11/06/2013 13:13 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 18:58 EST

Rob Ford: ‘My heart is breaking for him,’ says old friend

After yesterday's shocking admission from Toronto Mayor Rob Ford that he smoked crack cocaine, a woman who knew Ford during his high school years says she has been trying to reach out to the embattled mayor to seek treatment.

AnnMarie McCullough says she knew Ford in Etobicoke, On., when the two were in high school — Ford at Scarlett Heights Entrepreneurial Academy and McCullough at Michael Power/St. Joseph High School.

“My heart is breaking for him,” said McCullough in an interview with CBC Radio host Rick Cluff on The Early Edition.

“We’ve known each other for a very long time,” she says, “We weren’t very close friends but we definitely knew each other 20 years ago.”

McCullough, who has been in long term recovery herself for five years and now works for the Orchard Recover and Treatment Centre on Bowen Island, B.C.,  says as she watched the scandal around Ford develop over the last six months she became increasingly concerned.

“Right away I tried to reach out to him,” says McCullough

But her attempts did not succeed.

McCullough says everyone she contacted seemed guarded and protective of Ford, which she found disconcerting.

“It just shows me that people don’t understand addiction and a lot of people don’t know about recovery, and I would have loved to have shared my story of recovery with Rob.”

After listening to Ford’s admission McCullough says she’s convinced Ford is in denial.

McCullough says denial, rationalization, justification, and minimization are hallmark characteristics of addiction and tools she used to tell herself she didn’t have a problem for 23 years.

As for the public ridicule of Ford’s drinking and now admitted use of drugs, McCullough says Ford is emblematic of society’s perception of addiction.

“It’s classic," says McCullough

“We make fun of it, we laugh about it because we don’t know what to do about it, and nobody wants to look at the reality of what alcohol and drugs are doing to our society.”