation is unrealistic. This is illustrated clearly with our forefather Jacob, whose name is later changed to Israel. Generally, when a name change took place in the Torah, the former name was never used again. However, we see Jacob referred to as such later on, after the renaming. The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains1 that even though Jacob earned the name Israel after “fighting with G‑d and men,” and arising victorious, he faced hardships later in his life that required him to struggle as he had before. This teaches us that we don’t just We don’t just reach a pinnacle in lifereach a pinnacle in life and voilà, we’ve arrived! Life is full of ups and downs, and while we hopefully enjoy many moments that spring forth from victory, we can expect that our time will not be without struggles. The amazing news is, we don’t have to struggle alone.

And speaking of being alone, you are not (in case you needed to hear that). My pain was heavily compounded by feeling like no one else knew what I was going through or could possibly understand it, so I suffered in solitude. But Judaism teaches us that we were made for connection. G‑d gave us 613 mitzvot in the Torah. Mitzvah is commonly translated as “commandment” or “good deed,” but it can also be associated with the Aramaic root of tzavta, meaning “to connect.” Mitzvot are therefore connection rituals, meaning we were literally created to connect—to G‑d, to nature and to one another.

The beauty of the retreat is that it enabled me to escape the noise and chaos of daily life, sit in quiet and stillness, and finally hear the voice inside of me that had been drowned out for months. I took important steps towards accepting myself in my current state, and connected with 20 other beautiful, strong, compassionate and inspiring Jewish women, many of whom I am still in touch with today. Healing is a journey, and our most life-altering experiences can also be our most life-defining, whether positive or negative. A personal tragedy does not have to mark us for the rest of our future as a victim, but it will if we don’t learn how to move forwards as a victor.