Alicia Witt on Overcoming the 'Toughest Time' in Her Life and Why She Quit Drinking (Exclusive)

The singer-songwriter released an EP titled 'Witness' on Friday

After facing much adversity, Alicia Witt wrote a set of songs dedicated to the people who were there for her through it all.

On Friday, the singer-songwriter released Witness, a six-song EP where Witt covers topics like mental health, infidelity, love and something she's far too familiar with: giving up drinking.

"I knew that I wanted to create a collection with the name Witness," Witt, 48, tells PEOPLE of the project. "It describes so vividly to my own heart what I was experiencing at the toughest time I've gone through, and the very tiny group of inner circle friends who were right by my side through the thick of it... who are my witnesses."

She continues, "I knew while I was in the thick of it that when I got to the other side and life would blessedly go on, and we'd have distance from these days, I knew I'd need somebody to remind me just what really happened and what I really experienced."

In June of last year, Witt revealed she was cancer-free after undergoing chemotherapy and a mastectomy. At the time, she said keeping the news private served as a "much needed part of my healing" as she grieved the loss of her parents, Robert and Diane Witt, who were found dead in their Worcester, Massachusetts, home in December 2021, around the same time Witt was "beginning" her treatments.

Since then, Witt remains cancer-free and finds joy in the little things in life — like walking her dog in the morning and gardening.

<p>Jeff Fasano</p>

Jeff Fasano

Related: Alicia Witt Reveals She Was Beginning Treatments for Cancer When Her Parents Died 

"Clever Mind" is a unique take on infidelity. Where did the inspiration come from?

"Clever Mind" was co-written with Tia Sellers and Mark Selby. I had this concept for a song that was inspired by having discovered that there was this one particular other woman who had been a party in a relationship of mine that I didn't know about until later. I found myself thinking about how lonely her situation must have been. If anything, she must have been in even more pain than I was when I discovered the infidelity. But when we decided to write the song together, when I brought them the idea and they were into it, we added the band of gold in the first verse. He and I weren't actually married, but band of gold makes so much more sense.

I think the song now has a meaning to those who listen to it that doesn't necessarily have to be about a cheating situation. It could be about any unrequited love in general. If it's clear that somebody doesn't feel the same yet you keep sticking around, then what does that make you? That's really the core of it.

In "Always Tuesday" listeners hear you get vulnerable about your mental health. What is the story behind it?

It came very quickly. It was an experience I had on a Tuesday in early March, having just gotten back into town, and all this heaviness descended on me. It doesn't happen very often. I'm not a depressive sort of person, but I have experienced that through other people that were close to me. And so this song is musings on the legacy of mental illness, getting beyond it, figuring out where that stuff comes from and where to put it when it does come up.

I actually had a therapy session, and we talked about the experience I'd had on Tuesday. When I left the therapy session, I had to pull over on Music Row (Witt lives in Nashville) and get out my phone and write on my notepad because I had so many lyrics that just arrived. Pretty much every lyric you hear on "Always Tuesday" was written that Thursday. And then Saturday I sat down at the piano and I thought I'd take out those lyrics and sure enough, the music arrived.

You've been open about your experience giving up drinking. What motivated the change?

I've not had a drink now since Nov. 4, 2021, which is the day I was on my way out the door to my dear friend Cindy Owen's birthday party. I had a bottle of whiskey because I knew somebody who was going to be there who loves fine whiskey and I loved whiskey, and I also had a bottle of wine for Cindy. I was looking forward to having drinks like I always did. I got the call as I was leaving to go to the party, that to my doctor's shock, the biopsy that I'd had done showed that I had breast cancer.

And so I texted my friend and I said, "I'm so sorry, I don't think I'm going to be able to make it to your party." I sat with that and started the process of learning all that I could. So I went through the recommended treatments. I had a unilateral mastectomy, which was recommended, and I got the all clear, thank God, at the end of April.

I was already a very healthy person by most measures, I'd say, so I had to look at what I was doing that maybe exacerbated this situation. I learned just how much of a risk drinking was, and not only that but after you've got that all clear, you've got to change. You can't go back to everything you were doing before.

Related: Alicia Witt Debuts New Single 'Clever Mind' — an 'Attempt to Find Forgiveness' for the Other Woman (Exclusive)

In "One Last Drink" you sing about your experience dating since you gave up drinking. How has that been?

I did not think I would have as much fun, and I honestly love being a non-drinker. I find that everything is better, and that includes dating and forming new relationships, whether romantic or not, having conversations, having nights out and coming home late but not feeling fuzzy, not having to get an Uber home and everything.

To my surprise, here I am almost two years from having had my last drink. Last year, I wasn't back to dating yet at the time, but I thought, as a single woman, when I've gone on the right number of dates with somebody and want to invite them in to sleep with me for the first time, won't be able to say, "Do you want to come in for one last drink?" What better way to start a possible relationship than with that mindfulness and purposefulness, and it'll be all honesty the next morning.

It's really a sexy song about hooking up with somebody for the first time with no alcohol and remembering what it's been like in previous encounters, whether with that person or in general when alcohol was a factor. So I love that. I love this song, and it's sexier than other songs I've written about similar things that had mentions of alcohol in them.

You said you got the all-clear in April. How are you feeling now?

I feel so grateful, and in terms of just how I feel health-wise, I dare say I feel so much healthier than I did before. To be honest with you, that has to do with not drinking as well. As anyone who's had a similarly terrifying diagnosis would attest, you get regular checkups, of course, and that continues for a series of five years from the date you get the all clear. That's a blessing. I'm grateful to have that be the medical protocol to keep on verifying what I feel. And I'm grateful for the changes I've made in my diet and in my life. As a result of that, the side effect is that I feel so much better. I feel so much healthier than I did that year that I thought I was healthy but it turns out there was a little something that wasn't so healthy happening.

I'm grateful to God and I'm grateful to be making music. I'm grateful for that outlet and for the ability to not only connect with people through music, but also to have whatever platform I have to be able to share my journey and what I've experienced.

How did you get through the treatments?

I genuinely can't imagine how different the experience would've been without a handful of incredibly close friends. They were there every step of the way with me. I found myself praying more than I ever have, and I've always felt a close connection to God, and that connection — that faith — has deepened exponentially.

Going through treatments can be hard on the body, and you don't always feel so well. I was certain to continue with yoga during all of that time and continue to exercise. I started having organic juice, homemade if I'm home with my juicer, or if I'm filming or otherwise out of town, I try to find an organic juice place somewhere in the vicinity of where I'm working. And therapy as well.

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