Author details escape from abuse to heal herself and help others

Wednesday, May 1st, 2024 8:56am


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Diane Morrisseau, author of One Second at a Time
By Odette Auger
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Diane Morrisseau is a Sagkeeng gichi-aya'aa (knowledge keeper). She’s also a published author with the release of her new book One Second at a Time.

In the book she discusses the trauma and abuse she has experienced in her life and how she was able to escape that harm to journey towards healing and helping others.

While her childhood included learning Indigenous culture’s respectful ways, she also has many memories of abuse. At 15, she left a day school in Sagkeeng, Man., Fort Alexander Residential School. By 16 she was mother to her first child, whose father was a violent predator who brutally tormented Morrisseau and their children for 18 years.

One Second at a Time shares the impact of colonial systems that left Morrisseau and her children in a vicious cycle of abuse. And it tells how she created a new path of more than 35 years dedicated to the wellness of Anishinaabe people as a counsellor focusing on addictions and abuse.

Morrisseau began her career as a youth worker in the early 1980s helping homeless, vulnerable and at-risk youth who had grown up in the child welfare system. She then worked as a counsellor for several treatment centres until her retirement in 2011. She continued helping at shelter centres with women and children leaving domestic violence. She’s also worked in Spiritual Health Services at the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg.

“I've been off work for a couple of months now, two, three months. But I want to go back. I still have a strong desire to help, especially women like me,” Morrisseau said.

“And my reason for choosing that kind of work is because I know what addictions and abuse did to my family, to my kids, and that's why I'm still doing (healing work) today.”

Now 81 years old, she supports herself as a speaker and facilitator of sharing and healing circles. It was her friends who encouraged her to write her story to give others hope.

The book was intended as something she could share with her children, grandchildren, and now great-grandchildren.

“My kids know all about me now, but they respect me for what I went through. They know a lot of it,” Morrisseau said.

While One Second at a Time can be a difficult read with horrific abuses detail, it emphasizes the importance of seeking help and the power of spirituality in the healing process.

Finding courage to speak

Morrisseau said keeping things buried can interfere with healing. For her, starting to trust and open up came from meeting two Elders in an Al-Anon (Alcoholics Anonymous) program.

“Basically, I worked on myself through Al-Anon. It gave me a lot of awareness, how sick I was, how much it affected me and my children. That's what really opened my eyes. But after a while, I felt I needed more. I needed something else. So I started going to ceremonies and that really helped open more doors for me,” Morrisseau said.

“I was able to open up and trust. And I never used to trust anyone because when I was a child, when I tried to speak, I was called a liar from my stepmom. So all those years I kept my mouth shut and I thought I buried it—and I suffered.”

As a child, Morrisseau experienced sexual abuse, some parts she remembers and shares in One Second at a Time, other memories are blocked or only partially recalled.

Morrisseau begins her book explaining how growing up feeling abandoned, combined with the abuse, left her vulnerable to a controlling, violent man.

“I was a child when we met. He began grooming me almost immediately, but most of the work was already done for him,” the book begins.

“He controlled me in every way. I tried to leave so many times, but he would always find me. He would threaten to kill my kids and tell me that if I wanted to see them grow up, I had to do what he wanted,” she writes.

“These were not empty or idle threats,” Morrisseau explains in the book, which details Edgar Martin Olsen’s alcoholism and the abuses with which he controlled her. There is more not included in the book. Memories bubble up on her healing path.

“He was a psychopath. I was married to a murderer,” she writes. Olson was sentenced to 25 years in prison for first degree murder and died in jail six years into his jail term. He was implicated in the death of Special Constable Robert Thomas, 21. One Second at a Time shares more than one death Morrisseau believes Olson was involved in.

Morrisseau’s book tells of the ways she and her children worked to provide for themselves, such as picking berries for grocery money, as Olsen traveled a selfish, destructive path. 

Eventually he forced Morrisseau into prostitution, making money off her while also taking her house cleaning income. While she worked around the clock, he kept her and their children in poverty.

Seven times she tried to leave, taking the kids to shelters. She had restraining orders. Even after divorcing Olsen, he tried to control Morrisseau.

She was free of him in 1979, and when Morrisseau tried to write her story in the early 1980s, a break and enter that Olsen directed resulted in her journals being stolen, she said.

Morrisseau was finally safe after Olsen’s death in prison and she worked to improve herself.

One Second at a Time shares an intimate view of the tension and unpredictability of the life she and her children were trapped in and how she took steps to leave it.

Truth telling is the guiding principle behind the memoir, and Debwewin (Truth) is among the seven Grandfather teachings Morrisseau follows.

Morrisseau calls it the Debwewin Journey.

“Truth is a very powerful teaching,” she said. “Along with the teaching of Honesty, you become free. You can take risks and do things in a good way.”

“You live those teachings, work on them through ceremonies. And for me, what I think about all the time, and I knew this a long time ago, I have to do work on myself to be able to work with people. Heal myself first.”

“That was my journey. I attended a lot of ceremonies, Sundance and sweatlodge ceremonies. I needed a lot of healing because of my past, with the things that happened to me as a child and 18 years of abuse I went through with my kids' father. So that brought me where I am today.”

Attending Al-Anon she learned to identify her situation and give voice to her feelings and experiences. She met women who knew similar paths, and the non-judgmental sharing led to growing her ability to trust.

Finding her self-worth and growing her confidence with each kindness, Morrisseau knows how important an encouraging comment can be.

She went to open AA meetings “to learn about them, and I came to be, I guess, not resenting.”

As she developed with Al-Anon, she went back to school and eventually became a counsellor. Understanding alcoholism helped her heal, she said, and gave her stronger skills as a counsellor.

“I became able to work with men, as well, abusers or an alcoholic, not to ever judge anyone.” 

With each step forward, her own abuser tried to pull her backwards, but she kept growing stronger.

It was the love of her children and seeing what they were missing from her that gave her resolve.

“I tell women, ‘If I can do it, you can do it.”

Give them hope

Morrisseau says it’s important for people in helping roles like herself to know, “even if the help you offer isn’t accepted in that moment, it can provide a glimmer of hope to someone in a hopeless situation.”

“Eventually, each attempt to reach out, each offering of help or even just a kind word, adds up and can lead to change. So it’s important not to give up on people.”

She’s celebrating her 81st birthday on May 1, and “people are always telling me to rest, but I don’t think I ever will. I am doing what I’m meant to do.”

Gichi-aya'aa Morrisseau hopes her book will provide hope and healing for others, especially women who can relate to her experiences.

‘Even after I'm gone, when I'm not around anymore, people will read the story. That'll give them hope.”

For more information about One Second at a Time go to

Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.