When Linda and David Rosenberg dropped their daughter Melissa off at Trinity College in 2001, they drove home feeling excited about her future.
The school, located in Hartford, Connecticut, was Melissa’s top choice because of its studio arts program.
“Melissa was — she is — so talented,” Linda told TODAY Parents. “She can draw anything.”
It didn’t cross Linda’s mind to have a “watch the partying” talk with her eldest child. Melissa had experimented with alcohol and marijuana in high school, but there weren’t any red flags, Linda said. She never came home stumbling after a night out with friends.
Then, Melissa discovered cocaine.
“She started doing it every day — even in the morning,” Linda revealed. At the time, Linda, a graphic designer, and David, a chiropractor, were in the dark about Melissa’s drug use. This was two decades ago, and the Rosenbergs, like many at the time, associated substance use with homelessness and poor decisions.
Linda said in retrospect, there were signs that something was amiss during Melissa's first semester.
“She started calling saying she ran out of money on her meal plan card. She was constantly asking us for money and always seemed to have a good reason," Linda said. “So I didn't question it."
Melissa kept her addiction largely hidden from her family during her time at Trinity. Linda noticed personality changes — her daughter was more disorganized and a little jittery — but stimulants weren’t on her radar.
“She was good at hiding. She was a functioning drug addict,” Linda explained. “And we had blinders on.”
That all changed when Melissa graduated and moved to New York City for a job. She was clubbing six nights a week, and ended up in a hospital with nose damage. When Linda spoke with the emergency room doctor, he explained that the damage was caused by prolonged cocaine abuse, but Melissa denied it. She always had an excuse.
Melissa started losing friends “left and right,” and kept getting kicked out of apartments. No one wanted to live with her. Finally, in 2007, Melissa moved home to Needham, Massachusetts. Things went downhill fast, Linda said. Melissa was not only using cocaine, but also Percocet, which contains the opioid painkiller Oxycodone.
Melissa started stealing from Linda and David to buy drugs. She also stole from employers. Sentimental jewelry, wads of cash from tip jars — nothing was off-limits.
Melissa’s brother, who is 11 years younger, was frightened of his sister. She was volatile and prone to outbursts.
“The police were always coming to the door looking for her,” Linda said. “It was very traumatic for him. He was embarrassed to have friends over. He saw us being terrorized.”
Linda and David were heartbroken.
"It was like we lost our brilliant, talented daughter," she said.
Melissa's sister, Cori Kaufman, 37, felt the same way.
“Pre-addiction, Melissa was one of the most intelligent humans I ever knew. I admired and looked up to her and aspired to be her," Kaufman told TODAY. "When she was using, I didn't recognize her. It was like talking to a stranger. She stopped making art. She stopped doing everything she loved. She lost sense of reality and a sense of who she was. For my own mental health, I had to stop speaking to her."
In 2007, the Rosenbergs spent $30,000 to send Melissa to six-week wilderness therapy program in Utah. Linda believed that Melissa would be cured. Instead, Melissa learned how to inject heroin.
“I was naive,” Linda said.
It was the first of 12 rehab stints.
The path to sobriety
As Melissa continued to spiral — she was found wandering naked down a road in the Hamptons — Linda got involved with Learn to Cope, a national addiction and recovery support network. It was there that Linda learned a life-changing lesson.
“Melissa wasn’t going to get clean until we got out of her way,” she said. “There’s nothing you can do.”
Linda pointed to the three Cs of Al-Anon: “I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it, I can’t cure it.” At Learn to Cope, they talk about the three C's a lot.
“I’m a fixer. I can fix pretty much anything,” Linda said. “I couldn’t fix this. I couldn’t fix Melissa.”
Ultimately, Melissa did it on her own. She had reached the end of the road. After three heroin overdoses, 11 detoxes and countless arrests and incarcerations, Melissa got clean at The Plymouth House in New Hampshire in the summer of 2018.
Melissa, now 39, celebrated four years of sobriety on July 18. Last month, she welcomed her first child, a boy named William, with her husband, Bill LaPorte, who she met at The Plymouth House. She now works as a drug and alcohol treatment counselor in Maine.
"For the first time in like 20 years, I feel like I have my sister back," Kaufman said. "But at the same time, I'm always a little nervous that something could set her off and she'll start using again. We went through a lot."
Linda speaks at various treatment centers and is a personal mentor at Learn to Cope, the same organization that supported her at the height of Melissa’s addiction. She encourages parents of children with opioid addictions to carry Narcan, a potentially lifesaving medication designed to help reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, with them at all times.
She also urges parents to read up on the places kids conceal drugs, such as inside false bottom containers designed to look like everyday objects such as soda cans and flashlights.
Linda couldn’t be more proud of how far Melissa has come. The same kid who used to text her for drug money is now inundating her with questions about newborns and breastfeeding.
“I never gave up on her,” Linda told TODAY. “Someone once said, ‘There’s a 2% chance she’ll find recovery.’ Well, I just held onto that 2%.”