November 30, 2018 10:00 AM
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Three years doesn’t sound like a long time to William Michael Morgan — until he starts recounting the events of these past three years: unexpected parenthood, a gold-selling No. 1 single, a marriage proposal, a broken engagement, all followed by a sobering decision to stop drinking.

No doubt Morgan, 25, got thrown a whole lot of life in a short amount of time.

“I really did,” he tells PEOPLE. “But thank the good Lord for that. I wasn’t just learning how to deal with everything. I was learning how to grow with it and become a man, because I was still a kid.”

He pauses and flashes a boyish grin. “I still am a kid,” he says. “I’m just a little lighter shade of green.”

William Michael Morgan
Courtesy Warner Music Nashville

All of Morgan’s new-found growth is now finding its way into his first new recorded music since his 2016 debut album, Vinylwhich produced the chart-topping single “I Met a Girl.” Since mid-October, Morgan has been regularly dropping new songs and music videos into the digital cosmos, including “Gone Enough,” a driving heart-wrencher debuting exclusively on PEOPLE.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing what people are gravitating toward the most as far as helping us pick our single out of these,” says the native Mississippian. “It’ll be good to actually know what our single is going to be, and then get ready to gear up to go back out to terrestrial radio again and start the whole process again.”

Morgan had his first introduction to that process when he signed his first recording contract at age 19, but in just the past three years he has taken crash courses not only in navigating a high-pressure music career but also in learning how to be a dad.

Morgan’s daughter, Presley, was born in March 2016, and she lives with her mother in Mississippi. Though the couple’s relationship is a thing of the past, the two take their shared parenting seriously, Morgan says, and he is regularly back and forth to his home state to spend time with his little girl. Her name, he says, reflects both parents’ mutual love for Mississippi’s famous native son.

At first, Morgan admits, the prospect of parenthood “was very terrifying in a sense of, ‘What am I going to do? Am I going to be a good dad? Am I going to be able to do this?’” But what started out as unplanned has become “probably the biggest peak in my life,” he says.

Like any proud dad, he delights in showing off photos of his curly-haired daughter and marveling at how, now at 2 ½, she’s talking in sentences. When he’s in Nashville or on the road, they regularly FaceTime. When he’s with her, they’re playing hide and seek, mashing Play-Doh, and singing songs from Moana and Frozen.

William Michael Morgan
Courtesy Warner Music Nashville

As much as Presley has been his high point, however, his low point arrived in April 2017 when his five-month engagement to Jennifer Wayne ended. The Runaway June singer, 36, and Morgan separately tweeted at the time that the decision was made by “mutual agreement.”

RELATED: William Michael Morgan and Jennifer Wayne End Their Engagement: ‘This Is What’s Best for Both of Us’

In the year and a half since, Morgan says, he has gained a strong perspective on what went wrong, and he offers what he’s learned with self-assured conviction: “Know yourself before you try to know someone else, and love yourself before you try to love someone else. Because if you don’t, you can’t understand how to love them. You can’t understand how to open up. You can’t understand how to let them into your world or how to receive their world.”

It’s a hard-won lesson: Morgan admits he turned to alcohol — which was already a constant in his life — to cope with the breakup.

“That’s what got me through it,” he says now, “because when you’re lost in something, when you’re so beat down by something, you think the only thing that you can do is to drown it.”

Several weeks of hard drinking, though, brought him to a moment of harsh truth one morning after a show. “I woke up and I felt like crap and I just kinda sat there for a minute and I realized everything that was going on in my life at that time,” he recalls. “And I said, if I want something to happen … I’ve got to be the one to do something about it, because it’s my life.”

Alcohol, he knew, wasn’t his friend, and he gave it up — a decision, he says, that has been his most life-changing in the past year and a half. Among other things, he says, it has helped him laser-focus on making new music and taking new charge of his career.

Quitting, he says, “helped me realize what was important … and it was time. It was a time in my career where we needed to buckle down and get serious about the music again. It was time to be creative again. It was time to write again. It was time to get back in the studio, and that’s what we did.”

William Michael Morgan
Courtesy Warner Music Nashville

Morgan is now intent on addressing all of his life changes in his new music: “I’m writing about quitting drinking. I’m writing about my failed engagement. I’m writing about my daughter being born.”

He also confirms he is dating again, but with a mindfulness that’s reflected in the lyrics he co-wrote for one of his already released songs, “Talking to a Girl.” (“I’m talking to a girl right now / Thought I’d forgotten how / It feels good just hanging out.”)

“That is just part of learning again, you know,” he says. “You have to be willing to be vulnerable to go out and try it again.”

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