By Zuleyma Figueroa
“Good teacher.” This is how my students and their parents would describe me in the schools that I have worked in. I was a teacher for over 15 years in bilingual programs, K-12. I have always had a passion to teach and serve the children and youth in our community. Indeed, I was happy. I had a house, a nice car, wonderful teaching job, friends, family, and most of all I made my mother proud for having put my degree from higher education to work. My mother was my hero and my older brothers were great role models in my life. Even as I came out, revealing I was gay, I had a great deal of support from my parents and family.
It was winter 2007 when I met a woman that I fell in love with. We were happy and things were going well for a couple of years. Then I started to notice that my income from work was not enough to cover the life of luxury that my partner wanted. She began to invite people into our life and into our house, and suddenly there was a world that I never asked for. Reluctantly, I began to get involved in this lifestyle in a desperate attempt to keep my partner happy. Eventually I would succumb to her manipulation and eventually found out that she was heavily involved in a family drug dealing business. In retrospect, I now see how love can be so blind.
Gradually, I began to start selling drugs for money to keep my partner happy. I also started to have fear as she began controlling me by yelling and hitting me. She had also drilled in my mind, because of my standing, that I would never have consequences behind my actions. She also promised me that she would always have my back and the police would never suspect me. I believed her and did whatever she wanted. I ignored the realization that I was contributing to a drug problem in my community and was destroying people’s lives, including my own.
I also did not realize the degree of psychological manipulation that was being inflicted upon me and all the strategies and tactics in which she was controlling my life. She gave me constant reassurance that everything was going fine. Certainly, domestic violence can take many forms and it was not fully apparent to me at that time. I was completely brainwashed. After all, money did not seem to be much of a problem as she traveled back and forth to her family, buying expensive cars and have parties every weekend. Doing drugs was not the addiction, but selling drugs and getting money were. I lost my identity and I started to be very codependent of my partner. I stopped living my life and started living her life instead. I stopped seeing my family and friends too. The world that surrounded me belonged only to her.
Zuleyma’s story continues in an upcoming post - Chapter 2: Control and Abuse